Brandon Adams (left) interviews and plays guitar with Zach Top, an up-and-coming country artist, in a Season 2 episode of "The Life of a Musician." Photo courtesy of Brandon Adams.

Life changed for Brandon Lee Adams the first time he heard a Tony Rice song. 

“The first note I heard, I started paying attention,” Adams said. “It rocked me down to my core. At the age of 8 I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life, which was to make music.”

Adams, creator of the PBS Blue Ridge show “The Life of a Musician,” which is set in Danville, said he taught himself guitar, bass, piano and a little bit of mandolin. 

“I started learning from whoever would teach me,” he said. “Learning from listening to old albums on repeat. And to this day I’m still always trying to learn.”

He was born in West Virginia and spent the school years there and the summers in Webbville, Kentucky, where music was part of daily life. 

“It was just part of the culture,” Adams said. “Everybody sang. And whether we were good at it or not, everybody played something.”

Years later, after Adams himself became a professional acoustic musician, he would actually get to sit down and record one of his own songs with Rice, an influential guitarist and bluegrass musician. Adams called this experience “a dream come true,” and said the two have maintained a friendship since then. 

Adams moved to Danville from High Point, North Carolina, in 2020 because he and his wife, Mindy, were tired of renting and ready to buy a home. They visited the city, attracted by the low cost of living, and loved the community they found, he said. 

And shortly after the move, when his 55-show tour across Europe was canceled due to the pandemic, Adams began to spend his time restoring old homes in Danville, including the one he now lives in on Jefferson Avenue. 

Spending time around the historic homes in Danville inspired Adams. He had been on PBS before, most recently for a show called “Songs at the Center,” and knew several of the people at the station, he said. 

He told them he was thinking of starting his own show interviewing other musicians with Danville’s historic locations as a backdrop, he said. 

PBS show set in Danville nominated for regional Emmy

The PBS show that brings famous musicians to Danville has been nominated for a Capital Emmy award.

“The Life of a Musician,” created by Danville resident Brandon Adams, features famous acoustic artists in historic locations around the city. 

The first of the show’s two seasons is a contender in the “Interview/Discussion” category. 

“There couldn’t be people who are more shocked than us,” Adams said about the nomination, adding that his team never considered the possibility of winning an award when they created the show.

Adams said he’s especially proud of the nomination because of its category. 

“The fact that they felt like the conversation and the content of those conversations, along with the music, was worthy of recognition, that makes me happy,” he said. “At the end of the day, they thought it’s a good conversation. There’s good content here. It’s not just throwaway TV.”

In most episodes of the show, Adams converses with a famous musician, and then the two play a few songs together. In a few episodes, which Adams calls house concerts, the musician plays a live show in an intimate setting with no question-and-answer portion. 

Featured musicians have included John Jorgenson, guitarist for Sting, Elton John and Bob Dylan, who appeared in the first season, and Redd Volkaert, lead guitarist for Merle Haggard’s band The Strangers, who appeared in the second season. 

Episodes have been filmed in locations across the city and have featured featured local businesses like The Dog-Eared Page, a downtown bookstore, as well as historic homes. 

Adams said the nomination is still surreal, and he’s trying not to focus on it too much. 

“I’m still just mowing my lawn and petting my cat,” he said. “Pretending like it isn’t happening. … If we get submitted for a nomination for season two, I’ll take it seriously.”

— Grace Mamon

“I’ve spent 20 years in the business, and I’ve met some of the best musicians in the world,” Adams said, adding that he thought it was a cool concept to have “an artist interviewing other artists.”

PBS greenlit the show, he said, and they spent about a year filming the first season, which premiered in October. 

Jacob Dellinger, executive producer of new station PBS Appalachia Virginia, is the show’s director. Adams met Dellinger while working on “Songs at the Center,” which showcases singer-songwriters. 

“I’d developed a couple other shows before, and I’ve always wanted to do a music one,” Dellinger said, adding that although he’s not a musician himself, he’s “fascinated by the lives and inner workings” of the music industry. 

The first season had 13 episodes, each with a different artist in a different location around Danville. 

It featured musicians including John Jorgenson, guitarist for Sting, Elton John and Bob Dylan; Sammy Shelor, the frontman of the Lonesome River Band; Larry Cordle, Nashville Hall of Fame songwriter; and Alecia Nugent, female vocalist of the year for Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America. 

The show was submitted for an Emmy, Adams said, though he doesn’t know yet if it is one of the finalists in its category. Official nominations come out in May, Dellinger said.

“You don’t actually go unless you’re a finalist,” Adams said. “So I’m trying to pretend like it never happened, because it’s a lot of competition. We’re up against some shows that have been around for a decade.”

Instead, Adams said he’s focusing on the second season of “The Life of a Musician,” which is underway and will feature a new set of artists in new Danville settings.

It will also feature three live shows, where the musician essentially performs a concert, with no question-and-answer portion. The first season had two episodes like this. 

The first of season two’s live shows — or house concerts, as Adams calls them — will be April 1, featuring four-time CMA Musician of the Year Jenee Fleenor.

Fleenor “is an award-winning multi-instrumentalist, singer and songwriter known primarily for her fiddle playing,” according to the show’s website. She’s toured with artists including Blake Shelton, Martina McBride and Steven Tyler of Aerosmith. 

She also performed in the house band on NBC’s “The Voice” for eight years.

Adams said the house concert will have a very casual feel. It will be held in what Adams called a “barndominium” — a barn-style building made for residential purposes — on Clearview Drive in Danville. 

Lots of acoustic musicians perform house concerts for supplementary income and for fun, he said. 

“It’s a good way to make extra money, but it’s also the most intimate setting to see an artist perform. And it’s usually a lot more laid back,” he said. 

The pilot of the first season of “The Life of a Musician” featured host Brandon Adams (left) with John Jorgenson, who has played guitar with artists including Sting and Elton John. It was set in a home in the Old West End of Danville. Photo courtesy of Brandon Adams. 

In addition to Fleenor, the second season will feature Redd Volkaert, lead guitarist for Merle Haggard’s band The Strangers; John Cowan, who played bass for the Doobie Brothers; Tim O’Brien, a bluegrass musician who Adams called “a personal hero of mine,” and others. 

In the show, Adams sits down with the artists, asks them questions, and they play a few songs together. 

“I don’t rehearse with the artists until the day of, so the day that I meet the artists, though we may be familiar with the songs, we’ve never played them together,” Adams said. “And I don’t think of any questions to ask them, because I want it to be an honest conversation.”

Locations from the first season included the Dog-Eared Page, a downtown bookstore; Crema & Vine, a coffee and wine bar; historic homes in the city’s Old West End district; and the Bee Hotel. The second season will be filmed in a new set of locations. 

“It’s not a hard sell to get musicians to Danville once I explain what the show is about and once they understand what the show is trying to accomplish,” Adams said, though he has had to explain where Danville is a couple of times. 

Dellinger, who was born in Martinsville and lived in Danville until he was 6, said that Danville is a good setting for the show because of the city’s drastic changes in recent years. 

It “wasn’t always the most picturesque” place, Dellinger said, and many people moved out of the area over the years. But now, even if they haven’t been to Danville in years, viewers of “The Life of a Musician” can see what the city looks like today, he said. 

“It’s great to see this revived, revitalized, growing Danville,” Dellinger said. “There’s all this beautiful history and architecture,” especially in the Old West End, a redeveloped historic neighborhood full of Victorian and Edwardian homes, which served as the setting of several first-season episodes. 

Adams added that he thinks Danville is “still this undiscovered, amazing thing,” and that the show can showcase both the musicians and the city simultaneously. 

“There’s so much going on here,” Adams said. “There’s so many people who are working towards really improving things, and I’ve not seen this before in my life, where you’ve got a lot of talented people working to make the place really stand out.”

He’s excited about each of the new artists that will be featured in the second season, he said, adding that lessons learned from the first season — even about small things like closed captioning – will make the second even better. 

“The bar has been raised,” Dellinger said. “And it’s going to keep on escalating.”

Grace Mamon is a reporter for Cardinal News. Reach her at