Thursday, July 24, 2014

Reflections After Karen

From the ocean to the mountains in a matter of hours.

I may have had to leave the beach, but I had a good time awaiting me at home.

Well, not immediately, since I needed to scrape the layers of beach gunk off my body and hair, but once cleaned up, I had a date to go to Charlottesville for dinner and a show.

If I'm going to give up surf and sand, that's the way to do it.

A few weeks ago I'd seen that the Clientele was playing the Southern and been intrigued by both their sound (reverb-drenched, art and literature-based lyrics) and their story (formed in '97, broke up in '11, back together because Merge re-released their debut album).

I'd invited a date to join me, bought tickets and been looking forward to it ever since.

After failure to find a park (don't ask), we wound up at the C & O for dinner, only to be informed that it was restaurant week. Not our first choice, but not disastrous, either.

To get things started well, we had flutes of Virginia Fizz in the downstairs bar (with the rustically uneven wooden bar surface) where couples were already eating the three-course menu.

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

In a fine display of date cooperation while drinking Rose, we would each eat half of what was on our plates and then swap so as to taste two dishes for each course.

That's how marinated heirloom tomatoes with mesclun and pesto complemented by the creamiest burrata atop creamed corn was traded for beef sirloin carpaccio with truffle aioli, arugula and hashed potatoes.

Roasted halibut with ciopinno sauce, saffron rouille and summer herbs got switched with pork saltimbocca with sage and Fontina over a summer panzanella salad.

There was less sharing when dessert came, probably because I scarfed my chocolate gateaux with salted caramel and frozen peanut nougat while he lingered over his cheese plate.

My appetite has been called many things, but seldom ladylike.

Walking out of the restaurant, as if on cue, fat raindrops began falling so we ducked into an alcove to stay dry. After waiting for about ten minutes for the driving rain to stop, we wised up and went inside what turned out to be the Melting Pot.

Since it only made sense to drink something once we sat down at the bar, we did, killing time until the rain stopped and we could make it to the show.

We'd missed part of Borrowed Beams of Light's opening set, but caught enough to hear a definite '70s influence.

Then it was the Clientele, taking the stage in that low-key British way to play music, including a lot of songs from that first album - really a compilation of singles - that's now being celebrated with Merge Records' reissue of it.

The songs are gorgeous (I'd been listening to it all the way to and from the beach) in that smart, yet melancholy way where you love the sound but if you listen closely, it's a tad sad. And very smart.

I don't know about the rest of the room, but I know I was happy when they played "Reflections After Jane," an ode to a woman loved and lost.

Actually, I was happy with the entire evening. It had been a long day, for sure, and driving back from the beach only to hit the road for the mountains may have been a bit ambitious (my date generously let me sleep on the way back), but I had such a terrific time anyway.

Dare I say it? I'm happy to be back.

Have a Vacation

First rule of summer: never ever turn down an invitation to the beach.

This particular opportunity to spend a night in South Nags Head came courtesy of my #2 and #4 sisters who are down there for a couple of weeks. "It'll be like a mini sister trip," #4 said, referring to our annual gathering of all six of us.

To round out the group, #2 had her 34-year old son there and #4 had her 17-year old daughter. The two of them represent the oldest and youngest of the nieces and nephews in the family.

But talk about an odd quintet! At no point in our lives had this group of five ever spent time together.

The nephew and I bonded over old school beach pleasures. We were the ones who insisted that all the cottage windows be opened (gratified when later Sister #5 walked through the house inhaling the salty air from outside saying, "It smells like a beach house!"), that we spend time socializing on the deck together, that outdoor showers are the way to go (although this one had no wooden floor, just two differently-sized boards to stand on, making showering a bit of a balancing act).

My first order of business was getting in the ocean and the 17-year old joined me. There, we bonded over her recent decision to graduate high school a year early, something I had also done.

We did not bond over her shock at the explicit language on the first few pages of "The Color Purple," one of her summer reading book requirements, and one I have no problem with.

The ocean was rough when I arrived Monday around noon, the rip currents so strong that the ocean patrol had pulled three people out of the water just that morning, all people who'd gotten out too far and couldn't get back in.

One guy was a 17-year old from Nebraska and goodness knows, it may have been his first time at the ocean, but I'll never understand what makes people think they can do whatever they want in something as massive and strong as the ocean.

Of course I went in the water, just not too far out.

Most of the afternoon was spent with my two sisters catching up and talking a blue streak and occasionally one of the other two interjecting.

During a discussion of men, the nephew piped up, saying, "We don't mature," and then went back to his music, never having so much as looked up.

Sister #2 is a hypochondriac, and because we don't see each other that often, I'd forgotten how every little ache or pain is suddenly a Big Deal with her.

She's a smoker and she likes to eat salty food, so when her tongue began bleeding mid-afternoon, she was convinced it was fatal.

When no one would get as worked up as she was about it, she shrugged and said, "Okay, I guess I'll just Google "bloody tongue" and then make dinner."

Google reassured her that the top two causes for bleeding tongue were cigarette smoking and salty foods, but she still saw tongue cancer in her future.

We got a mess of seafood for dinner from a local fish shop and sat down to shrimp and clams with hot cornbread and the bounty of a beach vegetable stand: corn on the cob, sliced tomatoes and sauteed squash and zucchini.

Best line from dinner: "You don't bring up uteruses at the table, Karen. You just don't."

Now I know.

The catch phrase quickly became, "Have a vacation, Mom!" as the niece and nephew kept reminding their mothers that they didn't need looking after at their ages.

I was having no problem having a mini-vacation, even deciding to stay an extra day and night when it was offered.

Because I usually stay about sixteen miles north of South Nags Head, the area was new to me. We were next to the Outer Banks Pier, which I hadn't even known existed, and the beach was extremely wide there with giant tidal pools and a huge sand bar.

The variable weather made for a day of clouds Tuesday, not a problem for me and the nephew, but the others mourned the absent sun.

Frankly, as long as it's not raining hard or thunder storming, I've got no problem being on the beach on a cloudy day. Every time a sprinkle came up, we just moved under the umbrellas and waited it out.

The ocean was 75 degrees either way, so what do I care if it's not a postcard-worthy sky?

During happy hour, the nephew interrupted out girl talk by saying, "I need a dude!" referring to the absence of his people. Have we been that bad, Sister #4 asked. "It has been pretty catty," he said with typical male understatement.

Wednesday dawned hot and sunny, making everyone happy except me because I had only a few hours before hitting the road.

Make no mistake, we had a big breakfast, then I took a walk with Sister #2 (and eventually #4 joined us) before we all took our chairs out on the sandbar for some morning chatter in the ocean.

While the nephew was lamenting how calm the ocean was, it was ideal for our purposes, a fitting ending to my mini-sistertrip.

Sweaty, sandy and sticky, I threw my beach supplies in the car and headed north, letting the beach radio station provide the final soundtrack to my getaway.

Driving  up 158, it was Tears for Fears "Everybody Wants to Rule the World."

Help me make the most 
of freedom and of pleasure
Nothing ever lasts forever

Apropos. Further up, the Beatles' "A Day in the Life" came on just as I passed signs warning me, "Inmates Working."

Let's just say I like a day in my life better than a day in theirs.

Then it was Johnnyswim, the husband/wife duo (she's Donna Summers' daughter) I saw a few months back doing "Don't Keep Heaven Busy."

Skies changing, tides raising, ain't good enough
World spinning, all heaven is watching us
Don't keep heaven busy without me
When time comes, I move on, don't turn and weep
I'll catch up soon enough, wait and see

It was a terrific going home soundtrack.

For the first time on 168, I saw a sign saying, "Welcome to the Hampton Roads Wine Region." Who knew they had one?

Then there was a Tractor Supply store, with a sign announcing, "Chicken swap this Sunday!" I'll admit I had no idea people swapped chickens. I was learning a lot on my drive today.

The e-mail waiting for me from Sister #4 when I got home made me smile. "Kare, you were such a fun houseguest!"

I can't think of a better vacation compliment.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Life on a Chain

With a nod to Pete Yorn, I give you my Sunday.

First it was laughter for the morning after.

M*A*S*H* was playing at Movieland and I'd been looking forward to seeing it all week. Apparently I was in the minority (so what else is new?), though, because there were only five other people there.

I don't get it. A screenplay by Ring Lardner, Jr., the low-key, smart humor delivery of Donald Sutherland and the over-the-top hilarity of mustachioed Elliott Gould in a film about trying to maintain the American way of life in Korea three miles from the front? And all filtered through the prism of 1970?

What's not to love?

I walked to and from the theater, taking in all the tents being readied for the hoopla at Redskins Park along the way and passing my Newtowne guys selling steamed crabs on the sidewalk.

Not today, gentleman, I've got plans.

Next up was day I (almost) forgot at Steady Sounds. Napping may have been involved.

A big crowd was gathering for the afternoon of DJs, music, book readings and everything but the kitchen sink, probably.

I found a few friends - the cute couple, the DJ, the state worker - but as one of them noted, "This looks like an older crowd." I assumed he meant people like me but he denied it.

Reading first was author Amanda Petrusich (who looked eerily like Laura Dern) reading from her just-released book, "Do Not Sell at Any Price" about the cult of old record buyers and sellers and the amazingness of Hillsborough Flea market in N.C., where my friend had already thrifted.

Then Chris King played old 78 records from 1926-28, part of his world-renowned collection and recent compilation, but scratchy enough to make my cute friend cringe and a musician friend reach for earplugs for her tinnitus.

Still, these are not records you will hear just anywhere and I admit I appreciate that.

I'd have stayed longer, but I needed a shower.


There was a Wildaire Cellars wine dinner at Camden's, so I was in Manchester by 6:30, ready to meet the winemaker, Matthew Driscoll, and see how the pairings held up.

Verdict: Wildaire Viognier with local corn chowder topped with lump crab meat kicked butt and took names.

But, hey, we're talking about Willamette Valley, so props also go to Wildaire Pinot Noir Reserve, paired with house hickory smoked chicken and shitake fricassee and deservedly eliciting oohs and ahs, both for aroma and taste.

And is there ever a time that local mixed melons with fried capers, Portuguese olive oil and micro-basil isn't sensational with Trevari Blanc de Blanc? Not likely.

I had a group of four at the bar with whom to discuss eye surgery, multiple marriages and art postcards sent to my house, so I was not lacking for company.

My recent thrift store purchase dress garnered me a comment because a friend had mistaken the trim on it for a new tattoo, something that seemed highly unlikely for me.

I was seated next to a woman who shared that she'd read all three volumes of "Shades of Gray" and that the story of the characters far exceeded the sex talk. Sorry, don't believe that.

Stronger women than me succumbed to chocolate pate, but I held fast, knowing I had one last place to crawl before it was over.

At Steady Sounds earlier, a friend had asked if I was coming to Live at Ipanema tonight.

As one of the the organizers, he'd been concerned that I hadn't been to the last two (I'd been out of town). "No, I'm serious," he said, "Allen and I discussed that if we couldn't get you to come out for it, maybe we should stop doing it." Oh, the pressure!

That said, My Sister, My Daughter was already playing when I arrived and slid into the stool my cute friend had saved for me.

I am devoted to Nelly Kate, the singer/songwriter who is half of the band with Brent Delventhal from Warren Hixson and after so long with Nelly absent from the scene, reveled in hearing her play and sing with Brent.

It was a full house for Live at Ips tonight so my presence was hardly necessary, but there were many talkers, many people who paid more attention to their friends than the music, always a shame, in my opinion.

When Hypercolor finally got started after a protracted set-up period, we were rewarded with the dulcet tones of the female lead singer playing guitar (and not your typical lead since she was even doing some finger-picking), plus lush-sounding guitars (including 12-string and one of the guys from Avers) and Chrissie, the bassist (and flautist) from Fear of Music, who together with the drummer kept everyone from wandering off into psychedelic, reverb wonderland.

They were fabulous and while it was hot as a July night, one of the most enjoyable Live at Ipanemas I've been to in a while.

Given all the unfamiliar faces, it was a bit of a strange condition, but also an ideal way to wind down my life on a chain.

Another fine day, another Sunday. There's a reference no one will remember.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Sex at the River

It was a perfect day to read on your porch.

I said as much to four different men I saw reading on their porches on my walk this morning.

But, despite the mid-70s temperatures and cloud cover, my day was not about porch reading but all about a road trip.

In an effort to catch up with a favorite couple, I'd suggested Merroir because they'd never been. Make no mistake, I'd raved about the place to them, but we'd never quite been able to align out schedules and make it happen.

Today, the planets lined up and we hit the road to eat oysters by the river.

(sound of record scratching)

Unexpectedly, 64 was full of vacation-bent cars headed to the Outer Banks. It was a major buzz kill.

Fortunately, the driver was willing to be creative with the map and we were soon cruising through the back roads of Providence Forge and Quinton.

When we eventually landed in Topping at Merroir, the first person I saw I knew. Really? An hour from Richmond and I see someone I know from the Camel? Apparently, yes.

We had our pick of seating options, opting for a picnic table facing the river, and causing the female portion of the couple to take a deep breath and exclaim, "It smells so good!"

It was true, the salty air off the river was carried on the breeze and delivered to our table right about the time the first bottle of M. Lawrence "Sex" Brut Rose arrived.

Because if a Saturday sojourn to the river isn't cause for celebration (and thus, sparkling), what is?

With sailboats pulling in and out of the marina, we ordered our first dozen oysters, a mix of buttery Rappahannocks, mildly salty Stingrays and briny Old Saltes.

If it had been up to me, and it wasn't, they would have been all Old Saltes.

Then suddenly, we had a man in a green golf shirt join our group, a man who turned out to have gone to high school with my friend and had already been at Merroir drinking beer for four hours.

On the plus side, he was a scintillating conversationalist (JFK, the media, feminism), curious ("What are your political leanings?") and an architect, albeit one with an odd laugh.

When he got up to leave, we ordered our second dozen oysters - this time all Old Saltes- and welcomed our server for the evening who turned out to be young Ford, whom I'd first met last July when he'd waited on me and my date during his early days as a server.

Tonight, he was assured, obviously having mastered the serving game in the year since I'd seen him. Or, judging by the overly generous way he pored my wine, at least able to fake it.

I think it was around the time we moved on to our third dozen (also Old Saltes) that I looked over and saw two good friends, another favorite couple, taking the table next to us.

Good god, was there no escaping people I knew despite being an hour from home? Clearly not.

I grinned at them, I met their gaze and smiled like a crazy person, but it took me getting up and walking over to their table for them to recognize me.

That's okay, I accept that I'm not the memorable type.

I leaned in for a picture with them, capturing our random meeting, but was slapped in the face with 21st century reality when my friend went to post the picture and Facebook not only recognized me but automatically tagged me.

Do I really want to think about face recognition technology that knows who I am before a friend tags me? Nope, I don't.

Meanwhile, we kept ordering "Sex" and more food, namely a crabcake, a lamb hotdog and the clam and lamb stew, a perennial favorite with me.

The music was classic rock, veering from Neil Young to the Beatles to CCR and back, tolerable only because my friends offered me a taste of their sassy scallop ceviche.

We watched speedboats speeding in a no-wake zone and ordered Carolina shrimp and a grilled Cesar with anchovies.

Much as I love Merroir on a sunny day, today's overcast skies were ideal for lingering with no fear of discomfort or skin burning.

As we delved into another bottle of "Sex," I looked up to see a familiar face, a restaurant owner who's now out of the business.

Was there no end to the number of Richmonders who'd followed us to Topping today? I'm not complaining because it was fun to run into so many people I know, but after a dozen visits to Merroir with no familiar sightings, it was a bit surprising.

But mostly it was wonderful spending a coolish, cloudy day on the river watching boats traverse the water and eating and drinking with friends.

I heard about their recent trip to D.C.'s Hotel Rouge (and Bistro Coin) and the National Gallery, as well as a side trip to Solomon's Island, Maryland, a place I've never been.

We admired the changing light and sky as afternoon gave way to evening. Eventually, we gave in to dessert after hearing another table ask for a doughnut.

What is this doughnut you speak of?

This was a s'mores doughnut, split with marshmallow cream inside, chocolate on top and graham cracker crumbs over that and we devoured it with the last of the "Sex." Ford nodded his approval as he cleared the table.

My final request was a trip to the dock which has changed so drastically since last summer when it had been "upgraded" to include railings on three sides so it was no longer possible to sit on the end and dangle my feet in the water, as I had since they'd opened.

But making the best of what it is, we stood at the end of the railing, savoring the river breeze in our hair and ruminating on what a stellar day at the river it had been.

We didn't want to leave, but we were full and it wasn't fair to take up a table any longer with people continuing to arrive.

Walking back past other diners, my friend jokingly asked people at tables if they knew him. "We're from Richmond..." one woman said, half expectantly. Stop the madness.

Driving back, we got almost to Richmond before my friend suggested a nightcap at Lucy's, conveniently mere blocks from my house. Why would I say no?

Dinner service was winding down and our savvy bartender was able to recreate a cocktail my friend had fallen in love with at the Hotel Rouge while her beloved and I happily sipped Espolon.

With vintage soul playing - Stevie, Gladys, Smokey - we sipped our drinks and talked trash with the staff until it was time to call it a day.

My friend told me to stop gloating about taking them to a place they enjoyed so much. His girlfriend did nothing but rave about what a fabulous day it had been.

Me, I'm just going to end my lovely day reading on my porch. Because it's that kind of day night.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Stick with Me, Baby

Luck was a lady pretty much all day for me.

After concerns and re-testing - this time requiring not only X-rays but ultrasounds - my second medical appointment of the week ultimately delivered negative results.

After not seeing a close friend for a month, we managed to fit in a last minute, long lunch with her 10-month old crushing on me hard (perhaps related to me giving him not only his first captain's wafers but his first whipped cream) while leaving a minefield of sweet potato tots under his high chair.

When we finally parted, he gave me a look of betrayal for abandoning him to his mother. "Boys never like it when Karen leaves," she jokes.

And when it came time to plan the evening, I knew I wanted to take it easy with a classic dinner and a movie date.

Collecting my friend Gigi - currently afflicted with galloping consumption - I drove directly to Lemon Cuisine of India for dinner, just in case.

I had no smelling salts with me.

There, the waiter not only recognized her but knew her usual order (chicken tikka masala), a good thing since when she decided to break bad and order lamb masala for a change, he told us they were out of lamb on a Friday night.

"Someone forgot to order lamb," she sniffed.

I wasn't enough of a regular to know anyone. Well, except for the poet at the next table who chatted with me about the current VCU library renovations, promising the return of poetry readings in the Fall.

While I'm no fan of Fall (summer's my season), at least there's that to look forward to.

For dinner, I made an excellent choice with shrimp madras, a plate of jumbo shrimp sauteed in and topped by a crunchy, madras spice blend over pink peppercorn-mint raita.

The spice of her tikka masala acted like a tonic to her compromised body and before long we were carrying on about dullard exes, people who don't read and Kurt Vonnegut. She even spent time trying to convince me I should be on Pinterest.

I don't know about all that, but I knew we had a movie to see.

In line at the Westhampton, the guy behind us said loudly and sarcastically, "Richmond has such long lines!" There were four people in front of him, hence the joke, but it led to talk of why a town this size needs a traffic helicopter to see a three car backup.

Yes, I assumed he, like Gigi and me, is a come-here.

Full of Indian, we opted out of popcorn and found seats in the front row for "Begin Again," a film which had surprised Gigi when I suggested it.

True, it's got big name stars in it, but also it's by the Irish director of "Once" and music is involved, so I wanted to take a chance on it.

The little upstairs theater was surprisingly full considering what a beautiful evening it was, but since most of them appeared to be couples, it was more about date night than weather, I think.

Mark Ruffalo (whom I didn't recognize but Gigi insisted I'd seen before...only I looked up his films and I haven't seen a one) did a terrific job as Dan, the alcoholic, down-on-his-luck former record producer and Kiera Knightley bravely voiced her own songs as Gretta, the waifish (as if Kiera could play anything else) singer who refuses to sell out.

Adam Levine was the self-involved singer boyfriend whose career is just taking off and leaves her in the dust.

As someone who once sat through an amphitheater full of screaming girls at a Maroon 5 concert in August 2004, seeing it on the big screen was like deja vu.

The plot followed Gretta as Dan helped her make an album, recording each song in a different place in NYC over the course of the summer with a ragtag group of musicians.

So, yes, I liked the movie because it had to do with music. "You can tell a lot about a person by their playlist," she tells him, embarrassed at some of the guilty pleasures on her device.

In the olden days, we used to say that about a person's book and record collection.

My favorite scene showed the two of them walking down street using a splitter and headphones to listen to her music.

He was impressed with Sinatra's "Luck, Be a Lady," but it was when Stevie Wonder's "For Once in My Life" came on that she went crazy, half dancing as they walked.

"Okay, okay, we gotta go dance," she tells him and they duck into a nearby club, headphones still on, to dance to Stevie while all around them people are dancing to something else.

Very romantic, if you ask me.

She half apologizes for "As Time Goes By" but it leads him to talking about how music changes everyday banalities into transcendent pearls of wisdom as they watch the theater of the street elevated by what they're listening to.

Tell me something I don't already know.

And on a night when I don't intend to be out until 2 a.m. but still want to enjoy every minute, a movie about music will do nicely.

"Where are you going dancing after this?" Gigi asks when I drop her off.

That's for another night.

Soul Provider

There's a reason Thursday is called the new Friday.

Seems to me that Thursday has a habit of kicking Friday's ass. Like tonight.

Pru and I began at the VMFA for an artists' talk with Sonya Clark and Robert Pruitt, both of whom have pieces in the current "Identity Shifts" exhibit.

Which, I might add, I've seen three times and can't recommend highly enough.

The two artists, who met for the first time last night, had much in common in their hair-centric work. ""It was like meeting a brother of another mother," Sonya said fittingly.

A Texan, it was Robert's first time in Virginia, but his paintings of women with Afros shaped liked atomic bombs, starbursts and pyramids were second only to those with guns woven into the hair.

Discussing how nothing is neutral and all subjects are seen through the life experiences of the viewer, their discussion provided an interesting look at how two black artists about a decade apart in age work with loaded cultural symbols.

Engaging the mind is always a fine way to begin an evening. So naturally we followed that with pure indulgence.

Snagging seats at the bar of Amuse upstairs in the museum, we both began with pink, although mine was bubbly (Montand Sparkling Brut Rose) and hers was still.

"Feeling sparkly, are you?" Pru asked. Aren't I usually?

She's a bit under the weather with a summer cold (although  a trooper to go out anyway), so left ordering to me. I chose the housemade beef jerky and a beautiful summer Caprese salad with burrata and tomatoes of every color.

Only problem was that our food arrived prior to utensils, so I had to request of the trainee serving us to provide some flatware so we could eat with dignity.

Just as we were finishing up our food, we began eavesdropping on the conversation between the woman next to us and our sunny bartender.

Next thing you know, the blond stranger was offering us the remains of her cheese plate and why would I turn down perfectly good stinky cheese when it's offered?

I wouldn't. As part of the paying it forward credo, I'd recently shared a basket of onion rings with a stranger once I was full and here was my payback.

Katie, who'd recently moved back here from Chicago, quickly joined the fray - our fray- for discussion of dating younger men, large families (don't waste food) and lookalike women (apparently plentiful in the windy city).

I knew I'd found a soulmate when while discussing Wrigley Field, Pru said, "Men put pork chops in their pockets for a snack," and Katie roared, saying, "That's the line of the evening. I'm going to put that in my phone!"

Some of us know that we must document certain things or they are lost forever.

She got almost as excited during a discussion of past love lives when I said, "I didn't marry them all," a reference to dating men my junior. For all I know, that may have gone into the phone as well.

Not long after, Pru had everyone in stitches with her rendition of a song set to the music of the TV show, "Rawhide," that went something like this: "Get it up, get it in, get it out! Don't mess my hair doooooo."

I don't know where she gets these things, but she's pretty hilarious even when under the weather.

Because we were at Amuse and because there's no reason to be there and not, we ended with a visit from the green fairy, sipping our absinthe while talking about the new sous chef, who was kind enough to come out, say hello and talk sausage-making.

By the time we tore ourselves away from the museum, it was her bedtime and time for me to go to Balliceaux for the Commonwealth of Notions, Volume Four, a benefit for WRIR curated by DJ Shannon Cleary.

Walking in, I saw a friend who was considering leaving because the band wasn't set up yet. Don't be hasty, my friend.

I convinced him otherwise and we went to get drinks ("Where are my manners? What would you like?" he asked like the gentleman he is) and chat about the art lecture I'd just heard.

His girlfriend has been wanting to see "Posing Beauty" at the VMFA and he's been putting her off. I think I helped convince him that she's right.

Then the band was onstage warming up and he began geeking out over singer Eddie P's unusual guitar, pointing out that it was mahogany and that during WWII, spruce was only used for the war effort so many guitars were made of other woods like mahogany instead.

"You don't really want to hear this, do you?" he asked, stopping his informational spiel mid-sentence.

Oh, but I do want to hear. How else would I know why Eddie's guitar looks different than all the others I've seen? I'm a research nerd of the highest order.

Familiar faces showed up - the sax player who claims he doesn't always hear about good shows, the pig-tailed songbird just off work and needing a drink, the bespectacled editor, the jazz drummer I seldom see out- and then it was show time.

First up was Eddie's new project, Microwaves, with a drummer, percussionist, and three horn players, all from Bio Ritmo, including sax, trumpet and a tuba player wearing a tie, .

I've been a huge fan of Eddie's voice since I first heard him in Amazing Ghost, so from the initial notes, I was all about their soulful sound.

Asking my friend if he was glad he'd decided to stay after a few songs, he said, "This kind of music is not my thing, but they're good." He changed his tune when he found out this was their first gig. "They're really good!"

Yes, they were and, unlike my friend, right up my alley musically. I was already dancing in place as the crowd grew around me. I was only sorry when the set ended.

During the break, he left but a friend and former Floyd Avenue neighbor came in and took his place so my company was seamless.

The next band was even bigger, with the same two drummers, but also a keyboard player, two guitarists, bassist, and three horns: sax, trumpet (again Bob) and now the tie-wearing tuba player had morphed into a trombone player.

It was magic!

The singer of Todd Herrington's Things was familiar to me as the guitarist and singer of the soul cover band, the Hi-Steps, but this project was doing all original, funky material, presumably Todd's.

Some songs had vocals (and multiple vocalists) and some were instrumental, and stylistically they varied, but all powered along like a well-oiled R & B machine with some serious musical chops.

My friend turned to me and shared, "When I first came to Richmond 40 years ago, I saw Tower of Power at the Mosque. This is like that!"

Damned if it wasn't.

All I can say is praise be to Shannon Cleary for kicking off his four-day music extravaganza with two stellar soul outfits on the bill.

I only hope that this is a trend and more local bands are picking up the mantle of R & B. And, if not, at least I've got two new groups to follow.

They're just the kind of dance-worthy bands that'll end up having shows on Thursdays, I bet.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. Even if it messes up my hairdoooo.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Play What You Know

If I'd been a student, my teacher would have told me to stop horsing around.

Walking up the brick walkway to happy hour at the Anderson Gallery, I spotted tonight's musical guest - Dave Watkins -being posed for some pictures under a tree.

I could have paused to stay out of frame, could have breezed by and into the gallery, but, no, I all but ran up behind him and used my hand to stick rabbit ears behind his head.

His newly shorn head, I might add, since Dave was sporting a very attractive curly on top, high and tight on the sides summer do.

It was my first time photo-bombing, just for the record, and I'm pretty pleased with myself about it.

Saying hello to a gallerist and an artist, I was almost immediately joined by other members of the Dave Watkins fan club: neighbors from J-Ward, the photographer and his cute wife, the motorcyclist, the DJ, the one with the new state job.

Hail, hail, the gang's all here.

A friend immediately complimented my hair, asking me where I'd gotten it cut. As if. I love how much credit people give me.

When I told her it had been Hair Cuttery in August 2013, she told me she asks her husband to just lop off the end of her ponytail when she needs a trim (he won't, by the way). I guess we'll just keep growing it out then, she and I.

Once everyone in our little group had a beverage in hand, we sat outside on the brick patio catching up.

The couple who'd just returned from the Red Wing Roots music festival told a funny story of having their pirate flag stolen from the pole (which they didn't steal) beside their tent. Far more valuable stuff was ignored, but the thieves got the skull and crossbones.

My friend loved the poetry of a pirate flag having been pirated.

Because there are even more music shows this week than normal, we all compared notes to see who is going to which shows.

An artist I know from another lifetime came over and told me she had seen me running up behind Dave and how great I looked. "You never change," she said, "no matter how many years go by. I hope that means you're happy!"

I dare say I am.

When we moved inside for music, Dave proceeded to not only blow minds with his music but also put on a sound-activated light show on the walls of the gallery.

Is there nothing the man can't do?

Building up layers of musical phrases with his electric dulcitar - you know, the one he built himself just like the new haircut he gave himself - and looping them so he could produce the sound of an entire band instead of just one guy, I watched minds being blown as first-timers became part of the cult of Dave.

Me, I've been a card-carrying member of his fan club for five years now and he knows it.

When his set ended, there was major applause and extended mingling. My neighbors asked me to join them for dinner, but I had plans. Neither was surprised.

"Do you go out every night?" the husband asked. I do, I told him. I can't think of a good reason not to.

The plans that kept me from eating with them were at Richmond Triangle Players where brothers Evan and Chris Nasteff were doing a cabaret/rock show.

Plus it was going to be an interactive show so every attendee got to put two song requests in the hat (bribes were suggested). The only rule was that there could be no show tune requests because they didn't know what a show tune was until eight years ago and show tunes are difficult...or so they claimed.

Considering Evan's an actor (I'd seen him do a terrific job in "Cabaret" last month), their aversion to show tunes was unexpected.

No surprise, I ran into an actor friend and we got to talking about auditions for "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," my excitement over The Basement (the new theater space coming to my neighborhood where "Hedwig" will play) and, of all things, the Pump House in Byrd Park, which he'd heard was finally being renovated.

If the Pump House is ever redone, he thinks the preview event should be a tea dance to kick off pride week. I can't think of a better way to christen the old dance floor than having a bunch of queens break it in. Can I get an amen?

Finally taking my seat in the second row, when I was asked where I'd come from, I said happy hour.

"Are you happy?" he wanted to know. Oh, yes, I'm happy.

All of a sudden tonight's star, Evan, was onstage and demanding of the room, "Sit down!" followed by his best "Cabaret" German accent saying, "You VILL sit down!" so we did.

He and his band - brother Chris on guitar, Grant on guitar, Bobby on bass and Bentley on drums- were all in tank tops and they enthusiastically crashed into the Beatles' "I Saw Her Standing There," making for a fabulous start to the evening.

We all yelled our approval.

Partway through, Richmond icon Marjorie Lee Stewart VanderCamp (aka Maggie) took the stage before being shooed away while Chris and Grant got out their acoustic guitars and did "And I Love Her" with Bentley hand drumming, which I love the sound of.

Meanwhile, the Nasteff parents were in the front row, alternately taking pictures and looking rather proud.

Next Evan called the platinum blond Grey up (she's currently doing "Hair," which I'd also just seen) and she took the stage looking like a million bucks in pink satin pants, a black sequin top and silver platform shoes before destroying the room (or at least me) doing a slow burn of the Foundations' "Baby, Now That I Found You" with Chris on guitar.

You better believe I hooted and hollered after that one.

The next guest was the ringer. Nick, also taking  a night off from "Hair" joined Chris and Evan on Crosby, Stills and Nash's magnificently alliterative "Helplessly Hoping," complete with three part harmonies. Absolutely beautiful.

Afterwards, Evan quipped, "As you can see by the words written all over Nick's arms, that's not his last song with us." Sure enough, both arms were covered in lyrics.

Admitting that they couldn't stand John Mayer but admired his music, the band rocked through "3 x 5" and then went in a whole different direction with Chris doing R. Kelly's "Remix of Ignition" and I screamed even louder at the end.

After singing about stroking it and feeling that body, Chris looked over at the woman who had birthed him and said, eyes down, "Hi, Mom."

And what better to follow sexual pleading than with "Hey Ya," with the line, "I don't wanna meet your Mama, I just want to make you come-a"?

Sorry, Mama Nasteff.

The always energetic Matt did a couple of Green Day songs - "She" and "Pullin' Teeth"- with Marjorie, claiming they only learned them yesterday. If so, well done, you two.

Who needed show tunes when these guys were killing it with rock?

That was when we got to the request box and Evan pulled out some wiseacre's suggestion for Lindsay Buckingham pre-Fleetwood Mac.

"Are you kidding?" Evan said, tossing it aside. "I'm going to take your dollar anyway."

The next request was for "Genie in a Bottle," followed by a another for the same song. Who are you people?

Only problem was Evan didn't have his phone so he couldn't look up the chords. Aw, too bad.

"Yea, we thought this through," Chris deadpanned at the mic for the third time tonight, his go-to announcement every time things got chaotic onstage.

They decided the smart thing to do was break for intermission, let everyone get drinks, they'd find the chords and start the second act with "Genie."

After a mad rush for the bar (with Will Smith playing on the sound system) and a friend saying to me, "This is crazier than the Ghostlight after party," which is really saying something because that's always a pretty silly evening, the audience mostly took their drinks to their seats so the Nasteffs could carry on.

Because that's what they'd come to do and, by gum, they were going to do it.

Evan sang lead on "Genie," while Marjorie did the best interpretive dance and backing vocals and the band members just cracked up the entire time.

When you think about it, that's actually an appropriate reaction to that silly song.

Midway through the Killers' "When You Were Young," Evan flashed Chris a smile and said, "See, I did learn that last chord." Apparently brotherly one-upmanship never dies.

Nick returned, studying his lyric-filled arm during the intro to "My Sharona," before belting it out which got lots of audience squeals, but then they went into OK Go's "Here We Go Again" sung by Evan, before reverting to "Sharona."

Ye gads, a medley!

Walking offstage, someone called to Nick asking, "Who's Sharona?" and he yelled, "Mine!"

Chris did "Life in the Slaw Lane," an acoustic ode to fruits and vegetables that had the crowd cracking up with every line of wordplay ("Her name was Peaches, a soiled but radishing beauty with huge gourds"), laughing himself at points.

Naturally they had to follow that with something crazy like Tenacious D, resulting in Papa Nasteff calling out from the first row, "Play something you know!"

No matter how old you get, they still think they're the boss of you. Pipe down, Daddio.

"We're gonna do a Dire Straits song as re-imagined by the Killers because we're not old as shit," Evan said before trading off vocals with Chris on "Romeo and Juliet," a song I admit I hadn't heard before and I am old as shit, despite what artists might tell me.

Nick and Majorie returned ("Yes, Nick, it's that arm!"), ready to regale us with a song from "School of Rock" while having a dance-off with each other. "Teacher's Pet" was definitely the song where the band rocked out hardest.

"Rock and roll!" someone shouted as they finished. That's what we'd come for.

"We're gonna play our encore as our last song and then do one request," Evan said before "Hey, Jude" and the whole audience joining in for the "na, na, na" chorus, a true kumbaya moment.

Because I've been to the Ghostlight after party plenty, I more or less was certain that "Hit Me, Baby, One More Time" would be the big finale (Evan always closes the show doing it) and I wasn't disappointed.

With the band cracking up, the crowd singing along, tonight's cabaret/rock show ended on the happiest of notes.

The brothers who have always wanted to do a show together can now scratch that off their bucket list after a well-executed performance.

I'm pretty sure they were having as good a time as we were.

Some things you don't have to think through.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Over the Bridge

Carpe diem!

When I wake up to a 73-degree July day and it's overcast, that's reason enough to walk a bridge.

Sure, I've driven over the Lee bridge plenty, even biked it once a few years back, but this morning I wanted to walk it and the cloud cover made the four-mile walk possible.

Of course the bird's eye view of Belle Isle was the reason it held so much appeal, but what I hadn't anticipated was the glimpses into all the wooded areas from above.

Walking south, I took the east side of the bridge, looking down on the rooves of the sheds that housed prisoners of war and, further on, circuitous paths inside a circle of trees, sure I'd never be able to find them once on the ground.

I had known about the train tracks but not the extensive train crossings there on the southside. Walking back on the west side of the bridge, I spotted a woman and her hound on the little bridge that leads from Belle Isle to the southside.

It was much breezier coming back and I paused midway to look down over morning runners on the trails that begin just after the dismount to the pedestrian bridge. I saw a guy setting up two large grills.

Unlike when you're walking the footbridge to Belle Isle and hear the rumble of vehicles on the Lee bridge overhead, I had no sense of the suspended bridge under me as I walked.

A cop was ticketing a guy on the bridge as I walked back and I was appalled to see him on his phone as she explained the ticket to him. I guess some people are just raised by wolves.

At one point, I paused to look back at the island's rocks, the ones so popular for sunning and picnicking, seeing only four people on them despite the beautiful weather.

Surely a few clouds don't outweigh these temperatures, this lack of humidity, people! Or do they for some?

And because I am navigationally challenged, until I saw the ramp under me, I'd had no idea that you could access the Lee Bridge from Oregon Hill without ever getting on Belvidere to do it.

Karen's first Lee bridge walk becomes a teachable moment.

Venus and Mars are Alright Tonight.

Some things are so bad, they're good.

Others are just plain good. Like on my walk through Carver this morning, I had to smile when I saw someone had stenciled "Spring Fling" in fanciful, sky blue letters on the brick sidewalk.

Would it be too much to ask to discover another saying maybe "Endless Summer" or "Summer Breeze"?

I'll keep my eyes peeled.

Today's unsparing heat dictated that I get my work done early and take a nap before my date picked me up just after the first thunderstorm that lowered my apartment's temperature from 92 to 88, a more satisfying drop than it might sound.

Everything's relative on the second floor.

Speaking of heat, in a lovely summertime date move, he showed up with three tomatoes from his garden as an offering.

After scrapping plans to go to 821 Cafe, we decided on Extra Billy's Barbecue, a place I hadn't been since Fall 2003.

I'm not sure much had changed in the intervening 11 years.

The primary difference to my eye was that instead of a bar full of cigarette-smoking regulars, there was now a bar of e-cigarette-smoking regulars, clutching their vaporizers with one hand and beers with the other.

Hardly surprisingly, classic rock was blaring - and I'm talking REO Speedwagon, Rush and Foreigner - until it took a sudden left turn into Mariah Carey territory with neo-soul.

Curious about onion strings, we began with a big basket of those. Basically skinny, extra-crispy onion rings (if a tad too salty), my date and I diverged on condiments since he believes ketchup should never touch fried onions and I have no problem with it.

The bartender, friendly and polite, was not only new to bartending, but by his own admission, also new to Extra Billy's. As in, it was his second night and he still needed a lot of guidance.

Fortunately, he found it in a blond woman who seemed to know how to do every job there as well as where everything was located.

But her greatest asset was that she broke into song occasionally, singing along to Joe Walsh or "Leather and Lace," like any die-hard Stevie Nicks fan might.

It's been a while since I've seen a salad bar, but EB's had one and my date wasted no time digging in. I let the kitchen do the work for me, choosing Sonny's barbecue salad with warm barbecued chicken (and, even better, mostly dark meat) over greens, tomatoes and cukes. Tasty.

A guy at the bar chatted us up, recalling old Belmont Avenue restaurants from the '80s that pre-dated my 13 years in the Museum District and making Mayor Jones bobblehead jokes about the Boulevard stadium plan. Good times.

When we left there, it was to get a drink, so I suggested River City Classic Bar & Grill because it was Not So Classic movie night and they were  showing- wait for it - a Mexican, sci-fi, musical, vampire, horror, western B movie.

I kid you not.

"The Ship of Monsters" from 1960 (meaning it begins with an intro about harnessing the power of the '50s) featured two former Miss Mexicos as women -whose main costumes seemed to be glitzy bathing suits and high heels - from Venus sent on a mission with a robot (Tor, but nicknamed "Tractor" by a Mexican) to scour the universe and bring back males to help populate the planet.

Plant their seed is how they phrase it.

After picking up some monster-like men from various other planets, wouldn't you just know they ended up on earth when their spaceship has engine trouble?

The hapless, Mexican cowboy who sings a hopeful song to the heavens for a girl unexpectedly gets his wish when he meets the two space travelers.

"What is he, Elvis Presley?" a friend joked when he burst out singing. Another time, he emerges from a bar drunk and walks down the dirt streets of Chihuahua singing, coincidentally with a guitarist and accordionist trailing behind to provide music as he sings.

When the two space women show up at his door, he reluctantly (because he's cheap, you see) puts a quarter in the jukebox in his living room to play music he can sing along as a way to explain love to them.

Why? Because, oddly enough, natives of Venus don't have love on their planet so they don't understand the concept.

This raises a few issues for me because isn't Venus the Roman goddess of love? And if the Romans associated her with love wouldn't you think the Mexicans in the '60s would have realized this and made them from someplace other than Venus?

But that's a quibble.

The point here is that the robot who accompanies them to the man's house sees the jukebox and is smitten by its shiny knobs. Now things were getting kinky.

But not as kinky as when the Mexican man asks the women if they swing his way.

Here's where it got deep. Our singing cowboy kisses one woman, falling in love immediately, but then the other one forcefully kisses him (he quickly clarifies that he's the giver and she's supposed to be the receiver) and wants him for her own.

Cat fight.

No, actually what  happens is that the sweet one goes back to the spaceship and the pushy one goes off to...that's right, become a vampire and suck blood.

"Never saw that coming!" someone in the room said.

Except that bloodsucking is a huge no-no in the inter-planetary world so she must be disintegrated by morning.

Of course she overpowers the sweet one and sends the monsters off to kill: one to kill children, another to kill women and one to kill animals. They do her bidding because she's sexy and they want to plant their seed in her.

What may have been the most laugh-out-loud funny scene in the movie comes when the cowboy returns home to find that something has eaten his entire cow (charmingly named Lollobrigida - how of-the-time is that?), leaving only the bones of its skeleton standing in its stall in the barn.

Standing, mind you.

There weren't as many people at the diner tonight as I've seen at Not So Classic Movie night before, but those who were there knew the Mystery Science Theater routine and commented throughout, calling out characters for silly behavior and riffing on bad dialogue.

Once the monsters are finally killed, the cowboy and his Venus love decide to live happily after after in Chihuahua, leaving the robot to return the space ship to Venus.

"What about the jukebox?" a guy at the bar called out as we saw the firepower indicating that the ship was leaving earth.

Cut to the ship's interior, where the robot has his arm around the jukebox, his light panel flashing off and on excitedly.

Machines canoodling. Definitely so bad it's good.

But a date two nights in a row? Honey, that's just plain good.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Heartstrings and Chablis

Sapiophile (noun): Someone who is sexually attracted to intelligent people.

"Do you still blog?" the chef who cooked my dinner asked me tonight. Seems I do.

Unexpectedly, I got asked on a date tonight where we wound up at Rowland's and my intentions to go to Balliceaux for storytelling were cast aside like yesterday's underwear.

We were the first customers in, meaning we had our pick of the place, and still ended up at the end of the bar under the ceiling fan.

I'll admit, the music was not my thing - Pandora set to Creedence Clearwater Revival - but our server must not have liked it any better either because she soon changed it, praise be.

Unfortunately, it was to the Jack Johnson station, which is like nails on chalkboard to me, and I tolerated it for about five songs before asking that it be changed.

Steely Dan was far better.

Since it was Bastille Day, I chose a Muscadet for sipping, paying homage to France in my own little way.

Over Rowland's classic butterbean cake, my date told me about his recent building project, what it's like to train a young buck and about how quickly tuna macaroni becomes tiresome.

I countered with tiny houses, a breakup and my favorite Neil Diamond lyrics. Obviously, I was a tad rusty on this dating business.

Given that it had been our request to change the music, it was only natural that we talked about what we were hearing, namely Tears for Fears, America, and Spinners, and the correlations that led Pandora from Steely Dan to them.

When it came time to order food, we briefly considered the three-course tasting menu, but instead chose off the regular menu.

My choice was almond-crusted brook trout over haricots vert and roasted beets, while he wanted the quinoa bowl with pork schnitzel.

At one point, the server raced outside to lower the umbrellas in anticipation of a storm which never really materialized.

Which is not to say that I didn't appreciate the darkened sky and flattering mood lighting.

After a while, the chef came out to chat, taking advantage of the nearly empty dining room - hey, it's July and everyone is out of town - to socialize since there was nothing pressing to cook until a three-top arrived.

I admit, we did our best to derail his good intentions to return to the kitchen, engaging him about his past gigs on luxury yachts (seriously, he worked for both the Scripps family of Scripps Howard fame and the Knight clan of Knight-Ridder acclaim...between the two he'd cooked for major media owners) and the hoops he'd had to jump through.

You know, as someone who has worked for several newspapers, those are major player names right there. And serious money.

To that point, the chef told a story of running out of milk (for half and half) and limes while out at sea. He engaged a private puddle hopping plane to procure the milk and limes, returning them to the ship for a mere $500 in airfare costs.

My goodness, I am so not the 1%.

I insisted he share the saga of how he'd met his Peruvian wife 25 years ago, a sweet story that involved him being both lovesick and seasick, not to mention hungover and out to sea.

Call me a sucker for a good love story.

With pre-Lindsay Buckingham Fleetwood Mac and Gwyneth Paltrow-era Coldplay playing, the chef returned in earnest and we got into an alliterative dissection of Richmond restaurant issues -permitting, parking - and partisan politics.

Before I knew it, my date had been derailed for a discussion of the trouble in Israel and what the US role should be in its resolution.

Not to minimize an important topic, but I was on a date here. Hello, wooing in progress.

On the other hand, sapiophiles love it when our dates start analyzing topical issues.

So much for the storytelling. Date on.