Harrisonburg musicians use the stage to help their own, others

Bill Howard, also known as Reverend Bill of the Judy Chops, and Brittany Dorman emceeing a benefit show for Howard’s late mother in November. (Photos by Randi B. Hagi)

By Luisa Miller, Contributor

The room was packed and lively at the Three Notch’d brewery in Harrisonburg one evening in November. People of all ages stood around with beers in hand, listening to the bands, dancing in place, or shouting conversations. Music permeated the space.

This event was hosted by the Judy Chops to raise money for their “band daddy,” Bill Howard, and his sister Amanda Howard, the drummer of the band the Sugar Jackets. Their mother, Sherry Knott, passed away earlier last year.

“Losing a parent, and having to ask folks for help … was definitely a hard pill to swallow,” Bill Howard said, “but the joy, and love, and willingness to help we saw was so beautiful to behold it reminded me that even when we feel isolated, we are truly not alone!”

Before the Judy Chops came on stage, there were appearances by Naveed Quarterman as DJ Commander Q; Sean Newman; Inlaw Country; Amy Martin; and the Sugar Jackets. The event also featured food from Lola Mo’s Delicatessen and Food Bar Food.

A crowd of family, friends, fellow musicians, and fans filled the Three Notch’d brewery.

“It was amazing for this benefit to see friends and performers meeting each other, and seeing this larger community come together to help,” Howard said. “We met our goal, and our mom was honored in the process.”

This was one of many benefit shows that are periodically held throughout Harrisonburg. Paul Somers, owner of the Golden Pony restaurant and music venue, said they host several such events each year – like the book signing and poetry reading for Briana Madden-Olivares in December.

“It is right in line with our mission to provide, facilitate and support culture, community and creativity in Downtown Harrisonburg,” Somers wrote in an email to The Citizen. “I think people coming together for a common mission and using the art of performance as a vehicle to do so is a very honorable and commendable effort, and I’m always happy to put in my time and resources if I think it will make a difference.”

Gabe Curry, a hip-hop artist who performs under the name RIELXRIEL, has hosted and participated in a few of these events. In early January, he put on a hip-hop show that doubled as a coat drive for the nonprofit organization Our Community Place. And last year, Curry performed at an event at Restless Moons brewery to raise money for protesters of the Sudanese revolution, and hosted one at the Little Grill Collective, giving all the proceeds to Our Community Place.

Bill Howard has also been on the giving end of several of these events. 

“The Judy Chops have had the pleasure of being booked for several charity events throughout the band’s history, including our first festival gig at Spaghettifest,” he said. “Several years ago, our original bassist, Terry, was suffering from cancer and we organized a benefit to raise money for his family.”

Molly Murphy of the Judy Chops leads the audience in a chorus.

Benefit shows may appeal to an attendee who might not have come out for the music alone.

“I’m … surprised by how diverse the crowds are at benefit shows compared to other events,” Curry said. “The benefit show for Our Community Place seemed like a rare occasion where poets, rappers, local musicians, college students, townies, and community organizers were all at the same event supporting a common cause. I think I developed more relationships from that event alone than I have from my last 10 non-benefit rap shows combined.”

Despite the diversity of venues, performers, and causes these shows represent, they all have one thing in common: they bring people together.

“Harrisonburg … is special for so many reasons, but one thing I always love is that this place is truly the ‘Friendly City,’” Bill Howard said. “I saw so many friends I haven’t seen in years come out to support, but there were just as many folks that just came because their favorite band was playing, or they just wanted to grab a beer.”

Curry has also observed this. “Imagine watching a college student recite poetry to an audience where there’s hip-hop artists, some of which earned their diplomas while imprisoned, sitting next to someone with a PhD, and beside them sits a retirement-aged man battling homelessness,” he said.

For upcoming benefit shows in Harrisonburg, check out:

Randi B. Hagi contributed additional reporting to this article.

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