Visiting Ford’s Theater

Emily puts the “blues” into Blue Ridge

Emily Cooley is helping us enjoy this beautiful day with her lovely voice. She’ll be here till 4 pm. Come on up!

Posted by Big Walker Lookout on Saturday, July 28, 2018

Performing at Big Walker Lookout this season for my wife did not start off as promising as we’d hoped. However, we loved seeing our dear friend Ron looking healthy and happy and, as he always puts it, “wonderful and marvelous.” Though his daughter, Heather, is running the show these days, Ron is still very much the face of Big Walker Lookout and everyone from bikers to children to pets come to the store to see Ron Kime. The place is not complete without him.

Emily was thrilled to sing at the place that has become so near and dear to both of our hearts and our independent careers in the Arts, but the lack of people who were there to listen to her and, more substantially, contribute to the tip jar, it was more than a little disconcerting for her. The fact that I was not selling any copies of my only novel, Face Value, did little to boost my morale as well. Nevertheless, the weather was made to order, and we enjoyed the afternoon just sitting and listening to the beautiful vocals of my wife, who brought a whole different level of talent to the typical array of performers that show up regularly at Big Walker Lookout.

Workers there, Lottie and Teresa, we’re very quick to tell her how much they enjoyed her music and how much her genre of music was needed at that particular venue. This uplifted both of our spirits. Lottie’s husband Ray was the specific person who made our day on our first gig at Big Walker Lookout, which was held on Saturday, July 28th. He contributed 20 of the $31 that went into Emily’s tip jar and bought one of the only books I sold that day. He made our trip up the mountain worthwhile. The generous portion of Nathan’s Hot Dogs, the best you will find in the town of Wytheville, and Homestead Creamery ice cream would have been enough at any rate. It’s a Wonderful kid friendly place that Bella always enjoys accompanying us.

Emily was especially glad to see her friend Carol Watson who came especially to support her. Despite being a bluegrass fan, Carol did have a particular favorite among Emily’s set list. “Crazy” by Patsy Cline was started off just for her and was well-received as well as “I Fall to Pieces.” Highlights of her performance were the Randy Newman song “Guilty,” which she cried out and letter-perfect blues form. The last 15 minutes of her set was performed to no crowd at all. So, she just goofed off for the last two numbers of the set with only me to enjoy it. We both packed up and called it an early evening.

Ron was also very helpful in letting us know that the small sound system in which I had bought Emily to use for performances was not large enough to fulfill the outdoor pavilion. By the time you reach the back of the outdoor picnic area, you could barely hear her at all.  He offered to send me some suggestions for an upgrade.

The next Saturday, we remedy that problem by having her saying in the middle of the pavilion, this time with a large number of people gathered around the back few tables. This group was very loyal and approving of Emily’s fantastic voice. One man remarked to me that if she had a live band, she would really be smoking. This is a lifelong dream of both of ours and we hope it can become a reality someday. A lot of people also remarked that the Bonnie Raitt songs and other numbers she performed were ones that they liked but hadn’t heard for a very long time.

Her cover of Randy Newman’s “Guilty” was once again a program highlight, performed perfectly. She garnered a great deal of Applause from at least 20 attentive listeners who stayed for the entire to our program. The proceeds were quadrupled this time around as well.

I’m also pleased to report that I quadrupled in my book sales as well. Thanks to this book tour of my only novel, which included three stops at Big Walker Lookout this summer, the 75 copies sold of Face Value made it a bona fide hit, at least from my modest standards. I even met local author Bonnie Turner who kindly reviewed Face Value with a 5-star rating.  I look forward to reading her science fiction and fantasy books as well, certain to enjoy it every bit as much as she enjoyed mine.

Another high note of the day was that Emily and Bella both climbed the historic hundred-foot Big Walker Lookout tower all the way to the top. Allow me to emphasize what an accomplishment this is. Bella is 4 years old and Emily has a heart condition. For both their bravery and endurance I applaud both of my girls proudly. Emily tells me that the view from up there was absolutely gorgeous. Big Walker Lookout maybe a small place that some locals haven’t heard of, but I guarantee you that there are people from all over the country that know where that little country store is. I spoke with people from all across the nation stopped in on their way to somewhere else or who had relative locally that they were visiting. All were a pleasure to talk with and reinforced why this is the greatest place in the world to live.

Emily even got an invite to sing at a new music venue in Independence, from which I hope she will hear affirmative word very soon. Her singing gigs are not up for the year just yet. She has a tentative date set up in October for the Rural Retreat Public Library and will be performing September 17th, which is a Saturday, from 7 to 7:45 p.m. at the Grace Lutheran Church in Rural Retreat, which is a part of the McDowell Music Club. There, she will present a 45-minute run of her blues program.

Emily Sings the Library Blues

Emily was so happy to perform to the Wythe County Public Library for their summer reading kickoff. She felt very discouraged first, seeing the large crowd that had turned out for Nate Montgomery all dissipate when she took the stage. However, the few that were there, were there for her. She received nothing but rave reviews from those who listened with pure attentiveness for the two hours in which she performed. One of my favorite library volunteers, Kay Vollimer, was seen dancing to the early rock and roll favorites made famous by Ruth Brown, “Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean.” Butterfly the Clown, another staple that we look forward to seeing every year at Chautauqua, was on hand making balloon animals and face paintings for the kids. She was also very much into the program, closing her eyes and singing along with Emily to the Beatles’ “Let It Be.” Local library branch director Anita Libby was dancing along to Emily’s rendition of Bonnie Raitt’s “Thing Called Love,” her Eyes even tearing up at one point in reaction to the quality of Emily’s voice. I know that effect, as her ability to convey the emotion of a song really does reduce you to tears at times. I think the reaction from those few but very dedicated listeners helped make this performance one of Emily’s best ever. I thought her vocals were superb and the delivery with which convey the emotional power of each song was on point. Philip MacAdams, branch manager of the Rural Retreat Public Library, has become a regular fan of Emily and one of her most appreciated and staunch supporters. His taste in music directly aligns with the sort that Emily is trying to make known in the area. Her efforts seem to be paying off well, as Dr. Patricia BeCraft, coordinator of the McDowell Music Club, and invited Emily to perform a program on Saturday, September 17th at 7 PM at Grace Lutheran Church in Rural Retreat. This was a real thrill for her and a great sense of pride for me and we are most grateful to Pat for offering us the opportunity. We were also very pleased to see our dear friend from church Phyllis Slaughter, who is also been a great support to Emily whenever she appears at the library. She has especially enjoyed Emily’s blues and soul program and expressed the powerfulness of her voice and the unique ability she had to convey the emotion of a blues song, which she remarked that you would not hear during a Sunday church hymn. For Mother’s Day, I purchased Emily a new sound system, which seems to work very well. She has her own microphone and her backing tracks can be initiated through the system via Bluetooth or SD card which makes things much easier on both of us. For her June 9th appearance at the Bolling Wilson Hotel, my friend Tyler Hash has invited her to appear on the rooftop. This will be an experience for both of us that we have never partaken, but are looking forward to doing. Make sure you come up and join us from 6 to 8.

Bella’s 3-year old Preschool Graduation

Posted by Zach Cooley on Wednesday, May 9, 2018

St. John’s preschool has been responsible for some pretty significant milestones in the life my four-year-old daughter and me, most recently her graduation from the three-year-old class to the four-year-old class. I didn’t even know they had graduation ceremonies until she had completed both levels at the preschool, but this was a lovely and emotional program for Emily and me.

I’ve always wanted to observe what a full day of preschool was like for my Bella and this program offered me a glimpse. They sang the entirety of all their songs including their excellent morning song and the religious jingles that go along with their snack time blessing and weekly chapel services, Bella’s favorite part of her preschool week. To hear her recite the children’s creed along with her classmates proclaiming her belief in God brought tears to my eyes. She has already wowed us with her near-perfect recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. Both of her grandfathers are veterans, so this was especially pleasing for them to hear.

A series of holiday songs including Bella’s personal favorite “Stirring Our Brew,” aptly designed for Halloween. During sessions called crazy music taught by Karen Melton, Bella and her classmates learn fun songs like “Gooney Bird” and “Bear Hunt,” which shows the children about movement and rhythm while also helping to keep them in good physical shape. I have made a whole scrapbook of her first year in preschool and if they’re really treasured all of the things she has made and brought home. All year long, she has teased us with little pieces of songs that she’s learned in school, but when we asked her to sing more, she would always clam up with a shy smile. This program gave us a chance to hear all this week to use of which we had only known snippets beforehand.

Their recitations of the days of the week and months of the year were equally as precious. Among all the cute little things that happened to the small children during the entrance and of the auditorium to the Peanuts theme song, Bella lost her shoe on her way to her seat on stage. Lucky for me, this was right in the center of the stage, so I had a perfect view of her for the entire program. She is usually her Momma’s girl all the way, but it pleases me to see her running off the stage into my arms and wanting to ride my chair over to the refreshment table to eat cookies with her friends. As a dad who loves his little girl better than anything, it doesn’t get any better than that. I couldn’t be prouder of my beautiful and smart little girl, and I’m grateful to God to call her mind and that she has such an excellent school and community in which to participate.

Bella Goes to the Zoo

On May 1st, Emily and I were very honored to accompany our daughter on her very first school field trip. We went to the Fort Chiswell Animal Park with her classmates at St. John’s Preschool.  It was a great trip for Bella because she loves animals. She had been to a zoo last fall when we were vacationing in the Myrtle Beach area where my parents live. While the buses of our local zoo were not handicapped accessible, thus preventing me from taking the entire tour, I was able to go with Bella to view the petting zoo part of the excursion.

Because I was aware of the lack of accessibility, I had not planned on joining my wife and daughter for this trip. But Bella wanted me to go, which made my coming along of the utmost importance to me. Her principal, Jennifer Quigg, was kind enough to wave my admission fee as well as that of my daughter. The kind and friendly staff were more than accommodating and even told me to come back on another day when I can take a handicapped-accessible bus to tour the rest of the property.

The more than 200 animals from six continents on display at our local with County attraction was a most impressive sight. My favorite animal to see in a zoo is a camel, and I had the good fortune of watching my wife feed puffs, the friendly camel, through the best window. I also spend a lot of good quality time with their brand new giraffe, Cheeto who seemed to be a very handsome and friendly fellow.

Bella’s favorite part of the trip came when she was able to pet the goats. Daisy Mae, one of the more friendly creatures on the property, was a black goat that liked Bella so much that she followed her around the park. This made her day. I was also very pleased and humbled that she seemed to be happy to have her daddy along on this trip. She was the only student in the pre-school group that got to ride on her Daddy’s lap. I guess being the only kid who has a parent on wheels can have a perk from time to time. I thank God for these unique and meaningful moments.

It’s also really fantastic to see Bella interact with children her age. Her best friend Brynn Fisher accompanied her to pet the goats, and the whole class jumped up on the stone rhino for a group picture. That made the trip worth the effort for me.

A staff member named Vicky was kind enough to tell me all about what I might see if I had been able to take the entire bus trip. I certainly think anyone who can swing the $10 admission fee for their child should do it. We are lucky to have such a special attraction in our area. My family and I will certainly be coming back. Again, I think they’re wonderful staff and the great people at St. John’s Preschool who enabled us to have a wonderful family memory in which we will never forget and always treasure.