By Brandon Martin
Music-goers and beer connoisseurs alike were reminded of the good ole days Saturday night as Josh Marlowe’s country and bluegrass music trickled down the mountainside from Mountain Valley Brewing in Axton.
For those in attendance, it was a night of levity.
For Marlowe, 33, it was a chance for a small-town guy to pass down his musical tradition.
Marlowe spends most days cutting hair at Young’s Barber Services in Bassett. But every now and then, he makes his way across the county to perform at the brewery.
“I honestly cannot say enough good things about the brewery,” Marlowe said. “Herb and Peggy (the owners) make everyone feel like they are at home, whether it’s the artist performing or the folks listening. Every time I play there, I feel like I’m in my backyard playing music for my buddies. Just a great laid-back atmosphere.”
With social distancing and facemask guidelines followed, the night was a relaxing reprieve for Marlowe, who has not only been affected by the pandemic professionally but personally as well.
“I used to perform a few times each month but since March, due to COVID, that has really gone down,” Marlowe said, adding that he isn’t too concerned about the quantity of performances at the time “until we are past this stuff.”
When he gets an opportunity to hit the stage, Marlowe commands the backyard atmosphere, weaving together southern classics with twang-laden renditions of current hits against the backdrop of a country night under the stars.
Born in Pittsylvania County, Marlowe said among his biggest musical inspirations is Ricky Van Shelton, another Pittsylvania County native, who’s music career began the year before Marlowe’s birth.
Marlowe said he admires Shelton because of his singing ability, and even got to perform with him in person once.
Marlowe said he also respects many other artists who unknowingly helped him create his personal style.
“Hank Williams Sr. and Jr., because both are amazing songwriters, Ricky Van Shelton because of his singing ability, Elvis because he’s probably the best all time singer/entertainer in my opinion,” Marlowe said. “It’s a long list, and it’s constantly evolving. Right now, I’m really into Molly Tuttle. Her guitar playing really blows my mind and challenges me.”
The challenge of mastering the guitar is what hooked Marlowe on music in the first place.
“It was frustrating at first, and took two attempts,” Marlowe said of his early ‘picking’ days. “The first time I tried, I was probably a little too young to start, and the teacher I had was for more advanced students. It was way over my head.”
Marlowe said he continued to pursue the guitar “because my neighbors could play and it was amazing to me that they could play and sing the songs we would listen to on the radio.
“My second attempt at learning a few years later was much more successful. My teacher was a big Hank Williams Sr., fan. That helped really push me to learn because we worked on all of his songs,” Marlowe said.
As he progressed through his music career, Marlowe said he was fortunate to share the same stage as some of his idols from yesteryear during performances at the Harvester Center in Franklin County.
“I’ve seen some of my musical heroes there. Getting to play the same stage, and play songs I’ve written for hundreds of people, is pretty cool,” he said.
When playing at Mountain Valley, Marlowe said he continues to create more fond memories, right in his neck of the woods, even though some choose music as a way to leave their hometown.
“I used to think I wanted to be famous and play music, but that’s the furthest thing I want now,” he said, adding that his music keeps him closer to his roots.
When he performs, Marlowe said it is “just to enjoy it and bring enjoyment to others. I like my small-town simple life. So, if people enjoy what I do, then that’s all I need and want. And that’s enough to make me want to keep doing it for a while longer.”