In March, when we last heard from The Muckrakes, guitarist and Daily Press reporter Cory Nealon was leaving and the band's future was in doubt. Nealon, one of the band's songwriters, was the second high-profile member to depart.
Look all the way back to June 2010 and I was writing about Muckrakes singer Melissa Troutman taking off for greener pastures.
Somehow, though The Muckrakes -- a sturdy, original, roots-rock ensemble -- have found a way to survive both losses. The group is scheduled to perform Saturday, Sept. 29, at the Aiken & Friends Fest in Smithfield.
While the group hasn't played much publicly much since Nealon headed for Buffalo, N.Y., Muckrakes keyboardist Billy England told me that he and his remaining bandmates have been rehearsing regularly and continuing work on a new album.
England also reported that the band has lost yet another member. Drummer Dave Jackson has left and been replaced by Dave Jugenheimer of the Newport News band Asthmatics.
"First it was Melissa, then it was Cory, then, just in June, Dave [Jackson] hit us with, 'I’m leaving. The wife got a job. We’re selling our house. We have two weeks to be in Pennsylvania,'" England said. "It's been kind of hectic."
In case you're keeping score at home, the band now includes: Jon Owings on vocals, banjo and guitar; Mike "Spider" Turner on guitar; Billy England on keyboards; Jason Russell on bass and Dave Jugenheimer on drums.
England acknowledges that Nealon's departure was a particularly tough blow. "We miss that guy something fierce ... Cory wrote a lot of material for us, probably like half the songs," he said. "With the music that Jon and I wrote, mostly Jon, we have an hour and a half of material. And we have two new songs already."
The Muckrakes, England believes, will live to rake again. Right now, The Aiken & Friends show is the sole date on the band's schedule, but the action may increase this fall.
"I’m thinking by October or November we’ll be picking up steam, which is just about the time we should release the new CD," England said.
While helping to keep The Muckrakes on life support, England and Russell have also been playing in a new group called Crissy Babe and The Dastards.
Here's a news release about the Aiken & Friends Fest.
Americana/Roots Festival Founder Mike Aiken Welcomes David Olney, Elliot Lurie, Bonnie Bishop, Susan Greenbaum and more to Smithfield, Virginia, September 28-29
Nashville, TN (August 15, 2012) -- Mike Aiken, Americana/Country/Roots national recording artist and founder of Smithfield Music's Aiken & Friends Fest, is pleased to announce the lineup of performers for this year's festival which will take place on September 28-29 in Smithfield, Virginia. Aiken says, "We are excited to be moving the fest riverside to Windsor Castle Park - bigger, better and just a beautiful site. I'm happy to be bringing in old friends and new ones - from the soulful, bluesy Bonnie Bishop to the legendary David Olney. It will be awesome music."
The 2012 Aiken & Friends Fest will kick off with a writers in-the-round at the Smithfield Little Theatre on Friday, September 28. Elliot Lurie, Bonnie Bishop and Mike Aiken will perform their compelling original songs in a unique and intimate environment that allows for stories and casual banter in between tunes. The music continues Saturday, September 29, on two outdoor stages with performances by the Bonnie Bishop Band, David Olney, The Muckrakes, Susan Greenbaum, Beaucoup Blue and the Mike Aiken Band.
The festival's educational events are always popular. On Saturday, September 29 at Windsor Castle Park House, three seminars take place. Aiken, Lurie and Bishop will host a songwriters' workshop, master guitarist Sam Dorsey will lead a guitar class, and Northwind Records' President Amy Aiken and Lurie will host a Music Promotion 101 session.
Now in its seventh year, Smithfield Music's Aiken and Friends Fest benefits youth music education through its annual Americana/Roots festival. A "celebration of songwriters," this rural small-town Virginia event introduces music fans to national, regional and local artists in the rural Virginia splendor along the Pagan River. Smithfield's very active music scene is due to the efforts of Jim & Elaine Abicht who head Smithfield Music, the nonprofit entity which benefits music education. The partnership between Mike Aiken, the Town of Smithfield and Smithfield Music is strong, and the festival continues to grow.