Promoter Steps Out Again With “Band Experiment”

Downtown Library event promoter River Laker will try his hand at leading a band over the next four months.

by Cheryl Hodges

The main library in downtown Roanoke has become a bit of a mecca in recent years. All sorts of people converge there at different times for everything from art exhibits, “cat” parties, music performances of all genres, biking on the deck and the list goes on—all of which is undergirded by an accompaniment of ever-popular refreshments. Since when does a LIBRARY become a destination for things to actually DO?

Well, since the “Laker Effect” (not the similarly titled movie) a.k.a. River Laker, came on the scene.

Laker, Creative Development Coordinator for the Roanoke libraries for four years, has helped bring a revival to the now-familiar Howery Mezzanine and downtown Roanoke with one arts-oriented event after another throughout his tenure.

For those who seek to use the library in the traditional sense with all its expected accoutrements—that’s all still there; it has an abundance of books and resources, including the recently redone Virginia Room.

But the Laker Effect is sending out additional ripples into the community in the form of quirky but interesting “experiments” with catchy monikers. There has been “Car Less Brit” (learning to live without a car); “BegBarterSteal” (learning to live without exchanging currency) and now there is the “Laker Experiment” which Laker explains is a “six month experiment in forming a band, writing 10 songs, releasing a CD, single & music video.” The band project will culminate with five live performances in November.

Laker’s name has also been in the news with some frequency in recent days regarding what may best be described as the now infamous “Bachelor Auction Experiment,” which has become an ongoing saga; currently there is a hearing scheduled for August 17.

In the case of the band, Laker was at the Coffeepot this past spring listening to “Heevahava,” a local band that Laker thought exuded “total happiness, and managed to express ‘central self.’” Laker said “they “weren’t the sort of music I usually listen to, but I totally loved the simplicity of it.” He was captivated.

Like so many, his reaction was “oh, wouldn’t it be exciting to be in a band?” But unlike most, in Laker-esque fashion, he decided right then and there to make a project of seeing what it would be like to form a band.  The people he approached the following week to take part in his “Laker Experiment” all “said yes straightaway.”

There are some ground rules.  Even though he has absolutely “no musical training and [has] never been in a band,” Laker’s band has to work with the words and music he presents.  Finding himself in more of a quandary than he anticipated, Laker has been asking all around for any and all advice on music and songwriting. He says “the process is a lot more work than I ever thought it would be.”

Now that the experiment has begun, he is committed to seeing it through and is sincere in his efforts. Besides, the last parameter to fulfill, a 5-gig “tour,” is looming large; Laker says “I don’t want to make a fool of myself.” Interestingly, the musicians he recruited “found it exciting to entrust someone else” without musical ability with the creative aspect to see where this opportunity might go.

The recent loss of two band members due to scheduling conflicts prompted friends to joke “welcome to the world of being in a band.”

Still, Laker says “the momentum seems to be building.” He said “Matt Ames just got in touch to say he wanted to be the first to do a music video.”  Laker says Ames is “a local Roanoker, a friend who does filmmaking and makes music too,” and he says “Josa Wakes, the remaining band member, is amazing.”

The revised plan is for Laker to come up with all ten songs by mid August and then go into the studio with replacement band members and take the songs from “rough” form to show worthy.

Laker admits that his lack of musical background gives him a different take on what goes on in the studio. He says “I find it difficult—I just want to get the job done but it seems music people like to sit around and tinker with their instruments.” He laughs as he adds, “I hope I don’t upset musicians [by saying that]; they do seem to enjoy it.”

Always one to think in terms of community, Laker hopes his efforts will “be a challenge for other people to do the same thing – and we can do it together.” He plans to have the first show the Friday after Thanksgiving at the Kirk Avenue Music Hall, and is considering unique venues—maybe even the Taubman.

Perhaps in the coming weeks Laker will find that musicians’ “tinkering” is just what it takes to get the job done.  November will tell.

Follow “The Laker Experiment” on Facebook.

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