From power suits to cowboy boots
Trial lawyer Paul Mengel pursues his lost love while keeping his day job
May 11, 2006

Ed Corr, Don Parrish, Holly Haynes, Fred Smoral and Paul Mengel make up the bluegrass band, City Farm.

Alexandria Times Photos/Regan Kireilis
Paul Mengel of City Farm performs at Tiffany Tavern.

Alexandria Times Photos/Regan Kireilis
Ed Corr, Don Parrish, Holly Haynes, Fred Smoral and Paul Mengel make up the bluegrass band, City Farm.

Just before her husband’s progressive bluegrass band City Farm starts into its 8:30 sound check at Tiffany Tavern last Saturday night, Pam Mengel leans against the bar and casually lists the four, long held attributes that made a man utterly “unmarriable” back when she was single.

“First, don’t date anyone you work with. Second, never date anyone older than you. Third, never date a lawyer. And, finally, never go with a musician.” With a glimmer in her eye and a nod of her head towards the stage area, she admits, “Well, that’s what I thought before I met Paul, who was all four of those things, but so much more.”

Yet, talking to Paul Mengel, a trial lawyer with the Alexandria division of the Ohio-based firm of Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease, you understand how easily Pam Mengel could have fallen under his spell more than a decade ago. A charismatic man with an energetic streak, Mengel appears to be passionate about everything he discusses, no matter if it’s a pickin’ or a suing.

Born in 1955, Paul Mengel grew up in Danville, Va. While he admits to being a ‘Beatles man’ (his first album purchase was of the Fab Four), such rural confines made him and his friends interested in the indigenous music.

“While we all would go to Jethro Tull, Grand Funk Railroad, and all those rock shows, we fell in love with bluegrass at a time when the younger folk were starting to go to these country festivals that were popping up in the early 70’s,” Mengel said. However, practicing mountain songs on the weekends ended with his senior year of high school. Paul moved on to the University of Virginia as an undergraduate to study law, and did his graduate work at George Mason University, while others of his country crew went to Duke and Virginia Tech.

After graduation, Mengel migrated to Alexandria and started to work for a local firm, but music was still in his veins. His unquenched desire found a home in The Peptonz, an R & B group that Paul helped to make a regional staple (playing a weekly gig Tuesday nights at The Wharf) during the mid- to late-80’s. Yet, even doing what he loved became a grind. “I had a lot of fun with that band,” Mengel explains, “but as the kids came and the career demands grew, it was just hard to drive out to Rockville, play in some little club, get your $20, and come home at 3 a.m. and then go to trial the next day, performing complex civil litigation.”

After quitting the Peptonz, Paul Mengel’s only musical outlet during the past ten years was the weekend jam sessions that started again since most of Mengel’s Danville friends had migrated to the Washington, D.C., area. Banjo man Don Parrish is the president of his own telecommunications consulting firm. Steel guitarist Fred Smoral works with computers. Holly Haynes is a paralegal and her husband Marcus is the bass player and an environmental health specialist. Rounding out the band is acoustic guitarist Ed Corr, who is an architect constructing both buildings and some original songs City Farm will be performing live.

Going for it
An opportunity to move out of the garage and onto an actual stage presented itself last summer when the Manassas band Marcus and Holly were playing in dissolved with one final gig booked and in need of a fill-in. As Mengel tells it, “We decided ‘what the heck?’ We know about 15 to 20 songs. Why not just drill those and see if we can fill in this gig? So we worked our tails off, got four sets of songs together, and pulled off the show. Then afterwards, we all decided, since we weren’t getting any younger, why not make a go of it, since we all really love the music anyway?”

Taking their name from a hometown correctional facility the teens were always warned they’d be going to if they didn’t straighten up, City Farm is “a newgrass, non-traditional band, where in any given set we could do a Beatles song or a Simon and Garfunkel number or even a Bad Company song, for Pete’s sake,” said Mengel.

As for their immediate goals, the group hopes to play more venues like the Tiffany Tavern (where they’ll be appearing again on June 3 and July 15), take part in a few regional festivals and maybe record a full length CD to sell at their shows.

Yet, for any of his clients that might be reading this article and worrying that they could soon be losing legal representation, don’t worry – Paul Mengel, attorney-at-law, isn’t going anywhere. “Music can pay tremendously, but unless you’re Alison Krauss or Ricky Skaggs, it’s hard to make a living playing bluegrass music. I’d say that 99.9 percent of the people in this genre do it for the love of the music,” Mengel said.

Even if fame and fortune never comes City Farm’s way, you get the feeling that Paul Mengel has already won in this game called life. “Look, I work at a great firm. I have talented friends with whom I play the music I love, and I have my wife who encourages and supports my artistic side. Not bad, eh?”