Thursday, October 19, 2017

Reckless Thoughts

It was chilly, no doubt about it, but it was a magical evening to sit outside and listen to sad songs.

There aren't many people who could entice me to the bowels of southside - don't ask me where, I was in no man's land from German School Road on - but Jonathan Vassar and the Badlands have that power over me.

Maybe it's because my appreciation for Jonathan dates back to those first Listening Rooms back in the dark ages of 2009, before Richmond was an "it" town. It didn't hurt that our hostess had invited me to her other house shows, albeit when she was living a quarter mile away in Monroe Ward, and I knew she always creates an exceptional environment for artists to play in.

But mainly it's the wonderful memories I have of a 2010 show that Jonathan and the Speckled Bird had done one evening over on Grace Street, when they'd played music to accompany watching scores of chimney swifts swoop and swerve as they settled down for the night. It had also happened in October and been chilly enough that some of us had to huddle under covers to watch and listen.

Tonight was huddle redux. So with chair, blanket and shawl, I joined friends and strangers for an evening of music outdoors under a blue velvet sky with only a few stars punctuating it.

First came seasonally-appropriate red wine and socializing, which took an unexpected turn not long after Jonathan's sweet dog Dolly began alternating eating grass and vomiting.

Our hostess shared that her former tenants had decided to put down cheap wooden flooring (and poorly, too) over the hardwood floors in one bedroom, prompting someone to observe, "He probably murdered someone and wanted to cover up the blood."

Or the sperm, someone else conjectured. Or blood and sperm, posited another. What our hostess needed was luminol to detect bloodstains, we agreed, like what police use at a crime scene.

While it seemed like a hell of a tangent, we weren't though yet. My former Jackson Ward neighbor said that she'd love to do CSI work, that she'd always been attracted to that sort of thing (a fact confirmed by her friend since age 12), but had also considered being a vet were it not for all the math.

Then she casually mentioned she currently has two fox paws packed in salt in her refrigerator. Naturally, this led to a discussion of why (she plans to integrate them into a sculpture) and how she became interested in tanning but it turned out to be more challenging than she expected.

Her first attempt involved a road kill squirrel. "I cut him too far up the butt," she explained nonchalantly and we roared with laughter. Seems she did a better with the fox that yielded the paws currently in cold storage next to the milk.

Tragic as it was that this conversation had to wind down, the band was ready to begin playing, so I fetched my chair and set up camp between two girlfriends, both singers, and both dating back to the Listening Room days. Dolly was just left of my feet.

With Jonathan on guitar and harmonica, Curtis on pedal steel and Nate on upright bass and harmonies, the trio began with "Oklahoma Rose," with the sound of the instruments wafting on the crisp night air. You could practically see the sustained notes of the pedal steel hanging in front of us and winding their way around the audience.

The visuals, too, were lovely, with the band playing against a backdrop of the brick of the house with candles lining the window sills and twinkle lights strung on potted plants, the deck, the instrument cases, just about everywhere.

For that matter, Jonathan and Nate had a string of lights in their chest pockets, sort of like a lighted pocket square for the occasion.

Songs like "You are Gone" were beautiful and sad - Jonathan doesn't write any other kind - and soon people swayed and moved their heads or leaned into each other as they sat on chairs and blankets around the back yard.

A guy near me passed out hand warmers and I slid one into my glove. Yes, gloves. No judging.

Jonathan said that they were playing the same set they'd played last month at the Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion, where he'd been amazed to learn that Bristol's Main Street separates Virginia and Tennessee. Since I'd only learned that fact last month at a moonshine lecture, I could relate.

"If you see a look of pain on my face," he warned us, "It's because my beard got caught in my harmonica holder." Ouch.

Referring to the song, "What I Talk About When I Talk About Us," he joked, "That's as jammy as we get," providing Nate - the bagel-maker extraordinaire who's about to open his own bagel shop - an opening for a bagel joke (he tried).

A song such as "Darken My Door" sounds like it'll be terribly sad, but a lyric like, "Please darken my door, just to be sure that you're nigh" sounds pretty romantic to me. Other times - "When things fall apart, don't let it harden your heart" - he sounded downright hopeful.

We kept it so close to the chest
I always had to second guess

The show had originally been scheduled for last week and been canceled because of a forecast for rain (which never materialized), so Jonathan thanked us for showing up this week despite the chill. "It was too hot last week!" a friend called out, but I disagreed just as vocally. I'd rather be hot.

She who was swaddled next to me concurred. "I could have worn something cuter last week!"

"This feels like fall!" one of the men said, as if that were a good thing.

The band announced that their final song would be "The Truth," after which Jonathan thanked our hostess and said it had been a lot of fun playing these songs and a nearby dog began barking relentlessly, causing Dolly to sit up and stare into the darkness.

I think back to way back when 
All it took was the mention of your name
Change is the only thing that stays the same
It's the only thing

For me, there was no more sublime way to be reminded of that than with music, surrounded by lovers and other strangers outside on an autumn night.

Nevermind the blood stains inside the house.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Conjugating Some Irregular Verbs

As travel posters go, it was succinct: If you love life, you'll love France.

And if I want to see a classic Hitchcock movie for the first time, the Byrd is the place to see it. But the starting point for tonight's outing wasn't a movie, it was a lecture, "The Art of Jewelry through the Ages," which just happened to be at the Byrd Theater and just happened to include a screening of Hitch's "To Catch a Thief."

Since I've only been wearing jewelry for a just over a year, you can bet I wasn't the one who noticed the lecture was happening. But Pru did, rounding up her jewelry-making mother, Beau and I for an evening devoted to personal ornamentation and sparkly things.

Naturally, she planned for the evening to begin with dinner, which is how we landed at Spoonbread Bistro for a butter and bacon-soaked meal not long after they opened their doors. Early enough that the piped-in music didn't even come on until after we were seated.

The happy couple was feeling autumnal and wanted a bottle of Bouchard Pere et Fils Reserve Pinot Noir, but I'm still lamenting summer's recent departure and instead opted for Treveri Sparkling Gewurztraminer. By itself, it was underwhelming but once the amuse bouche of creamy crab and salmon on an edible spoon showed up, it showed its true colors as a lovely food wine.

It had been six months since I'd last eaten there and the menu was identical, so choosing what I wanted took some time. Our meal was obscene, as meals at Spoonbread tend to be, with Beau and I each starting with a special of roasted beets over greens in a blood-orange vinaigrette with a golf ball-sized round of cashewed goat cheese.

My seared scallops over corn pudding with bacon drizzle were as rich as I remembered, while I also managed to score bites of Pru's steak and lobster and Beau's sea bass. As for the jewelry maker's rockfish with butter-poached lobster tail, well, that never made it to my side of the table, not that I needed it.

Dinner conversation revolved around #me, too because Pru had noticed my status and reminded me of a conversation the four of us had a year or so ago when Beau had been surprised to learn that all three of us had been sexually harassed or assaulted.

We discussed men's role in all this and Beau stated for the record that he did not want to speak as a representative for his people. I can't blame him.

After sipping, eating and gabbing so long - Pru insisted I taste the Pinot Noir -  we were suddenly in a hurry to make it to the Byrd in time for the lecture and film, both part of Artober, a month-long celebration of art all over town.

The womenfolk were barely in our (comfortable, wide, new) seats while Beau parked the car when we struck up a conversation with the woman two seats down. Pru explained that we were waiting for a man to buy us sweets and the woman, already munching on Snowcaps, sniffed and said, "Usually I make more money than the men I date, so I buy my own."

Lucky for us, we didn't have to because Beau was so gracious as to supply us with buttered popcorn and Milk Duds to tide us over, not that any of us were the least bit hungry. It's more about a Pavlovian response to being in a movie theater.

Tonight's event was sponsored by Carreras Jewelers and cards were handed to each attendee for 10% off a purchase - as if I ever bought any jewelry new - and Bygones, next door to the Byrd.

A Carreras jeweler took us through a fascinating slide show on the history of jewelry, tracing it from the Neolithic period to Greek and Roman times through the Egyptians and the Renaissance, while stressing why jewelry was so desirable: it was made of precious things, it was decorative and, early on, rare.

I was fascinated to learn that originally, jewelry was worn only at night when the light of candles made it look extremely sparkly. He told us about sentimental jewelry (with human hair woven into it...blech) and mourning jewelry (and, by the way, in the 19th century, women were expected to mourn for 2 years while men got off with 6 months...the gender disparities go back to the big bang, apparently).

He got us up to the 1920s and Art Nouveau before the owner of Bygones took over, sharing the history of costume jewelry in the 20th century, notable because it was then that jewelry began to be thought of as art rather than as a sign of wealth.

Whew, otherwise I still wouldn't be wearing it.

Coco Chanel helped turn the tide on that. And, in a nice segue to the film, she told us that the jewelry shown in "To Catch a Thief" had become available in department stores once the movie came out. Not that any of it would look like it did on Grace Kelly, but an Eisenhower-era woman could hope, couldn't she?

Then it was time for the film and, to our amazement, half the audience left because the lecture was over. Who walks out of a chance to see a free Hitchcock movie set in France on the big screen?

Neanderthals, that's who.

Manager Todd introduced the film, reminding us that Hitch filmed his murder scenes like love scenes and his love scenes like murder scenes. "Story of my life," Pru whispered. The woman cracks me up.

I'd been under the mistaken impression that I'd seen this movie before, but not long in, I realized it was all new to me. From the opening shot of a travel agency window full of wonderful mid-century travel posters (talk about art!) to a woman's cotton bathing suit that zipped up the back, it was an ode to another time.

In fact, all the costumes were fabulous because Edith Head designed them and what doesn't look good on Grace Kelly? Even her roadster was beautiful.

Of course, the best part of the story was the budding romance between the one-time jewelry thief and the gorgeous rich girl with attitude. Well, that and seeing Cary Grant in swimming trunks. Oh, yes, and the banter, that was excellent.

You're here in Europe to buy a husband.
The man I want doesn't have a price.
That eliminates me.

Only after the movie came to its logical 1955 solution - love with the promise of marriage - did I share with my posse that it had been my first time. Hell, after the spate of jewelry robberies when Cary Grant's character had said he'd been a reformed thief for 15 years, I wasn't sure if he was lying or not.

That's how clueless I was.

Not only did I enjoy that kiss last night, I was awed by its efficiency.

If you love life, you'll love edible spoons, nerdy art lectures and classic Hitchcock movies on the big screen. Kisses, efficient or otherwise, are also high on the list.

Story of my life.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Till Death When I Part

I can only hope my obituary does me justice.

After all, I'm out here, actively trying to live the kind of interesting life that will inspire someone to weave a seductive historical spell describing me after I've kicked the bucket. That I may live long enough that my obituary will only show up online because newspapers will be long gone is just a tragedy.

Unlike a lot of people, I don't have any quarrel with Mondays. They're just as likely to be fun days as nose-to-the-grindstone days since I work for myself, but today's started off strangely because the power went out. That may not sound like a big deal, but in 11 years of living in Jackson Ward, I think I've lost power twice. We're spoiled that way here.

Then there was the little matter of the weather. Intellectually, I knew that after last night's rain it would turn cooler - I even closed all but one of my bedroom windows last night - but emotionally, I wasn't ready for a high today of 63 after yesterday's glorious 80 degrees.

That meant swapping out yesterday's shorts and t-shirt for a wool dress, leggings, a jean jacket and a scarf when it came time to head out. Wool, for crying out loud because it's going down to 46 tonight.

Starving after a day that had been busy physically and professionally, I walked over to Asado only to find the bar looking full. Reluctant to waste a table on just me, the bartender pointed out a lone stool wedged unseen between lively happy hour revelers.

Immediately the guy at the end of the bar greeted me, asking how come I hadn't walked past his nearby barber shop lately. I told him my walks usually lead me to the river these days, causing the guy next to me to ask if I was talking to him. Nope.

"Well, you don't have to be snippy about it," he joked, then pivoted. "Do you know what Skunk Works are?" Um, nope.

He went on to explain that it was the code name for some revolutionary aircraft program and he was asking people because he was curious if they knew where their tax dollars were going. Clearly, I didn't, but I also discovered that the only reason he knew was because of a sister in the Air Force.

Just as he was introducing himself as Charles, sirens began wailing and lights flashing just outside the restaurant, so we turned around to see two ambulances had pulled up to deal with an accident that had just happened at Laurel and Broad. Some people flocked to the windows to watch, but I had no desire to see strangers put on stretchers.

Meanwhile, Charles is showing me a photo of an SR 71 Blackbird (which meant nothing to an aircraft imbecile like myself) and explaining that he's an accountant by day and a tutor in math, accounting and economics by night, which is why he's at this bar in the middle of campus.

Although he and his buddy have obviously been enjoying happy hour beverages for a while, he assures me his compromised state will not be an issue when he begins tutoring in 15 minutes. Since he had just explained to me that the reason he has a second job is because he's in that 1% who are allergic to most medications (so he needs to save for the expensive drugs he'll need if he gets sick), I raised my glass to his health, minus the affection for alcohol.

He wasn't even out the door before some of his friends took their seats and began discussing itemizing on their income tax. The bartender looked at me and wondered aloud if I thought that was as boring a topic for a bar as she did (hell, yes) and one of them overheard us and ended the discussion.

The one next to me had on an Edo's Squid t-shirt (he lives right behind it) and frequently walks the Northbank Trail. His buddy was in the process of moving to the city from Mosely (kill me now) and he was worried he'd miss all that Chesterfield County outdoors.

I reminded him that we have a whole riverfront to help with that. Then I shared a couple of my routes with the walker, who thanked me, saying the Northbank had gotten stale after walking it so long.

I'm just here to help.

When my honey sriracha grilled shrimp tacos showed up, the bartender said that they were her favorite, causing the pretty young thing busy doing shots of rail tequila with a beard, to pause, lime wedge in hand, and announce, "They're my favorite, too!"

Now that there was a consensus, I could chow down. By the time I finally said sayonara to my fellow bar sitters and left, I passed three cop cars still blocking Laurel entirely as I made my way to the VCU Student Commons Theater.

The Society of Professional Journalists was showing the award-winning documentary, "Obit," the story of the New York Times obituary-writing department, something other papers don't have. That's right, a documentary about the people making a living writing about death.

Except, as they pointed out so eloquently, the death part of an obit is generally two sentences and the entire rest of the article - whether 500 words or 1,000 words and 15,000 if you're the Pope - about the most interesting parts of the deceased's life.

It's a huge amount of research to track down and talk to those close to the departed (now and in the past) and try to locate as much background information as possible in a single day. Then they've got to write it up in a pithy and compelling way.

In order for The Times to deem someone worthy of an obit, the person has to have made some sort of impact, whether it was Brezhnev or the creator of the Slinky.

The obit game-changer came in 2012 with a piece about the death of John Fairfax, a handsome adventurer who'd crossed both the Atlantic and Pacific in a rowboat. As a Boy Scout, he'd settled a fight with a pistol and as a young man, attempted death by jaguar over a broken love affair. Oh, yea, he'd also been a pirate's apprentice.

His story was too good not to be told in his obit.

As a result, the obit-reading public went crazy, proving that obits could be as riveting and swaggering as their subjects, the better to do justice to a life.

And while I've never written an obit, I could completely relate to the journalists onscreen, particularly the one who typed with two and three fingers (don't judge). But also, the familiar negotiating writers and editors do about word counts and article placement.

Then there were advance obits, ready to go as soon as someone shuffled off the mortal coil. The Times has 1700 advance obits ready to go, which is only a problem when someone dies young and unexpectedly.

Someone talking about the Reagan assassination attempt recalled the panic, because of course they had nothing ready, the man had only been in office four months. About his fellow staffers, one writer said, "I don't care if they voted for him or not, they were praying he lived because we had no advance obit for him."

The kind of thing only a journalist would say.

With any luck, my swaggering obit will reference my beginnings as a love child, my brief relationship with Bobbie Gentry and my time spent at Squid Lips.

They'll just have to use the blog to glean the rest.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Music is a Woman

I'd been remiss in my global folk.

Although I've been at the Folk Fest the last two days, I'd yet to see anything but American music. Oh, it had been some fine American folk music - Memphis soul, western swing, soul blues, go-go, zydeco - but I couldn't be happy with my festival experience without hearing music from further afield.

It's not like the world revolves around this country.

So after the disappointment of finding that my Sunday Washington Post wasn't waiting for me on the front porch, I set out for the river, hoping to beat some of the slow-moving hordes on the Folk Fest's final day.

At the Westrock stage, I slid into a seat adjacent to a large, multi-generational Iranian clan to see Shaba Motallebi and Naghmeh Faramand school us in their instruments - Shaba on tar, a long-necked stringed instrument and Naghmeh on goblet drum and frame drum - and play classic Persian music, which we were told was all about improvising.

Shaba played a song she wrote during the birth of her second child and dedicated it to all the mothers in attendance, saying afterward that she always relives the birth when she sings that song.

Explaining how a tar was made (they're only made for a specific person and only after the maker has seen them play), she mentioned walnut and mulberry being used for the frame and the front being made with "baby lamb skin...unfortunately."

Even that disturbing bit of information didn't rouse the green and purple-haired teenager sitting in the row behind me next to her purple-haired mother. She stared stonily ahead to show her Mom her disdain for the being at the Folk Fest (or perhaps just for a mother with purple hair).

We also heard about the daf, a frame drum comprised of a large circle of goatskin in a wooden frame with rings attached to the back so it sounded like two instruments at the same time. Naghmeh shared that because of the way it was played, with hands toward the sky, it was believed to harness the power of nature,

"It sounds like Buddy Rich!" a guy behind me noted once she began playing.

Midway through a classic Persian song that was supposed to segue into improvisation, a ridiculously long coal train rumbled through and after trying to sing and play over it, Shaba gave up. "That's the longest train I ever saw. We'll wait for it to pass."

Not only was it worth it, but the closer was just as beautiful, sung in Farsi and a melding of Persian and Indian music.

The Iranian clan left when their set ended, and were replaced by two older couples, one from Bon Air and the other from New Kent County and they proceeded to argue about the best way to get "that damn horse track" (Colonial Downs) reopened so they could enjoy it again.

"Pass legislation to tax the hell out of the owner, that'll make him sell!" one suggested. Clearly he's never heard the fable about the wind and the sun.

Despite their inane conversation, I stayed put for Nicolae Feraru, a master of the hammered dulcimer, and his Chicago band playing traditional Romanian music that the announcer warned us about. "You're going to hear danger and espionage."

Turns out there were two hammered dulcimer players and a lot of the music did have a sinister sound to it, though not everything they played sounded that way.

Even so, it wasn't long before the man behind me whispered to his friend, "My bride says she wants to go," and they made tracks.

After the first few notes by the accordion player, a woman behind me clapped and grinned. "We finally get a polka!" she squealed and began dancing in her folding chair.

I spotted an old guy dressed as Uncle Sam and carrying the American flag heading toward us and all I could think was, don't let this be about the fact that it's a group of immigrants playing onstage, but happily, he and the Mrs. were just looking for seats in the shade now that the sun had come out.

Wow, there was a time when such a thought never would have crossed my mind, but that was before last November 8th.

Heading up the hill, I managed to not only catch the last part of Innov Gnawa's set of Moroccan trance, but run into a former Balliceaux regular I used to see almost weekly. He's still lamenting the loss of regular jazz in his neighborhood, but was willing to settle for another beer to lighten the mood and catch up.

At that point, I was finished with the Folk Fest, having earned my global credits in one fell swoop of an afternoon (and feeling pretty good about it), but not with the subject of music entirely.

That was because the Richmond Jazz Society was bringing Duke Ellington's granddaughter to town today as part of the "Virginia Jazz: The Early Years" exhibit currently at the Valentine and I had a ticket to be there.

Although she's a talented and well-respected dancer and choreographer, of course what people wanted to hear about was life with her grandfather, who asked his own son to dye his gray hair brown so as to make Sir Duke not seem so aged.

Sure that such a man wouldn't dig being called Grandpa, Mercedes asked him what he wanted her to call him. He suggested "Uncle Edward" and he forever called his granddaughter "Aunt Mercedes." That's some serious male vanity right there.

She shared stories about growing up in Duke's orbit because she was raised by her grandmother in New York City and went to a Catholic school where she learned Irish jigs and reels (predecessors to tap dance, she said) and a love of dance was spawned.

There were stories of Sir Duke's favorite singer, Ella Fitzgerald, babysitting her and how, because the band toured year round, any time they were playing in NYC, it was a celebration for the families with presents and fried chicken.

When asked about being around so many musicians, Mercedes diplomatically said, "They were unique. I was going to say strange," and went on to clarify based on "Uncle" Edward's theories.

Trombone players were "very slippery" and sax players who didn't play any other reed instrument were "not very bright." Bass players were "the salt of the earth" and "drummers were fine after they'd had their first nervous breakdown."

It was a good thing it was a mostly older crowd when the subject of the old Jackie Gleason show came up, because no one else would remember the show's June Taylor Dancers, of which Mercedes was the first and only black member, eventually moving to Miami when the show began taping there.

Given that she began dancing with the troupe in 1963, she had plenty of stories that reflect the sad state of race relations in this country.

Trying to rent an apartment in Miami, the landlord took her friend aside to ask "what" Mercedes was. The friend said she was Hawaiian so she got the lease. Traveling with family to Hawaii after a 7-month gig in Australia performing "West Side Story," a woman on the beach wanted to know why she was there since she didn't need a tan.

The mortification of being a white person never ends.

She reminded the room of rapt listeners that Duke always advocated for "a mixed bag of people" and made sure his orchestra had both black and white musicians. The Broadway musical based on his songs, "Sophisticated Ladies" was likewise cast.

His advice to his granddaughter was to move to Europe because there were more opportunities there for blacks and that home is where the work is. His mantra, Mercedes said, was to keep moving.

On that point, Duke Ellington and I are in full agreement. I don't know know how else you could describe my day...or even my life.

Meanwhile, like with an annoying train, I just wait for the interruptions to pass.

One Is More Than Enough

You can ask me to do many difficult things, but walking slowly is not one of them.

And, sadly, at the Richmond Folk Fest, there are frequent times when I am forced to walk at the snail's pace of humanity. It is excruciating, I can assure you.

And that was after I tried traversing the block along Second and Grace where a quintet of skateboarders had made it their own this Saturday afternoon. A guy walked by me, warning, "You better walk faster, this is now a skate zone."

Then he leaned in chuckling, saying, "Ain't never seen a guy with a gray beard on a skateboard." Clearly you don't spend enough time in certain parts of the city, then. I know 50-somethings who still skate regularly.

Because a writing deadline had kept me from making it down to the Folk Fest until the shank of the afternoon, I was bound to wind up in the crush of music fans heading across the bridge to Brown's Island at the exact same moment (side note: how do people stand to walk that slowly?).

By the time I reached the dance pavilion, I'd run into the radio show host, my favorite hippie musicians, a WRIR DJ and two musicians in search of the best world music. Before the day was over, I also saw the printmaker and her husband, one of my first blog fans and her man, the bookseller and my neighbor, in a particularly gregarious mood after 4 beers (and on his way to score his fifth).

My arrival was ideally timed to find a spot on the dance floor barely four people back from the stage that gave me a bird's eye view (minus his feet) of Memphis soul singer Don Bryant and his band the Bo-Keys, who played without Don on the first song to build the anticipation.

Then the dapper Don joined them and you could just see the joy of performing radiating from his face. This is a 75-year old man who put out his first album in 1969 and his second this summer, a man still marveling at his good fortune.

He kicked off their set by measuring out the ingredients he was going to need - four tablespoons of Memphis guitar, a cup of fatback drumming, a pinch of organ (I was especially taken with the organist's showmanship: every time his hands left the keys, he yanked them back dramatically, as if he'd touched something hot and beamed a smile) - and began strutting and dancing like a man half his age.

As far as I could tell, his only concession to age was alternating a barn burning song with a slow jam to allow him to catch his breath.

When I'd interviewed him a few weeks ago, he'd told me his show would be all about the love and he wasn't kidding. The set included songs about doubting your partner, jealousy, being hurt by love and being true and the ones that weren't danceable were perfect for swaying to, slow dance-style.

Don's voice, honed by years of singing gospel, had no problem producing notes high and low that got the crowd screaming in appreciation. "Don't Turn Your Back on Me" gave us possibly his best lyric:

I'm doing the best that I can
Remember, I'm only a man

Don't worry, we never lose sight of that. Then, just to prove he's still nothing but a man, he closed with "One Ain't Enough (and Two's Too Many)," entreating the adoring crowd to sing along and offering the mic to a few people up front to sing the classic line about having too few or too many women.

Crossing the footbridge after his set ended, I heard a terrified-sounding woman tell her children about the overcrowded bridge, "We're all gonna die." Quality parenting at its best.

Dropping money in one of the Folk Fest's orange buckets to earn my Saturday sticker, I was caught off guard when the guy bearing the bucket threw his arms around me, then turned to the crowd, shouting, "Cheap stickers, free hugs!"

After scoring a foil-wrapped Maryland-style crabcake, I headed up the hill to the Community Foundation stage and soon ran into a DJ/musician friend heading away. I was incredulous that he wasn't staying for Be'la Donna, the all-women go-go group from D.C. I'd been looking forward to all day.

"Doesn't sound like go-go to me," he grumbled. I didn't take him for an expert on all-women go-go groups and kept going to find a better view.

Besides having great hair and all the energy in the world, these women were dressed to impress in bright dresses and tops that made for an explosion of color as they sang, danced and played in high-heeled lock step, singing, "They don't love you like I love you" and doing shout-outs to prove it.

No question it was hot onstage and one of the singers used a large folding fan to cool herself off in between stints at the microphone.

Near where I was standing watching, a mother with an affection for go-go began dancing in circles around her mortified teen-aged daughter who couldn't even look her mother in the eye as she gyrated. A better question might have been, how could the daughter not be moving at all to such an infectious beat?

When their set ended, I began walking, only to hear my name called and see my favorite part time server/professor beckoning me over to meet her friend ("Karen's not too cool to go to a poetry reading," she assured him) and catch up. Before it was all over, we'd covered a multitude of unmentionable topics before moving on to going to Godfrey's Latin night later and the demise of the Virginia State Penitentiary that once stood near where we did.

It's what we like about each other: our interests swing widely.

Walking back up the hill toward home, who should I run into again returning for a second stab at the Folk Fest, but the two musicians with a taste for world music? Turns out they'd taken my advice and parked on my block before hoofing it down rather than wasting time trying to park downtown.

Still, at a festival teeming with people, it was amazing to happen on the same two twice in one day.

With enough music under my belt to be able to live with myself, I finished out the night at the Comedy Coalition to watch three of the house teams do long form improv. It was completely different than what 'd been doing since yesterday and for that reason, it was a fine way to close out my day.

The Johnsons' cue was "planetarium" and that sent them off riffing on scarecrows hitting on people in a corn maze ("Don't flatter yourselves. I said I had pimento cheese!") and a married woman making a Jolene-esque plea to her husband's first wife so he'd pay attention to her instead.

Dollar Machine, in their last performance ever, got "basement" as their starting point, which took us to hoarders, colonies of feral cats and hamsters being buried in Crystal Light containers. Just as funny were alley trolls who put strolling daters to various tests (like demonstrating second base) to see if they'd make sound couples.

If only such a thing could be determined so easily in an alley.

Last up was Big Bosses, comprised of the Coalition's heavy hitters, long time staff and teachers, making light of a phrase from a bad Christmas movie, "It's turbo time!" which quickly became, "It's justice week!"

Before long, we were enmeshed in comedy involving Superpowers like Single Dad Man, Subtraction Man and Inquisition Man and a reporter who persisted in saying, "I'm from the local papes" before taking notes.

A character named Dick Cheney was the bad guy (casting to type), fixing the 2000 election and killing anyone who disagreed with him. These days, you laugh so you don't cry.

But only after you've danced to a Memphis soul singer reminding you to never give up on love. His rationale? "Love's not giving up on you!"

Is that a promise? Because I would be willing to walk slower to make it so.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Of Hens and Brisk Slips

I stretched for the stars and I know how it feels to reach too high, too far, too soon. Even so, I intend to see the whole of the moon.

With two articles to write today, I skipped my morning walk and got right to it. Doing research for a quote, I came across one of those beautifully written sentences that stay with you, this one by  F. Scott Fitzgerald: They slipped briskly into an intimacy from which they never recovered.

I'm not sure what's more romantic about that, the speed or the inability to resist, so I want to think about it some more.

In early afternoon I was interrupted by the phone ringing and answered to find a pollster at Roanoke College on the line. I tried to beg off, but allowed myself to be cajoled into doing it for the sake of representing the intelligent voter.

When she got to a question about my opinion of 45, I eschewed choices of approve, disapprove or no opinion to deliver a scathing indictment of a lunatic. "We're not supposed to say this, but I agree with you!" she  laughed. "God, it's so refreshing to hear someone answer like you just did."

How, honestly?

Facebook had alerted me that a DJ at WRIR who'd been at the Paul Weller show Saturday was devoting his entire show to a tribute to the Modfather, so once my work was finished, I tuned in to hear rare, alternate and acoustic versions of his songs mixed in with similar artists.

Some sets were so achingly perfect: solo Weller on "Into Tomorrow," Style Council's "Walls Come Tumbling Down" and the Jam's cover of "Heat Wave" segued seamlessly into the Waterboys' "Whole of the Moon," and it was such a beautiful musical flow, I just sat there smiling in appreciation, unable to do anything but listen.

That's some well-curated music, son.

Toward the end of the show, the DJ (who, I'll admit, I've known for 25 years), was tripping over his tongue after so much rhapsodizing about the show and Weller's music, not that it wasn't warranted.

Sounding utterly smarmy, he made a wisecrack about his tongue being too big, and amended that to say it wasn't always a bad thing. "If you know what I mean...and, frankly, I think that you do," he cracked hilariously before thanking listeners for joining him in basking in the afterglow of the Weller show.

I'll bask as long as you play, good sir.

It was damp and getting dark when Mac showed up to trek with me to the Richmond Folk Fest and besides desperately needing the walk, the visuals were stellar with the city looking atmospherically romantic with fog and muted lights along the bridges and canal.

The hordes hadn't yet arrived, so we easily made our way to a row of food vendors where she got a banh mi and, from La Milpa, I chose Mexican-style shredded chicken tacos that sang with the flavors of onions, lime juice, cilantro and white cheese. No sour cream or salsa to be found.

We ate our meals at a community table under a tree with leaves still attached rustling in the night breezes. When I commented on how positively musical the wet, green leaves sounded - completely unlike the rustling of dry brown leaves on a tree - the stranger across from me (notable because she and her companion were first-time Folk Fest attendees) agreed. "Yes, it's like music."

From there, we headed to the Westrock stage to see Hot Club of Cowtown's stylish pastiche of hot jazz and western swing.

There was a pink-collared dog onstage and the bass player (who looked like a cross between a young Patrick Swayze and Chris Isaac) was wiping the strings on his upright bass, presumably to dry them off in the 100% humidity.

The Austin trio played Richmond 10 years ago when it was the National Folk Fest, has now been together 20 years and their polished set showed that with a helluva range of songs: "I'm an Old Cowhand" to "The Continental" to "Big Balls in Cowtown," I kid you not.

After thunderous applause, the bass player (the front of his shirt soaked with sweat from slapping that bass so hard) noted, "Maybe we need to come back here more than once every 10 years!" and while that seems logical, I question how many in the audience would come see the band if it was at a local venue and not in the sheltered confines of the Folk Fest.

Just an observation.

As we sat under the tent surrounded by hundreds of people, we could feel a cool breeze blow across us from the river every few minutes, a reminder that fall is trying to assert itself.

We hurried over to the dance pavilion to catch the end of C.J. Chenier and the Red Hot Louisiana Band's crowded set because Mac loves zydeco, before crossing the bridge to leave the island (where we passed a young woman telling her friend, "I would just give him a blow job") and heading up the hill to the Altria stage for soul blues - a genre based in gospel - courtesy of Eddie Cotton, Jr.

The blues master announced from the stage that he was about to "turn this place into a juke joint," which would've been a real accomplishment considering that we were on a steep, grassy hill, but he did a damn fine job of trying.

Unfortunately, we landed next to a guy who chose the same spot to talk non-stop to his companion for 45 minutes straight.

"That's the thing," he explained patiently to her as if she cared. "Other women tempt me." Apparently they also dump him or turn out to be transgender and he explained how often both had happened to him loudly, along with his theories on why.

Mac and I could have moved, I suppose, but we had a lamp post to lean on, a clear view of the band and enough optimism to think he'd eventually shut up. We were wrong.

Meanwhile Eddie sang out, "Hey, Richmond, let's have some fun! You only get one life, then you're done," a philosophy I embrace wholeheartedly. His music ensured that the crowd would be moving non-stop and his voice harnessed the power of church singing.

During another song he asked all the men who were in love to raise their hands. "How many of you are henpecked?" he asked and many hands went down.

"There's nothing wrong with being henpecked as long as you're pecked by the right hen!" he told them and a few hands went back up. Nothing like a blues master to set the menfolk straight.

"Okay, on the count of four, I want everyone to get up and shake something!" he demanded, causing even the Baby Boomers to shake their aging tail feathers, some more appealingly than others.

For that matter, Mac and I couldn't hep but notice that you couldn't swing a dead cat without hitting a middle-aged man at the Folk Fest, so it could be a good place to meet fellow music lovers of the male persuasion who aren't yet in love.

Recovery from intimacy is optional, if you know what I mean. And, frankly, I think that you do.

Friday, October 13, 2017

An Underhand Serve

Once you've experienced the real thing, no facsimile can possibly stand up.

A year ago this month, I'd gone to see Billie Jean King speak, here, and come away dazzled with a fuller sense of who she was as well as her life's achievements. She seemed bigger than life (despite being the same height as me) because her accomplishments made her so.

So while I was curious to see a film version about her infamous match with Bobby Riggs, I'll admit I went to "Battle of the Sexes" mainly to see how well the filmmakers depicted the era.

Right off the bat, they showed their commitment to the decade that gave us disco and Watergate by starting the film using the Fox Searchlight logo from the '70s. Now, that was a nice touch.

And even though they had star Emma Stone gain 15 pounds for the role, nobody, I repeat nobody, would mistake Stone's lithe form for King's athleticism. At least she had the sense to lay off the mascara and lipstick to play King a tad more effectively, although she was still way too classically pretty.

Issues of feminism and male chauvinism (Riggs says he "put the show in chauvinism) pervaded the story, in the same way that those topics became part of so many college conversations back then

Seeing someone use an aerosol deodorant was a fine throwback, as was stockings drying on a shower curtain pole. Been there, done all that.

Probably most fascinating was the decision for the Women's Tennis Association members (founded by King as a way of seeking better pay for female players) to wear tennis dresses that incorporated color into them. I'm not talking the black lace or silver spandex tennis get-ups that came later, but accents of color and pattern that seemed modern and stylish back then.

Clearly color must have seemed like a bold step because King got pushback for wearing blue Adidas shoes for her match with Riggs. Being Billie Jean, of course she wore them anyway.

Where the movie really scored for its authenticity was in using actual audio and visuals showing Howard Cosell providing the commentary on the match. Unfortunately, it also showed him on camera with his arm and hand on the shoulders of the color commentator, one of the women players of the WTA.

Now there's progress: male announcers now know better than to touch their female counterparts unasked. At least on camera.

The music choices were strong, reminding me of songs I hadn't thought of in eons: Tommy James "Crimson and Clover," the Left Banke's "Walk Away, Renee," George Harrison's "What is Life?" and, because no movie taking place in the '70s can be without an Elton John song, "Rocket Man." The Sara Bareilles song, "If I Dare" was an unexpected treat.

And don't get me started on the parallels to today in a story of a talented and well-qualified woman (albeit a controversial one given her attraction to a woman) having to face off against a showboating buffoon and being treated condescendingly simply because she has girl parts.

I hate to point out the obvious, but our strength lies in how smart, talented and funny we are plus that we have girl parts.

Match point.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

It's Not Houses, It's the Life Lived in Them

Romance is wherever you find it.

Whatever the room had originally been - mud room? l'orangerie? former stable? -  it must have given off an aura of unbridled passion, or else why would the woman who led us there whisper, "It looks like where the chauffeur would meet the Downton Abbey daughter."

Since television isn't my forte, I saw it more as a place where Lady Chatterly might meet the gamekeeper Oliver and wile away a sticky afternoon such as today reading poetry to each other. Or, better yet, "reading poetry to each other." Wink, wink.

The room was notable for the minimally framed windows (the kind that open out) that made up the upper half of three walls of a brick-floored room that looked out on the garden. It seemed to be more of a final resting place for anything that didn't have a more appropriate place in the house proper than a room dedicated to anything in particular.

The charm of it was that it was completely unexpected.

Tonight was the first installment of House Story, a new monthly series that mashes up the storytelling elements of Secretly Y'All and the voyeuristic urges of Modern Richmond tours. Since I'd been going to both of those events for years, House Story seemed like a natural.

The chosen house on Grace Street looks completely different from those around it, so that was a definite draw. Add in that Mac and I had both walked by that house countless times (she used to live 2 blocks down and I walked that route for years) and always been curious about the interior and backyard, and it was all but assured we'd want tickets for the tour.

What I didn't expect was to walk through the front door and immediately run into a poet I know. For that matter, I did a double take with a woman (and she did the same) as we passed in the kitchen, only to turn around and realize we had met through work some 15 years ago.

"Just being in this house makes me love it even more," Mac observed as we made our way from one gracious room to the next, indulging our voyeuristic tendencies.

What was unexpectedly striking was that the 1838 house was mostly furnished in mid-century modern furniture and contemporary art while boasting details such as molded cove ceilings and curving walls, while the floors were remarkable for the intricate herringbone patterns throughout.

In the upstairs bathroom, a tiled undulating wall backed an open shower, but the owner said that they'd found the curved wall buried in a closet and immediately decided it needed to be seen, not hidden away.

After traipsing through rooms up and downstairs while letting our imaginations wander, we joined the group gathering in front of the staircase for some history and storytelling.

The current owner told us that the house had been built by a wealthy farmer named Talley - hence the house's name Talavera - on 25 acres in Henrico County in the Greek revival style: two rooms upstairs, two rooms downstairs and a central hall.

At some point, the house was moved from a Broad Street location to its current digs on Grace between Strawberry and Davis and enlarged. Then a two-story wing was added by C.F. Sauer in 1901 when he bought it. By 1922, it had been chopped up into a rooming house and by 1961, the city assessed the house and land at $10,000.

It was a fascinating history, to be sure. And the kicker was that two weeks before his death, Poe had done a public reading of "The Raven" in the front room by the fireplace.

Lois, the next door neighbor, had lived there since 1975, so she came next and shared memories of a previous owner named Serge who recalled hearing the clang of swords as Confederate soldiers climbed the stairs.

Lois pointed out that those stairs hadn't existed during the Civil War, but Serge had apparently been insistent. Other ghost sightings followed. Tonight, a kid who was filming the speakers piped up and said that a yellow orb had appeared in the frame as she talked about ghosts.

What the hell?

More recently, a woman showed up at the front door and asked to come in because she'd been married in the house in 1964, right in front of the fireplace next to which Mac and I were now sitting.

The director of the Poe Museum shocked everyone when he told the story of how when Vincent Price came to town, he'd asked to visit Talavera (for obvious reasons) and once there, read from "The Raven."

Because he could, that's why.

It was the perfect lead-in to a reading by poet Gregory Kimbrell of, that's right, "The Raven," done in front of the same fireplace where Poe had read, except with all the House Story attendees gathered 'round.

For those like me who stopped to think about that, it was a remarkable thing to experience given the location and reading material.

Acknowledging that his work owed a debt to Edward Gorey and was campier than Poe's, he followed that with a couple pieces from his own collection of macabre poetry, "The Primitive Observatory." And while I'd heard him read from it several times, I'm guessing many in the room were experiencing his disarming and disturbing poems for the first time.

Short of finding a willing gamekeeper in the mudroom, how could I not appreciate an event that delivers house porn, history, neighborly anecdotes and poetry?

Quoth the raven, nevermore...

Ampersand with Flourish

I'm not gonna lie, my purpose was twofold.

Being the documentary dork that I am, I can honestly say I was jazzed to see that there was going to be a screening of "Pressing On: The Letterpress Film" at the Byrd tonight. Why not, with a subject that not only interested me but one that I know so little about?

But it certainly didn't hurt that after years, nay, decades, of sitting in the Byrd's rickety, scratchy, busted springs, torn pleather seats, I was completely stoked to sit in one of the chairs installed since I was there last Monday.

Hallelujah and pass the buttered popcorn, it felt miraculous.

As if just not having to work around the uncomfortable, protruding parts wasn't enough of a gift, there was the unimaginable: leg room, a cup holder and even a wider seat. I took mine for a test sit, bouncing just a little so I could feel the springs respond and not play dead like on the old ones.

They're not the eye candy the old seats were - I seriously doubt they make 'em like they used to - but butts don't care about visuals.

It was in such comfort and spaciousness that I got to see the Richmond premiere of "Pressing On," presented on a city-to-city tour by its producer and co-director. Their first order of business was drooling over the Byrd Theater's historic grandeur, saying "This is the coolest theater we've screened in."

A series of former pressmen (some second and third generation), press collectors, young artists discovering letterpress, a guy who repairs old presses and others took us through the history of the letterpress and why it's so important we don't let the old machines wind up in landfills or rusting in basements.

One pressman marveled that the young are fascinated by the obsolete technology, attracted to the physicality of having to move to do it, rather than just pushing a button on a computer. Another old-timer, said, "Twenty, thirty years ago, I thought letterpress would die with me."

Happily, that no longer is the case.

Naturally we heard about how Gutenberg's printing press had changed the course of culture, allowing people access to words formerly interpreted by priests. But also it represented the sheer explosion of information that could now be printed and disseminated.

Because old type is wearing out and new type needs to be made, there are now guys working diligently to repair old machines - apparently built to last multiple lifetimes - and return them to serviceability.

A lot of the people in the room seemed to be in the graphic design fields and you could see them nod or murmur when things like that were mentioned in the film.

One of the more fascinating aspects of it was not only the devotion it inspired in people, but the early attraction. One man shared that he began working at his local printing press when he was 10. "And when I turned 16, they began paying me for it."

Just about everyone interviewed was adamant that old presses not end up in museums - the Smithsonian was specifically mentioned - where they would sit unused, a consideration a non-printer such as myself wouldn't have thought of.

The point was also made that these days, event posters are made for celebrating and commemorating, not for advertising purposes since that's now mostly done online. It's not like even 10 years ago, when I would make sure to read every telephone pole's posters as I walked by so I'd know about any interesting shows coming up.

I'd be inclined to say that we're kind of spoiled in Richmond because the print collective Studio Two Three has been offering classes and making presses available to the community for, what, a decade now. I've purchased several posters from them over the years, attracted to their singularity, flaws and all, which is something you can't get with digital reproduction which always looks the same.

Damn conformity.

It was mainly the passion of everyone in the film that made it so engaging for a non-printer. I mean, when a person says he intends to keep printing until the hearse shows up, clearly he's doing something he loves.

Whereas what I love is watching yet another nerdy documentary, but in a seat so comfortable I don't leave with cramps in my butt cheeks for a change.

Instead, what I do leave with is a newfound appreciation for why old presses are getting new lives: for the love of printing.

And truly, is there a better reason for doing anything than love?