by Lindsey Wray (lindsey.wray@roanoke.com or 540-777-3521)

An old store adjacent to the railroad tracks in Eagle Rock provides a venue for what Harold Cook calls "redneck aerobics."

Cook jokingly used the term to describe the dancing that occurs in the store, which houses James River Music Hall. Like conventional exercise classes, "redneck aerobics" takes place on a schedule: every second and fourth Saturday of the month.

That's when bluegrass and country musicians gather to play at the music hall, which was started three years ago by a man named David Dooley. Dooley has since moved to Louisiana, but Cook, of the Sugar Tree Hollow area of Botetourt County, and Troutville resident Tommy Jordan keep the music hall up and running.

"The people enjoy it - that's what we work for," said Jordan, 68.

In addition to regular performances, Jordan and Cook have planned a musical celebration for New Year's Eve. The event will feature local musicians such as Heather Berry, Virginia Carolina an! d the Love Buzzards.

"We just have fun," said Cook, 65
Cook, who calls himself a "doctor of dobrology," will play his dobro at the New Year's Eve performance. He plays with a bluegrass group called Botetourt, which gets its name from its three members: Uncle "Bot," Little "T" and Grandpa "Tot."

Special celebrations aside, the James River Music Hall is regularly crowded, Jordan said. Cars fill the parking lot on performance nights, and people are occasionally forced to stand up to watch the show for lack of seating. Shows often last several hours.

Cook, who owns the building that houses the music hall, built a stage as well as several benches made of logs and planks of wood for spectators. He doesn't charge an admission fee for performances; he simply passes a hat around to collect donations to cover the utility bills.

Jordan, who plays the guitar and sings, said he'd like to eventually cover the walls with photos of people who've performe! d at James River Music Hall. He and Cook enjoy coming to the music hal l for every performance.

"We hardly ever miss a show unless something drastic happens," Jordan said.

Cook urges anyone and everyone to try their hand at performing. Because the music hall is smoke- and alcohol-free, even young children are welcome to listen or take the stage.

"Anybody that wants to play can play," he said. "Everyone has to start somewhere."

Even if it means dabbling in "redneck aerobics."

A New Year's Eve celebration will be held Friday at James River Music Hall, 140 Railroad Ave. in Eagle Rock. A potluck dinner will be served at 6 p.m.; music will start at 7. Regular performances at the music hall are held at 6 p.m. on the second and fourth Saturdays of each month. Call 992-2642 or 884-2264..


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