HARRISONBURG, Va. — The strip mall on Miller Circle erupted into flames last month after an explosion that shook Harrisonburg for miles. Within the shopping center, Hometown Music and Blue Sprocket Sound were two businesses reduced to rubble.
For local music makers, the loss of both businesses threatened to mark the crisp fall Saturday as the day the music died.
“It’s such an important place. Blue Sprocket and Hometown Music are pillars of the Harrisonburg music community. . To lose them in such a tragic way, we felt there was nothing we could do but respond in a way that would hopefully be helpful to them,” said Daniel Bellerose, bassist and vocalist for Prince Bellerose.
One day after the incident, members of Prince Bellerose and Paracosm started a GoFundMe to be split between the two music businesses and raised $10,000 within 24 hours. After raising the goal to $20,000, the fundraiser once again met its target within another day. As of Thursday, the explosion relief fundraiser was at $24,150.
Over the recent weeks, efforts to accrue more resources for the businesses have been nonstop.
The week following the explosion, Lola’s Delicatessen served sandwiches inspired by the small businesses affected by the explosion, including the Cordon Blue Sprocket and Hometown Hero. Downtown’s nanobrewery, The Friendly Fermenter, ran a mug club raffle to benefit the businesses.
Rev. Bill Howard dedicated the collection plate from his weekly “confessional” music stream on Oct. 25 to the explosion relief fund, contributing $185. On Saturday, eight bands played a benefit concert for the studio and shop at Valley Pike Farm Market, raising nearly $5,000.
Saturday night, MACROCK, the heart of downtown’s independent music scene, is hosting its first live stream on the streaming platform Twitch with performances by Paracosm and Prince Bellerose in support of Blue Sprocket and Hometown Music.
“This is such a townie music scene where we want to support each other,” Bellerose said. “It just feels like a community center for music in Harrisonburg. It’s like you’ve got the Golden Pony and Blue Sprocket and Hometown. . There’s nowhere else. It was the place to go. It feels kind of lonely without them in town.”
Several pieces of audio equipment in Blue Sprocket were vintage, limited edition and nearly if not completely impossible to replace, such as the soundboard, of which only eight exist in the U.S. and less than 20 around the world. Despite the epic quality recording available in town, the studio was by and for locals and played centerfold in the debut of many independent bands as the first studio to record their initial EP.
Yes, Blue Sprocket was a place to record tracks and Hometown Music a destination for gear and equipment, but Ethan Morris of Paracosm said the teams within and community surrounding the businesses instilled them as quintessential pieces in the Harrisonburg independent music scene.
“They weren’t just people who stood behind the counter. . We need to help at all cost the people who facilitate (music) and do the major recording of bands in town,” Morris said. “They help facilitate all of that, so without them, will the Harrisonburg music scene continue? Sure. . But it’d be an incredible loss to go forward without them.”
Blue Sprocket owner Chris Jackson grew up in Harrisonburg and worked at Hometown Music after high school before moving to Nashville, Tenn., to learn from the industry’s top dogs during his formative years. There, he worked with high-profile musicians, made connections in the recording industry and learned to restore antique equipment that enabled him to return home and bring top-notch music magic with him.
“Instead of moving to the Philly area or New York or a big city, we really love Harrisonburg and decided we were going to stick it out here,” Jackson said. “Instead of having a small studio in a basement, I wanted to build a proper room along the lines of what I’d come to get used to using in Nashville.”
In late October of 2013, Blue Sprocket Sound on Miller Circle opened — almost exactly seven years ago to the day of the explosion.
Jon Furson with MACROCK and Harrisonburg band Sunday Evening Drive said the two businesses were staples of the local scene, and music makers will be left in limbo until their fitful returns.
“That’s definitely going to put a dent in town for the music scene. That would really make it really hard for people around town to record their music, and it’ll force everyone to kind of buy their gear online to get it from some big corporations,” he said. “A lot of artists around town use Blue Sprocket for recording purposes, so I’m sure there’s a lot less output of music because of that.”
Chuck Marks, owner of Hometown Music, declined an interview but said in an email that he felt “blessed, humbled, honored by the community response.”
Both businesses are in discussions of reopening, preferably near each other again, though Jackson said the future remains murky and the timelines varied.
“Until we’re able to find or build new space, we’re working on trying to get some mobile capacity put together so we can resume some work,” he said. “I’m hopeful what we build out of this will be better for everybody. . I’m fairly confident that (Chuck)’s coming back in the near future, and I’m pleased for that. Harrisonburg needs a good little music store, and he ran a great one.”
During the pandemic, Jackson said, the music industry is one of the most hurt, and the explosion was “a very strange, strange exclamation point on top of it.” But alongside the grief, he also feels bittersweet humility and comfort to receive the waves of support rolling in from the community.
MACROCK’s livestream fundraiser goes live at 8 p.m. on Saturday, and artists such as Howard and Valentin Prince from Prince Bellerose are partnering up for an online concert sponsored by WNRN next month to continue raising awareness and funds for the Miller Circle businesses impacted by October’s explosion.
“I still feel the punch in the gut. But there’s been this unbelievable outpouring of support,” Jackson said. “I’m glad that it happened when it did so there was not more human damage, and I guess to that extent I’m glad it happened here because it’s got a community that really cares about one another.”
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