Brooke Saunders beloved the artwork of promotion. “He was a sucker for an infomercial,” says his spouse, Ann Sykes. “We agreed that it was an excellent factor we did not have that a lot spare money, as he would’ve purchased nearly each new gadget.”
Saunders, who died on Nov. 28 from accidents sustained in an car accident, took hometown hype to new locations – golf equipment, venues, festivals, county festivals. A relentless presence for many years at dwell music occasions in and round Richmond, often with camcorder in hand, the outgoing 65-year-old, everlasting optimist was a tireless promoter whose attain and affect on the realm’s music and media cannot be overstated.
“He was corny, particularly punny, and beloved wordplay,” recollects Sykes. “We lived very, very frugally, in order that we may indulge our shared ardour for journey once in a while.” In 1999, the 12 months they married, the couple took journeys to Egypt, Mexico (the place they honeymooned), and Cuba, “the place we celebrated the millennium on the Tropicana in Havana.”
Their solely daughter Grace attends the University of Virginia. It was on the way in which again residence from driving her again to Charlottesville after Thanksgiving break that Saunders’ still-unexplained crash occurred.
“It nearly would not appear actual to me that he is gone,” says Craig Evans of the Americana pop band, the Taters, and a collaborator in one among Saunders’ extra outstanding initiatives, the Floating Folk Festival. “He was so ubiquitous on the town. If you considered the Richmond music scene, Brooke’s identify would at all times come up. It’s arduous to think about it with out him being concerned in it.”
From the Moose Lodges of Lynchburg
Evans first met Saunders in Lynchburg, the place Brooke was born and spent his adolescence. “He had a band referred to as Rivermont, the identify of one of many large streets in Lynchburg,” Evans remembers. “He could have been 20 or 21. Lynchburg solely had a handful of locations to play, so that you’d hear them at Moose Club dances.”
It started with a guitar that he’d requested for as a Christmas reward when he was 13, says sister Sara Hollman. “I do not know the place his love of music got here from. We did not come from a musical residence.”
Father Fleming and Mother Sara, the latter nonetheless surviving, have been conservative however hardly strict. “I feel they understood that Brooke was somewhat totally different,” Hollman says, including that Brooke and his father shared a cussed work ethic. “Dad was a superb engineer who received a job at Dupont after which left after six months to return residence and work for the household sawmill, which he did for the remainder of his life. He did issues his manner.”
Saunders got here to Richmond in 1981 to review at Virginia Commonwealth University, shortly changing into lively as a musician in a secession of bands: Non-Dairy Screamers, The Prevaricators, Death Piggy, Mr.Wiggly and the Fabulous Sump Pumps and — notoriously — Apocowlypso, a unit he fashioned with avant-garde composer Dika Newlin. There was additionally the Neatles, a Beatles cowl band that Saunders began in Lynchburg (with Craig Evans) and saved going till the current day with totally different line-ups.
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“He spent a 12 months in England in 1977, working [without a permit], however was in a position to report a set of his songs in London with these nice studio musicians,” recollects Jay Tubb, who ran the stage sound for the Non-Dairy Screamers. “He additionally received to satisfy and grow to be associates with Badfinger’s drummer, Mike Gibbins. He was such a fan of Badfinger.”
Tubb helped Saunders write and publish Soundzine, a neighborhood music journal that put a highlight on Richmond’s then-thriving membership scene. The free tabloid would go on to publish infamous interviews with GWAR’s Dave Brockie and drag queen Dirtwoman, amongst others.
They turned roommates within the ‘80s with David Hudert, who, with Bill Kitchen and Randall Plaxa, based the legendary Rockitz music venue at Laurel and Broad. “Brooke at all times needed to advertise individuals taking part in out,” says Hudert, a music business marketing consultant now based mostly in Sweden. “It was like an OCD factor for him. He did not care about cash, he solely cared about getting gigs for extra individuals. What drove him to be like [that], I do not know, however he at all times had it. He had it in 1981 once I met him and he by no means misplaced it.”
His ex-roommates fondly bear in mind Brooke’s collaborations with ageing composer Dika Newlin, one of many final dwelling college students of the expressionist Arnold Schoenberg. “He met her whereas taking courses at VCU,” says Hudert. “He thought she was so fascinating and he needed to deliver her out into our scene. And, yeah, she was cool as shit, a frickin’ genius. He and I have been like, ‘Who would not work with Dika Newlin?’ We did not care what she did. It was like working with Warhol or frickin’ Mozart or one thing.”
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A tireless champion of Richmond bands
It began with Soundzine, however sooner or later, Brooke started to transition into being extra of a promoter and a chronicler than a stage performer.
“I knew him due to his bands, however I actually turned conscious of him once I was working at ThroTTle,’ round 1989,” recollects DJ and promoter Todd Ranson. “He was at all times writing to us to take a look at this band, take a look at that band. He was so persistent in his promotion that generally it was an excessive amount of, however the individuals he was selling would, after all, by no means say that.” Ranson says that Brooke “was form of at all times there along with his camcorder, omnipresent, tireless.”
“The selling and documenting actually started with the Floating Folk Festival,” says Tubb. The FFF was a ragtag group of native musicians, largely within the singer-songwriter vein. “It was Brooke’s thought to place the factor collectively,” recollects Evans. “He had clearly moved from being only a musician to extra of an organizer, extra of a change agent. He would simply consistently see potential, in individuals, in conditions and venues.”
The unique Floating Folk Festival began in 1997 and consisted of Saunders, the Taters (then generally known as Burnt Taters), Steve Fisher, Eileen Edmonds, Pam McCarthy, Harry Gore and Gerry Laverty, amongst others. “The floating half was that it could present up in several venues,” Evans says. “And at first, it was like an open mic, anyone may be a part of. But that received unwieldy, so we began doing auditions.”
One of those that auditioned and joined for a time was singer-songwriter Susan Greenbaum. “Brooke was what I’d referred to as a goer. He made stuff occur,” she says. “He was so uncommon, an individual that you just took with no consideration would at all times be there.”
But she could not determine him out at first. “I bear in mind one of many first issues he requested me was ‘How many songs have you ever written?’ And I believed that was an fascinating query nobody else had ever requested me earlier than.”
They additionally butted heads. “I did not perceive what he meant for the FFF, and was like, “who will get the cash?’ and I used to be in a spot once I actually wanted to be making a dwelling. I did not perceive what his imaginative and prescient was.”
At one time, there have been as many as 22 totally different acts affiliated with Floating Folk, and Saunders would compile three CD collections of the pageant’s music that featured performers together with Circuit Breakers, Stephen Christoff, Texas Ed, Regan and Matthew Costello. He additionally efficiently lobbied for the native collective to be given an everyday Family stage slot on the Richmond Folk Festival.
Saunders and Greenbaum collaborated once more in 2018 for a 12-song charity compilation that Brooke co-produced, Hope Fienz, which benefited the non-profit Friends of Recovery [Style covered the project]. “He made all of this stuff occur,” she says. “He was the true deal. Even once we weren’t seeing eye-to-eye, I knew he was real.”
Singer-songwriter May-Lily Lee, former host of VPM’s “Virginia Currents” and govt producer of the nonprofit, American Spark Project, says her stint within the Floating Folk Festival was top-of-the-line instances of her life. “I’ve at all times felt that the aim of music was to deliver us collectively, and nobody understood that higher than Brooke,” she says.
Saunders additionally labored behind the scenes to assist deliver group radio to city. According to Christopher Maxwell, he was instrumental within the delivery of the 2 native low-power radio stations Maxwell has based, WRIR and WRWK (the WORK). “Brooke helped with political connections once we have been making an attempt to get low energy laws via, and he spearheaded fundraising for the WORK. He was that uncommon one who was in a position to sublimate his personal ego for the higher good.”
DJ Jay Smack first launched his native music present, Studio B, on 103.7 the BUZZ in 1995 — it will definitely moved to XL-102 and is now a podcast. Among the primary to succeed in out to him was Brooke. “He performed, promoted, recorded, received into net design… Brooke did all of it. And he was so selfless and giving that I checked out him sideways initially. What was his angle? But he turned an inspiration. When issues received robust, I may at all times say, ‘nicely, Brooke’s nonetheless doing it.'”
Saunders connected with former roommate Hudert and resurrected the Rockitz identify for promotion and for reserving native musicians at, amongst different locations, the annual Watermelon Festival, the Powhatan County Fair and the Easter Parade. They additionally started videotaping every little thing. “Without his movies, a lot of Richmond’s music historical past would simply be using round in just a few individuals’s heads, certain to be forgotten,” says good friend Susan Stewart, a fellow Lynchburg native.
“The filming began perhaps 25 years in the past,” recollects Hudert, “And it was Brooke’s thought all the way in which. We began filming the reveals that Brooke put collectively after which posting them on our Rockitz YouTube channel. Before we knew it, we had fifty or one thing and we simply purchased extra videotape and batteries and saved going.”
There are actually as many as 5,000 recordings from Richmond dwell live shows — largely native performers and plenty of from Brooke’s personal promotions, just like the Rockitz Battle of the Bands. Some are accessible on the web, or via Broadcast Richmond, an internet advertising and promotion firm co-founded by Maggie Tubb, Jay’s sister.
“It’s insane,” Hudert says. “I used to be the enterprise man and he was the go-getter. I might purchase arduous drives and have them despatched to his home, and he’d fill them up. We did not do it for the cash. Brooke by no means had any cash. Anything that we made was put proper again in.”
BrookeFest deliberate for April
In 2015, Brooke helped to finish and grasp “Redemption,” a compilation of misplaced tracks from the legendary Richmond pop-rock band, The Dads, which had featured the late Bryan Harvey.
“My brother Mike, the drummer for the Dads, was mastering these tapes with Victor Benshoff, the Dads’ sound man,” remembers Jay Tubb. “Then Victor handed away and, eerily, my brother handed on the morning of the album launch and tribute live performance. Brooke was instrumental in getting that venture accomplished, and documenting the live performance.”
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Brooke earned his liberal arts diploma from the University of Richmond, however he largely eschewed the 9 to five working world, supporting himself by driving taxis and limos, or for Uber, and designing websites. In current years, he labored with regionally based mostly music photographer, James Fortune, to assist shield Fortune’s copyrighted pictures on-line.
As his official obituary factors out, Saunders was “a cat lover, a voracious reader, a sketch artist and a really intrepid traveler.” He additionally preferred to hold on the phone, provides Hudert. “I’ve by no means met a person who preferred to speak on the phone greater than he did.”
A big group of associates paid homage to Saunders at a particular gathering at O’Toole’s Restaurant on Dec. 8, giving toasts and sharing recollections.
“It was very nice,” Ann Sykes says. “Jonathan Austin juggled, and there have been so many caring individuals who knew Brooke and instructed their tales and performed songs. I cried when Pam McCarthy sang ‘Long Time Since You’ve Gone,” one among my favorites. It was such a beautiful tribute.”
In early April, a bigger occasion is deliberate, a two-day live performance referred to as BrookeFest to be held at Luna Azul Farms in Troy, Virginia.
“This 12 months’s Powhatan County Fair in May can be being devoted to him,” says Hudert. “We’ve been doing the music there for the previous ten years. And if there’s an Easter parade and an Earth Day, we will have a Brooke stage there. Same with the Watermelon Festival. Anything that Brooke was already doing, I’m going to try to keep on in 2022.”
Asked how they are going to bear in mind Brooke Saunders, most of these interviewed say: “smiling.”
“He at all times had so many concepts and initiatives happening in his head,” says Susan Stewart. “So many plans for reveals and festivals and tributes. I do know that if I may discuss to him proper now, he would say one thing like, ‘Oh, don’t be concerned. I’ve simply gone on to my subsequent journey.'”