Friday, October 24, 2014

Here's Looking at You

So today I did what no self-respecting native Washingtonian would do: went to the top of the Washington Monument.

It all started on October first when I read about Cuban-American artist Jorge Rodriguez- Gerada's monumental portrait "Out of Many, One" being constructed just west of the reflecting pool.

The catch? It's intended to be seen from a bird's eye view, namely from the top of the Washington Monument. And while tickets to the memorial to George are free, they're limited and go fast. Let's just say I wasted little time between reading about the piece and ordering the first available tickets.

Then all I needed was another art lover to join me on a day trip to see it. That was the easy part.

Lunch at the 2400 Diner in Fredericksburg (where the neon says "Air conditioned" and "Good food" in the window) and traffic put us on the mall five minutes after our 3:30 tour time, but we only had to wait a few more minutes at the windy base of the monument before being included in the next group to go up.

The Park Service ranger who accompanied us up in the elevator had clearly been on the job for too long. An automaton who made no eye contact and spoke in a monotone, he was nonetheless full of information about the construction and accomplishment of building the world's tallest building at the time (still the tallest stone structure in the world).

At the top, we went window to window, beginning with the view of the portrait next to the Reflecting Pool. The man's face is a composite of photographs the artist took of people in Washington, so it resembles no particular ethnicity and every ethnicity. And it kind of looks at you, even from 555 feet below.

Yesterday's rain had left a few puddles on and near the portrait and three-plus weeks of weather had begun the gradual erosion of it, all part of the design. It's expected to be gone entirely in another week.

One thing this native Washingtonian hadn't realized was that you are no longer allowed to take the steps up and down the monument. Oh, they let you take a few steps down to the museum located at 490 feet, but then you have to take the elevator the rest of the way. Disappointing.

When I asked a ranger why this was, he explained that too many people had touched and vandalized the stone plaques (donated by states, countries, organizations and individuals) that line the interior of the monument.

Apparently the collective we can't have nice things because we don't treat them right. The consolation was that on the elevator ride down, Mr. Monotone stopped the elevator and turned off the lights at certain points to show us some of the plaques including one with its griffins broken off by badly behaving visitors. Sigh.

Back on terra firma, we decide to make the most of our prime parking space and take in some other sites, namely the Martin Luther King memorial, which I'd read plenty about but never seen. As impressive as the huge stone image of MLK is, I was moved most by the series of quotes etched on the walls around it.

From there it only made sense to go look at Rodriguez-Gerarda's work from the ground, cutting through the D.C. War Memorial's stone edifice on the way to the portrait. Truly, it was unrecognizable from street level.

Oh, we could see the dark lines and the white spots, but as intended, the eye couldn't read it as a whole from down there. I felt very fortunate to have scored the tickets to access the view and see it as the artist intended before all that sand and soil becomes part of the earth again.

Mission accomplished.

To celebrate, we walked a little over a mile to the subterranean Bottom Line (hearing such '80s gems as 38 Special's "Caught Up In You"...little girl?) for a celebratory drink before walking back to reclaim the car, face the traffic and head to Alexandria for dinner.

Our destination was the casual little brother of Restaurant Eve, Eamonns, which billed itself as a Dublin chipper with the slogan "Thanks be to cod." Our handsome server asked if we wanted table service and we took him up on his offer.

Wine choices were limited to one red and one white and arrived swimming in the bottom of beer glasses, but the cod was fresh, the chips were hand cut, the slaw not overly sweet and the wings nicely crisped, a fine meal on a rustic wooden table with a view of the hustle and bustle of King Street.

Just as satisfying was the music which came from an iPod on high, so high that when a great song came on and both our server and I wanted to know what it was, he had to stand on a bench, craning to try and read the device stationed up near the ceiling, no doubt to keep lesser beings from skipping songs or changing the playlist.

We were rewarded to learn it was Phoenix band Caterwaul's "The Sheep's a Wolf" from 1989, surprising those of us who would have liked just such a  female-fronted band in 1989 but had never heard of them.

Sign on the door of the women's room: "Street girls bringing in sailors must pay in advance for rooms." Duly noted, as were the superb black and white photographs of a Dublin bar and bridge hanging inside.

When our server came over to check on us, asking if we needed anything, I couldn't think of anything except a table dance, but he gestured to the people sitting at the table as the only reason he couldn't. I like a server with  good attitude.

By the time we were finished, the small restaurant had filled up with people waiting for food and to-go orders (or perhaps one of the various fried candy bars on the menu), so we set out in search of dessert elsewhere.

After a stroll past endless antique shops, high end clothing stores and home furnishing meccas, we settled on Union Street Public House, noisy with a boisterous crowd and far too many screens showing Thursday night football.

When the bartender delivered Junior's famous tuxedo cake ("with a chocolate ice cream chaser," he joked), he said it had been very popular tonight; he'd already served four of the devil's food cake layered with cheesecake and ganache behemoths.

Nobody needs all this, I told him. He looked affronted. "I do! And you do!" he corrected me. So maybe he was right, even if I couldn't half finish it all.

That's the thing about need. Some would make a case that I really didn't need a trip to Washington to see "Out of Many, One."

Oh, but I did. Even natives need to see their city from on high sometimes.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Blow by Blow

I knew I'd made the right choice of what to do tonight when I saw how many musicians were in the room.

A lot of really good ones.

The Broadberry was hosting trumpeter Rex Richardson's dual CD release party tonight and just about every table and chair in the place was already taken when I got there. Plenty of people were standing in front of the stage, too, and more continued to arrive.

No surprise there because Rex is kind of a big deal, a phenomenal musician whether he's blowing on a trumpet, coronet, flugelhorn or whatever.

My interest in tonight's program had its seeds in a show I'd gone to at the Singleton Center back in 2006 when Rex had been playing in a group called Rhythm and Brass. Memorably, that night's program had ranged from the Beatles to Radiohead with bits of everything in between.

That was the night I'd fallen for his trumpet playing (I might have even been that person who went up to him afterwards and gushed a bit).

Since that show eight years ago, I've seen him many times at VCU's Singleon Center and more recently, when he fronted an evening with the Richmond Symphony. Always on a limited budget, I'd splurged $10 on a next-to-the-last-row ticket for that show and now tonight I was dropping another ten-spot to hear Rex play his newest stuff.

His quintet began without any introduction beyond him blowing his horn to begin "Tell, Tell Me Again" and get the entire room's attention.

After that, he reminded us that CDs were for sale at a table in the back staffed by his beautiful wife Star. "Don't look at her," he warned, "look at the CDs."

After "Red Shift," which he characterized as an angry song, he said, "Now for something less manic," and played a song by the quintet's drummer, Brian Jones. It was the kind of beautiful song you could get lost in and at one point, I noticed a couple of musicians near the bar with their heads bent, not even looking at the stage, just deep in the music.

The man about town stopped by, a drink in each hand, complimented my sweater and asked if he was blocking my view (nope).

Of course Rex dedicated "Seeing Star (Blue Shift)" to "that lady at the back table selling CDs." I was bowled over when they did bassist Randall Pharr's soulful "Blues for David Henry," which they'd apparently also played on a morning TV show "when jazz musicians aren't really awake."

Just as stellar was "Big Sur" ("There's probably a story there but I never asked him") written by Jones that didn't last nearly as long as I would have liked.

Rex thanked the audience repeatedly, clearly thrilled with the size of the crowd that had shown up tonight. And just like that, the quintet portion of the show was over.

A lot of the people who'd been sitting at tables got up and left, but most of them didn't look like the kind of people who spend much time in stand up venues, so it wasn't surprising. Fact is, for a jazz show, it had started unbelievably early (not long after 8) and it was only 9:45 when the second part got rolling.

During the break, I listened to the two guys next to me on the banquette as they raved about the Star Hill Black Sabbath Stout. They were each on their fourth, so they knew of what they spoke.

All of a sudden, there was a plop next to me and a familiar smiling face sat down. It was a woman I'd met at Amuse and since run into all over town.

She was lamenting her recent resolution to only drink on weekends, although she'd had a glass of wine at dinner earlier and another at the bar at the Broadberry, so there was already some resolution bending going on. I empathized, nonetheless.

The second portion of the program was dedicated to "Dukal Bugles," written by Doug Richardson, who led a big band with some of Richmond's best jazz musicians onstage and Rex out front playing a variety of horns.

The piece is a tribute to Duke Ellington and the series of amazing trumpeters he worked with. We got a demonstration of each of the horns and sounds that would be featured before it began, but it was the seamless way Rex segued throughout that demonstrated his virtuosity.

If you weren't looking at the stage, you'd have thought there was a gaggle of horn players taking turns based on the stylistic differences we were hearing.

When it ended, everyone was on their feet and screaming for one more. The big band obliged with Mingus' "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" while  the clutch of young VCU music students behind me talked non-stop about the magic going on onstage. I was sorely tempted to tell them to button it.

Boys, boys, boys. Maybe when you're real musicians, you'll take a cue from the guys I saw tonight and just lose yourselves in the music silently.

If not, I'll just have to tell, tell you again. Music this good deserves to be heard. You opinions, not so much.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Great Balls of Fire

Despite making less than a ditch digger, I love my work.

There are road trips, I get to talk to interesting people and more than a few times, I've had a chance to see something I would otherwise never see.

Today it was an enormous southern mansion styled after Tara in "Gone with the Wind."

After stopping at the initialed gates to be buzzed in, I passed by the guest cottage which looked to be about 4,000 square feet. Pfft! That was nothing, I was soon to see.

As instructed, I followed the long, winding, pine needle-covered road over rustic wooden bridges spanning man-made lakes, past a turn-off for the stables and nearly a mile later got to the elaborate fountain directly in front of the house.

My host was waiting on the veranda with an umbrella and indicated that I should park directly in front of the wide front staircase so he could escort me up without getting a drop of rain on my pretty little head.

We made our way to the great room, which in Scarlet O'Hara's time would have probably been called the drawing room, with its two-story ceiling, massive fireplace and view of the grounds descending to the dock.

My purpose in being there was to interview this Philadelphia native who'd retired to the northern neck back in the '90s after having had this grand house built on 88 acres of what used to be a pine farm. That was tough to imagine given the acres of lush lawn I was seeing today which had replaced the cleared trees.

When I'd first come in, he'd said that after we talked, he'd take me on the fifty cent tour. Note he did not offer to give me the nickle tour because everything in this house was grander than could be covered in anything less than a half dollar.

Or at least that was my take on it.

I couldn't possibly recount all the rooms because after a while, I lost track. Okay, were we in the master suite sitting room or the breakfast sitting room?

Was that the library or the billiards room off one of the two wooden spiral staircases? It couldn't have been the pool room (where the air temperature is always one degree warmer than the water temperature) because that was downstairs, complete with a Jacuzzi, sauna, changing room, gym and bar.

In the small bathroom off the foyer were the most exquisite fixtures I've ever seen, even in a magazine. All the porcelain - sink, toilet, spigot fixture with facial mirror - were hand painted in elaborate floral designs. I'm willing to bet those three pieces are worth more than everything I own.

In the entrance hall, he'd had a local artist paint a mural on the curved wall depicting a plantation house with a couple - he and his wife, no doubt - in Civil War-era garb strolling the grounds. The dog in the painting is his deceased dog, Rhett, and on the back veranda, I met Scarlet, barking in excitement at a visitor. Painted on a tree were his and his wife's initials. Floating over a grove of trees in the background was a small UFO.

Artistic license, don't you think?

There was a wing to house the mother-in-law should she ever desire to move in and a widow's walk high atop the five-car garage.The dining room was bigger than many conference rooms, although he said it only got used at Christmas and Thanksgiving.

And get this: speakers were unobtrusively built into every room of the house for surround sound (controlled, naturally, by a box in the media room).

From the second floor balcony, there was a fabulous view of the cove and beyond it, the Chesapeake Bay. But the most charming element of the property was the Love Garden.

While clearing away all those pine trees near the house, he'd found a small stand of dogwood trees and taken down everything else around them. Now, in the center of that were several stone benches, a fountain and birdbath, nestled under a canopy of dogwoods. It was the kind of thing you'd read about in an Elizabethan play: a love garden where couples went to woo.

What ditch digger gets to see something so wonderful?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Country Mouse and the City Mouse

You can't get much further apart than True Value hardware and a David Fincher film.

When I go to the country, like I did for the past couple of days, it's like being in a different world.

For instance. they have edibles such as Triscuits, meat and tomatoes at the hardware store so you can pick up a bag of concrete and get salad fixings for dinner at the same register.

In the country, you can take an outside shower and have a view of towering trees over your head while you do it. Or watch clouds sail across the night sky intermittently revealing stars and planets and then covering them back up again.

If you're really lucky, you might look across the property at 2 a.m. to see a band of horses who've wandered down from the pasture they usually occupy to mill about near a neighbor's fence.

But once back in the city, it's all about the business of life: answering e-mails, pitching an editor, going to an appointment.

And tonight, it meant going to Movieland to see a movie taken from a blockbuster book I've yet to read but was sent as a gift by my favorite ex-cop.

Walking in to the theater next to a guy also by himself, I was tempted to joke that obviously he couldn't get a date, either. Instead, I held my tongue and stood in line in front of him watching a girl using dental floss while standing in line next to her boyfriend.

I've got nothing against flossing - I do it myself daily- but is the ticket line at a theater really the place for it?

By the time I got my ticket for "Gone Girl," the theater was probably three quarters full so I must have chosen a popular movie (a rarity for me). Unlike the masses, though, the only Fincher films I've ever seen were "Fight Club" and "Seven."

Since I haven't yet read the book, I was going into the film blind and was soon enmeshed in the story of a marriage that seems to start off fine and devolves into something kind of awful before they even reach the magic five year marker. And then things really go south.

Like a good Hitchcock movie with the requisite icy blond, "Gone Girl" provided more suspense than I'm comfortable with. Very thought-provoking, it also made a strong case for the difficulty in really knowing someone, even someone you love.

When the movie ended after the briefest two hours and 25 minutes, a guy behind me shared his first reaction loudly, saying, "That's it, I'm staying single the rest of my life."

Scaredy cat. My first reaction is that I need to read that book the ex-cop sent me so I can delve even more deeply into this twisted, modern take on love and marriage.

Late night horse visitors aside, I'm thinking that the perfect place to do that would be out in the country.

Turn Up the Heat

The combination was irresistible: wings and Sweet Justice.

Even though I had plans to head out of town Sunday afternoon, priority one was seeing my favorite '80s cover band while munching on chicken wings at the first ever Kickin' Chicken Wingfest, a dubious name at best. I bet those chickens do kick (and scream) when someone tries to remove their wings.

It turned out to be a gloriously sunny day to walk down Broad to the 17th Street Farmers' Market and take a detour to see for the first time the Burial Ground for Negros located just off of Broad near 16th Street.

I hadn't realized how many informational historic sign markers were down there telling the story of the city gallows, Lumpkin's Jail and how the area had been used over the years.

Tucked away as it was, the verdant green field felt a world away from the bustling traffic above and nearby festival. In several places were small "altars" where people had left mementos and candles in acknowledgement of the countless slaves and free blacks long ago buried here but no longer marked in any way.

That's the thing about Richmond; you never know when history will rear its head to remind us of how much living and dying has gone on here for centuries.

From there, it was on to the farmers' market where I could hear Sweet Justice playing Pat Benetar long before I saw them or the stage. Don't get me wrong, I am a devotee of new music but listening to a middle-aged band play '80s hair and metal songs I never even knew the first time around is way more fun that you might think.

First order of business with Sweet Justice is always checking out the long-haired bass player's t-shirt since he's got a stellar collection. Today's read "Employee of the month," a title he's likely never earned, thereby making it all the more amusing.

Since it was barely fifteen minutes into the festival, there weren't more than a dozen people gathered in front of the stage so I left them singing Scorpions' "Rock You Like a Hurricane" and went off in search of something to put in my mouth.

The first stop was at the wine on tap tent for some Prosecco, easily obtainable since there was no line so the servers still had smiles on their faces. From there, it was a scavenger hunt to find the booths offering wings in between all the cheesy fair food type booths.

I can't wrap my head around why someone would go to a wing fest to get a funnel cake or gyro, yet there they were, taking up valuable space to offer crap food. But I digress.

My first wings came from Boardwalk Hotdogs where they had two flavor options, chile-lime or garlic Parmesan, which is what I got. The wing pieces and drummetes were rolled in so much salty Parmesan that after finishing them, my mouth felt like it could turn inside out like a slug with salt poured on it by a cruel child.

Round two brought full wings, not pieces, from Zainab's Halal, which had good flavor but came across as more fried than sauced and even the addition of sauce was pretty tame. To make matters worse, the band was playing "Hotel California," easily one of the most annoying and overplayed songs of all time.

I love Sweet Justice, but they could eliminate all the Eagles' dreck and it would be fine by me.

For my last venture into wings, I tried On the Rox's version which was brined, smoked and confited and came with a smoked buffalo sauce. Never one to turn down food cooked in fat, I enjoyed the wings but some people still found their heat lacking. Fortunately, the music wasn't, because who doesn't enjoy hearing Whitesnake's "Lay Down Your Love" on a sunny afternoon?

The ups and downs of wing tastings led to discussion of what makes a true buffalo wing, a subject on which I am no expert. But I once knew someone who was.

My frame of reference is a woman named Jeannie I met when I first moved to Richmond in 1986. Jeannie had lived her entire life in Buffalo (and had the accent to prove it) and was amazed that I'd never heard of, much less had, buffalo chicken wings.

She attempted to right this grievous wrong by first making me a batch which I devoured and then allowing me to copy her mother's "secret" recipe, which dated back to the '60s. One thing she was resolute about was that it mattered not if you baked, deep fried or grilled your wings; what mattered was the sauce.

Jeannie's mother's version wasn't complicated but it wasn't one note, either. It called for Durkee red hot cayenne pepper sauce, which, according to her mother, had originally been Frank's red hot cayenne pepper sauce before Durkee had bought it in the '70s. The sauce was cooked along with butter, lemon juice and garlic powder and once it came off the burner, honey was added.

The recipe advised one coating of the sauce for mild and two -one before putting them in the oven for three minutes and one when they came out - for hot and spicy. Then they got a sprinkle of Parmesan.

My favorite part of the recipe was, "Serve with blue cheese dressing for dipping and cold celery (on ice!) for cooling your mouth off." Because, you see, if the celery wasn't on ice, Jeannie and her Mom couldn't guarantee it would cool anything off.

As I sat on a bale of hay listening to Sweet Justice play Def Leppard and eating through an array of wing styles, my mind kept coming back to memories of Jeannie's wings, far superior to any at Wingfest.

This I knew, even though I hadn't had them since Def Leppard was playing their own songs.

Apparently, a girl never forgets her first real Buffalo wings. Jeannie, you spoiled me.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Autumn, Comes She Will

I hope I'm wrong, but I fear today was it.

With a cold front approaching, it could be the last day I get to wear shorts on my walk and the last night I get to see moonflowers open. As if they knew, I watched three open tonight through the screen in my bedroom window as I was dressing to go out.

Ah, summer, I miss you already.

My date for the evening was Pru and we headed to Bistro 27 for dinner, just across the street from the November theater where we planned to see a play afterwards.

Looking at my legs as we walked to the restaurant, she demanded to know how they looked so tanned in October. Simple, I told her, I'm still wearing shorts on my walk every day.

Inside, we sidled up to the bar and ordered glasses of Bricco-dei-Tati Rose, the color of cherry Kool-aid, coincidentally also the color of Barbera Rose, a far tastier pink quaff. Alas, I fear I will soon be missing my Roses, too.

Momentarily distracted by a dessert going by on its way to a nearby couple, we then debated what to order since it had been a while since we'd been in and so much of the menu is new, eventually settling on crabcakes (her) and Tuscan chicken flatbread (me).

The flatbread loomed large over the entire plate and then some, covered in a savory/sweet combination of grilled chicken, balsamic, plum tomatoes, basil and goat cheese. Her crabcake appetizer was mostly crab and sauteed golden brown, in other words, practically perfect to a crabhead like me.

Over dinner, we compared our thrifting adventures today (I won with a haul of 17 tops, 2 skirts, 1 shorts, 1 pants and 3 shrugs for a total of $5) at the Robinson Street Festival. I heard about her outing to the Roosevelt with old college chums last night, an evening that involved absinthe and a 2 a.m. bedtime, neither unusual for me and both highly irregular for her.

Today, she had the headache and lethargy that follows infrequent debauchery.

Dessert was a given (hello, Saturday night with a girlfriend) and the triple chocolate confection we'd seen go by earlier seemed like the obvious choice. Made by one of the prep cooks, it's the newest dessert item, all but begging us to check it out.

When Pru decided she needed coffee with hers, our bartender offered her espresso and then a single or double.

"Double, please," she said demurely. "I want it dark and growling." I assumed we were no longer talking about coffee, but I didn't pry.

The triple chocolate cake got my thumbs up for both its lightness and its variety of chocolate textures: mousse, cake and ganache.

As we were devouring it, four young men arrived to serenade the Irish couple sitting at the front table celebrating an occasion. Their lilting harmonies were beautiful to behold, made even better by having chocolate in our mouth as we listened.

What a delightful addition to the evening.

A satisfying meal over, we strolled across the street to see Cadence Theater's production of "Sight Unseen" by Donald Margulies.

Waiting in line to pick up tickets, I ran into a woman I hadn't seen in years whose first words were, "You don't age! You look exactly the same." While I know this is a compliment, what I wanted to say is, sure, it's fine now, but who wanted to look like this at 25 or 35? Instead, I say thanks.

Tickets in hand, we find our seats in the second row minutes before the lights go down.

My preference is always to go into a production knowing as little as possible so that the action can unfold for me with no hints of what's to come. It's like how I don't like to see previews for movies before I see them. Just give me what you got and let me see what I think.

"Sight Unseen" begins in a chilly farmhouse ("Here we hold on to our overcoats") in England ("No one is a good cook over here") with a visit from a now-famous American painter named Jonathan to Patricia, the woman who'd been his muse in college, and her adoring husband, Nick ("I take what I can get. I'm English").

His father has died last week yet he's crossed the pond for his first career retrospective where he's finding the press combative and trying to focus solely on his Jewishness. A flashback shows us how cruelly he dumped Patricia fifteen years earlier.

All of a sudden, it's intermission and I have absolutely no idea where this play is going, a truly delicious feeling as a member of the audience.

As the second act unfolds, we hear some excellent debate on what art is and what an artist's responsibility is as Nick looks at the catalog from Jonathan's show and finds his paintings lacking. As far as Nick's concerned, art ended with the Renaissance and he's dismissive of all modern art.

Jonathan insists that the job of the artist is not to participate because his intention in painting is irrelevant. Art is what the viewer brings to his work and what they choose to take away. Defending himself and his work he says, "It's the layers people go to in order to feel something today."

The layers in this play are many: about how relationships change, about settling when we can't get what we really want, about how success and money changes people, about losing our way in life and love and never really recovering. Why do people feel obligated to attend blockbuster art shows and then spend more time in the gift shop than with the art?

Andrew Firda is a standout as the husband in a mostly sexless marriage and his dry, British wit provides much of the play's humor while his sweet attempts to challenge the man who's been haunting his wife's heart for 15 years hint at the passion beneath his archeologist's heart.

Smart and thought-provoking, yet again Cadence Theater had provided plenty for Pru and I to discuss once the play ended and we were walking down Broad Street.

Where, I might add, the temperature was noticeably cooler than when we'd gone in and the breeze hinted at a night that will require closing my windows.

Except the bedroom windows, which will remain open so I can luxuriate in the scent of the moonflowers for the last time this year.

I take what I can get when summer is on her way out.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Until the Songs are Done

I took the A6 - also known as the motorway to the sun -to a yard show.

Since it's Virginia wine month, I began the evening at Pasture for a glass of Cardinal Point Winery A6, the lovely Viognier/Chardonnay blend named after the road in France that links Paris to Lyon, a fact I know only because I poured for Cardinal Point at the Virginia Wine Expo two years in a row.

The restaurant was busy with some people even eating outside on the patio, a treat not to be missed on an October evening.

While I thought the rest of my evening would be spent indoors watching two favorite musicians play, I arrived at the address given to find a crowd gathering in the yard next door.

Following the light and laughter to what was clearly going to be a yard show, I saw a familiar face sitting at the front picnic table and promptly joined the Hat, a.k.a. the man about town, on his bench.

From our perch, we were facing a mural I hadn't seen before of black, white, gray and orange, depicting a quarter moon, a tee-pee and a suitcase dangling from a rope near the top of the mural. In front of the mural were several metal frames on which strings of white and orange twinkle lights had been strung. A lit jack-o-lantern sat in front of chairs for musicians and drums. Smaller lit pumpkins sat on the picnic tables.

It was like a Fall fairyland and an ideal place for a little night time music.

Sitting next to the Hat, I said hello to the Richmanian warbler, waved to the record producer, spotted the long-haired breakout musician, smiled at the fashionable keyboard player and her reclusive husband while smelling the candle burning in the pumpkin on the table behind us (humor centered around citronella versus sinsemilla).

A couple spread out an Indian print blanket and sat down on the grass in front of us Soon a second blanket appeared, then a third and forth, all of the same Indian-type print that used to hang from windows as curtains back in the '70s. Apparently they're back.

Josh Small played first, explaining that he'd set out to write a song about something other than himself and settled on the flower world. Except that when all was said and done, the flower song was also about him.

The man is not only musical, but very funny.

When he was introducing a song about farming, he admitted that while he often wore overalls, he may never have actually been to a farm. "I've been to a couple pumpkin patches," he offered. Invoking Burt Reynolds, he did a Jerry Reed song called "Papa's Knee." One of the great things about a Josh Small set is how eclectic they are.

It had been eons since I'd seen David Shultz play out but, in fairness, he and his wife did have triplets so the man's been understandably busy. He began by thanking Matt, the evening's organizer, saying, "The yard couldn't look more cozy."

While the staff from Lamplighter Coffee across the street dragged trashcans along the sidewalk and traffic from the downtown expressway rumbled by, David played guitar and sang lyrics like, "Would it be so bad to dance until the song is done?"

My answer? Never.

Singing "I can't, can't get away from you," the Hat leaned over and observed, "That's a double negative, you know." I did.

David brought up drummer Willis, who'd arrived straight from a volleyball game (he is kind of tall), and they did "The Farmer," Willis' deft touch on drums and percussion adding a lot to the song and then added in Curtis on pedal steel (which was also draped in twinkle lights) and Jonathan on accordion for Blaze Foley's "Clay Pigeons."

Curtis and David joked back and forth about the limited rehearsing they'd done for this show. When David introduced "Down the Road," Curtis said, "That's the one we jammed on for 16 seconds and then talked about the chords?"

"That's why David Shultz and the Skyline aren't a band anymore," David patiently explained."Because what I really want to do is go to your house and drink wine and talk about music."

Favorite lyric: The best laid plans are the ones that don't require a second thought.

We got a real treat when David and Jonathan brought up the very talented Grant to play mandolin so they could play some Ophelia songs such as "Hunter's Bow." Along with drummer Willis, that quartet had made some outstanding music as Ophelia a few years back.

"It's a sneak attack Ophelia reunion!" someone said. Lucky us.

They did "Easy Prey" but it was the aching of "One Too Many" ("One too many nights together or one too many nights apart") that knocked the crowd off its feet, sounding just as remarkable as it did when they first played it.

David and Grant did "Oklahoma Rose," a song they wrote together and a reminder how well those two harmonize, much like on "Days Go By," a song recorded by Grant's River City Band.

Jonathan's songs never fail to tug at the heart ("I'm on my way to being on my own") and it didn't hurt having Curtis' mournful pedal steel further ripping our hearts out.

They closed the show with "The Butcher" ("I got a quarter of a quart of wine") and sitting there listening to those familiar voices singing to the sky was a reminder of just how wonderful Richmond can be sometimes.

Sort of a musical motorway to the moon on a Fall night.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Wicked Lives

I didn't go for scary, I went to increase my literacy. And dance a little.

FilmRoasters, the crew who shows bad movies and comments all the way through a la "Mystery Science Theater" was showing the 1978 horror classic "Halloween" tonight. Needless to say, I'd never seen it.

Which is not to say I'd never been to a FilmRoasters' event because I had. Three times. I knew the drill.

The bludgeoning of the cheesy film was taking place at Bottoms Up so I arrived in time to order a monstrous slice of their famous "Karen combo" pizza (no, it really is named that), featuring all kinds of my favorite things: Italian sausage, onions, spinach and Ricotta.

I don't know what Karen it's named for, but she had great taste.

While I ate, the Roasters got warmed up with a bad '80s TV show called "The Master" about a ninja and his pupil, notable mainly for big '80s hair, a Trump-less Las Vegas and a soundtrack by Bill Conti of "Rocky" fame.

By the time that corniness ended, there were eight people in the audience and five of them were gabbing loudly because they hadn't come to see the movie.

After more than a few pointed barbs in their direction, they got the hint and moved out on the patio so that the remaining three of us could hear the movie's bad dialog and the roasters' pithy improvisation.

They asked how recently the audience had seen the movie (um, never) and said, "If the last time you saw "Halloween" it was scary, it's been too long." The event invitation had warned that, "Only really old people still think it's scary."

The only thing I already knew about "Halloween" was its soundtrack and that's because local musician Scott Burton was a huge fan of director John Carpenter's soundtrack and had transposed it from piano to guitar and I'd heard him play it on several occasions near Halloween.

The first thing I learned about "Halloween" tonight was that the virginal Laurie character was Jamie Lee Curtis' first film (the credits "introduce" her).

Then the Roasters set about mocking it at every turn.

When the first babysitter has her nude scene, someone cracked, "Seventies boobs were different." You mean high and firm without being fake? Yea, they sure were.

They made fun of the nurse in her cap and cape. The turned the murder's voice into Darth Vader imitations and said things such as, "I hate a guy with a car and no sense of humor" about one of the teen-aged victims.

And like with previous screenings, the Roasters were profoundly impatient with the '70s style of film making, making frequent comments about long shots, extended takes and showing the viewer everything.

"Film it all, film her walking up the whole street!" one guy shouted when she took five steps on camera.

Call me old school, but I found it refreshing to see a film that allowed scenes to unfold and wasn't just a non-stop montage of quick cuts for the ADD set.

But the '70s details were on point: Laurie doesn't date because all the guys think she's too smart. Don't feel bad, Laurie, I didn't get asked to prom, either.

When she and her girlfriend take off in the enormous '70s car (not wearing seat belts, natch) for their babysitting jobs, they share a joint in the car on the way, her friend saying,"Come on, we have just enough time" and the Roasters retorting, "There's always time for marijuana!"

At her babysitting job, Laurie dons a full apron to make popcorn for her charges and carve a jack-o-lantern ("Remember when we used to say jack-o-lantern?"). Really, an apron?

As the murderer stalks them in his car, someone quipped, "Is anyone concerned that the killer is driving a station wagon?"

Not in the '70s, baby.

When a character says he thinks the murderer's former house is haunted, the Roasters said, "Haunted by eight bad sequels! And number three made no sense!" I wouldn't know.

Once all the sexually active babysitters have been murdered and Laurie thinks she's killed the killer, she sits sobbing on the floor in relief and post-terror. "She's sobbing because there's going to be a sequel."

So now, ladies and gentlemen, I can say I've seen "Halloween," the film credited with beginning a long line of slasher films based on Hitchcock's "Psycho" and a reminder that boobs were better in the '70s.

Or something.

Having upped my cultural literacy over a slice, I opted to finish out the night at Balliceaux to see Red Light Rodeo.

Walking up the alley, I saw a small crowd near the door and just as I came up behind them, one guy reared back with his leg and kicked my hand with his shoe. When he realized what had happened, he joked, "Don't sneak up on a brother like that, girl!" and then apologized. I chalked it up to my quiet shoes on the cobblestones.

Inside, I found a small but exuberant crowd in the back room, many of the women dancing already to Red Light Rodeo's take on bluegrass honky tonk, including two who finished "Sitting on Top of the World" by falling on the beer-slicked floor laughing their faces off.

The band was bigger than I expected with drums/percussion, acoustic guitar, upright bass, mandolin/electric fiddle and electric guitar/pedal steel and all dapperly dressed in bolo ties, western style shirts and a couple with cowboy hats on.

When the band took a break, a woman decided to talk to me, commenting on how I'd been observing the room as I sipped my tequila. I found out she left Richmond for the West Coast only to return and wonder why she'd ever left. In other words, a familiar tale.

The band scored big with a country version of "Louie, Louie" that got just about everyone in the room dancing before it was over. From there, they sang about about liquor and whores, wicked lives and mentioned how their favorite song subject was whiskey ("You and me and whiskey makes three").

Only really old people wouldn't appreciate that kind of music.