For a good time: Local trio Scuffletown still brings the fun

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John Whitlow and his band Scuffletown will play their mix of roots, jazz, bluegrass and rock at Dance for Life, a posthumous tribute to Marty Whitlow. Photo: Martyn Kyle John Whitlow and his band Scuffletown will play their mix of roots, jazz, bluegrass and rock at Dance for Life, a posthumous tribute to Marty Whitlow. Photo: Martyn Kyle

The only reminder of a once-thriving Orange County town is a sign: Scuffletown Road. And while the place may be gone, it’s certainly not forgotten, thanks to John Whitlow, Marc Carraway and Vaughan Mairs, the guys who make up Scuffletown, a high-energy acoustic trio.

“During the Depression, Scuffletown was a lively, blue collar place that eventually fell off the map,” explained Whitlow, adding that whenever he drove past the road sign in Barboursville, he thought, “That would be a pretty cool name for a band.” In the mid-’90s, Whitlow, who plays harmonica, flute and accordion, met Carraway, a singer and guitarist, and that thought became a reality. Several years later, standup bass player Mairs joined the pair.

The threesome has brought its take on roots, jazz, world, bluegrass and original music to venues throughout the Mid-Atlantic. In recent years, however, Scuffletown’s stuck closer to home, which is fine with Whitlow, who doesn’t miss the traveling and said nothing beats being a community musician because there’s so much joy “in a good, local fan base that you have a relationship with.”

“One of the great things about Scuffletown, is that we are all really different in terms of what we bring in musical ability and background,” said Carraway when asked why the band has endured for nearly two decades. “Vaughan has such a great wealth of traditional and classic swing tunes, and John brings a variety of instruments and styles like blues and zydeco, so we never get stuck in one musical style.”

Plus, “we thoroughly enjoy what we do,” Mairs said. “There’s a Scufflezone that we fall into, and I think that’s infectious to our audience. We play fun songs.”

On March 6, those songs will hold extra meaning for the band when it performs them at the fourth annual Dance for Life, a fundraiser for the Marty Whitlow Ovarian Cancer Research Fund. The event, which also features Terri Allard and The Gladstones, was started after Whitlow’s wife, an Albemarle County kindergarten teacher for more than 30 years, was diagnosed with advanced stage ovarian cancer.

Instead of giving up, Marty decided to give back and turn a negative into a positive by raising money for and spreading awareness about ovarian cancer, known as a silent killer of women because only 19 percent of cases are caught before the cancer spreads beyond the ovary. During her treatment at UVA, Marty became close to her physician, Dr. Amir Jazaeri, and when she asked him what she could do to help, he told her he needed money to support his research.

After a series of small fundraisers, the Whitlows decided to put together a major musical event, and, with plenty of help from both their musician and non-musician friends, Dance for Life was born.

“Within the first three years, Marty had raised $100,000, which is a testament to the love for her as much as for her cause,” a visibly moved Whitlow said of his wife, who passed away last fall. “She really became the face of ovarian cancer in Charlottesville, and her doctor was so inspired by her spirit that he named a research project The Marty Project.”

Friday’s show will be difficult, he said, because it’s the first time Marty won’t be there. “This is a special one,” Whitlow said.

After his wife got sick, “music was about the only thing that felt normal to me,” he added. “Still does. Music was a space that I could get lost in. I could move out of the cancer zone.”

Scuffletown’s fourth CD, a mixture of original songs and “great tunes from other songwriters we love,” will be out later this spring, and “we’re as busy as we’ve ever been,” Whitlow said. This, despite the fact that local musicians sometimes struggle “because they’re competing with national acts,” he said. “There are a lot of great musicians in Charlottesville whose playing options are sometimes limited because listening and dance venues are difficult to find. But on the flip side, wineries and breweries have provided a lot of opportunities for acoustic musicians.”

The best opportunity by far, though, is performing four or five times a month with his friends, Carraway and Mairs. “We look at each other all the time and say this is just too much fun; we can’t believe we get paid to do it,” he said. “And we get free beer.”

Dance for Life featuring Scuffletown livens up the Holiday Inn University Area on March 6.