Todd Burge: WV born and bred
Todd Burge is a name that is familiar to those who keep abreast of the West Virginia music scene but Burge has played everywhere from Mountain Stage to CBGB and points in between.
When he is not busy recording – he has two new albums out: “Building Characters” for adults and “Character Building” for children – or playing with the likes of Lucinda Williams, Kathy Mattea and Bela Fleck, Burge also hosts Songwriter Night, frequently taped live at The Adelphia Music Hall in Marietta, Ohio, and has been instrumental in bringing in some national acts to the venue across the river from his hometown of Parkersburg.
A CD release show for Burge’s latest effort, “Building Characters,” will be April 28 at The Adelphia. Burge will be performing with country and bluegrass musician and Wheeling native Tim O’Brien, along with The Carpenter Ants and others.
Graffiti caught up with Burge recently to find out a little bit about the man behind the music.
Graffiti: Where did you get your start in music? Who or what are your influences?
Burge: I started singing in choirs in junior high and at Parkersburg High School. My mother and brother where both piano players and my mom was a choir instructor at Sand Hill United Methodist Church in Boaz (WV).
I didn’t really get serious until I went to WVU and experienced first hand the original music scene in Morgantown. I was writing an English paper on Punk Rock and went to the Underground Rail Road, a now famous club (it is now called 123 Pleasant Street) on the national college circuit. They had bands like Black Flag, The Dead Kennedys, John Sebastian, Bo Diddley, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Cowboy Junkies, They Might Be Giants, etc.
But I was mostly inspired by the local artists. I saw a band on stage that first night from Morgantown called Gene Pool. They played a song called “Pilots are Melting” and the next day I heard it on U92, the college radio station. I remember where I was when I heard it. I was blown away that a local band was getting airplay. It changed my life. I wanted to be a songwriter. I wanted to be in a band. It became my life’s mission and I stayed in school taking classes that I thought would help me become a better songwriter.
My influences are mostly the people I work and tour with: Tim O’Brien, Don Dixon, Jimmy Clinton, Mark Poole, RJ Cowdery, Bruce Dalzell, JD Hutchison, Larry Groce, Billy Matheny and so many more. I’m also inspired by my kids, family, movies, books, food, bugs, humans and well, life.
Graffiti: How did you get involved with booking acts to play at The Adelphia? Is there any show you’ve had a hand in that you’re particularly proud of?
Burge: I was booking occasional shows at The Galley before The Adelphia was there for my monthly radio program Songwriter Night with Todd Burge. These shows were almost always well-attended or sold out, so The Adelphia asked me to help them book on a regular basis. I’m really proud of so many of the bookings, it would be hard to say. I’m most thrilled when a local or regional act pulls in a huge crowd. I love seeing a regional act develop and build an audience.
Graffiti: You have toured and played in different parts of the country – how does the Mid-Ohio Valley community compare as far as talent and venues?
Burge: I’m occasionally told that our scene is better than, say, Morgantown, Columbus or Charleston. And I’m told that by people who live in those towns. There’s always a certain amount of “the grass is greener” syndrome, but I do believe we have a strong scene here and it is getting stronger all the time. Some venues have popped up on both sides of the river and it really has ignited a fresh scene.
Graffiti: In your opinion, how could the community grow to expand its music and arts scene?
Burge: Well, as I said before, there are some new venues and this always leads to new bands. When local and regional musicians see a national act, it inspires them to either fine tune their act or start one. We are sitting on the cusp of a really strong music “era” for the Mid-Ohio Valley, I believe. With a new amphitheater coming to Parkersburg, Artsbridge, The Blues Jazz Folk Music Society, new festivals cropping up everywhere and of course The Colony Theatre cranking up its renovation, we are only seeing the tip here.