You've got to love the way Ashland Coffe and Tea quietly brings in these interesting musicians who don't make it to rva because there's nowhere comparable for them to play here.
I've seen Marshall Crenshaw, Sara Bareilles and the Kennedys, among others, there, undoubtedly because we just don't have a dedicated listening room space and Ashland does.
And just this morning I saw that Austin singer-songwriter Darden Smith would be performing his folk-tinged pop there tonight.
The last time I saw him was the mid-nineties and he was opening for Shawn Colvin, whom I didn't even stay to see (I'd seen her before and I was to see her at least three or four more times since, so I think she's forgiven me).
I was excited beyond belief that this show had dropped into my lap.
And then there's the charm of AC&;T; it's not like any Richmond place.
The typed sign on the bathroom door says: "Please knock first. Our locks are less than secure."
Handwritten directly underneath is: "Be sure to scream loudly to be heard."
I thought it was pretty funny until after the show when I went to exit the bathroom only to be trapped inside; I chose not to scream but luckily only had to bang on the door for about a minute before being rescued.
When the twenty-something Ashland-born and bred waitress asked for IDs from a table of obvious thirty-somethings, one guy responded, "Wow, you're a hard ass."
With all earnestness (and probably fear mongering from management) she answered, "I just don't want to go to jail ever."
Their menu is basic but more than adequate.
The owner was kind enough to let me get a glass of a by-the-bottle only red, the Lolonis Ladybug Red Old Vines.
I ordered the Chicken Chili and a chocolate milkshake (they also had espresso shakes for those who crave caffeine).
The waitress' eyes got big when I ordered so I felt like I had to defend my choices.
"I think it'll be a great combination," I told her.
Smiling wide, she agreed, "Beans and dairy. No, beans and chocolate. That's gonna be awesome."
So I had her seal of approval.
After taking the stage, Darden Smith proceeded to tune his guitars (including a cherished Collings) before giving up and saying, "It's my birthday and if I want to play an out-of-tune guitar, I can."
And when the man opened his mouth to sing his well-crafted and consistently romantic songs, it was with a voice that didn't sound like it had aged or declined in the least in the intervening years.
He's a huge fan of trains, which come up in his songs repeatedly and after recently returning from Europe, he made a train comparison.
"Their trains are efficient and get you where you're going, but they don't sound like anything. Ours sound great but don't get you anywhere."
During a non-train song, one rattled by outside and he stopped to comment,
"I love that sound."
When he launched into "Midnight train," it was only a matter of seconds before the seventh train of the evening rolled by, causing in a group chuckle.
During a visit to San Diego last summer, he got to see Burt Bacharach perform and became obsessed with him, waking up the next morning to discover that he had drunk-downloaded countless Bacharach songs by Dionne Warwick the night before without remembering doing so.
Next he began learning to play them and as a result, we heard "Say a little prayer" tonight.
Midway through the show, he asked for requests and I was quicker on the draw than anyone else and asked for "Days on End," which got him telling us how the song came about.
"This is why I have a great job. I took a nap and woke up in the middle of it and wrote this song. Then I went back to napping."
For days on end, I'm rising up with the sun
For days on end, I can't get nothing done
Cause the world is spinning a little too fast
The sky's been a little too blue
Too many stars at night
And I've been thinking 'bout you
For days on end
Prior to his last song, Smith mentioned his merch table and told the audience that, "If you came with a date and they don't buy you a CD, they don't love you."
Then he mentioned a recent project he's doing with a NYC collective called the Harlem Parlour Music Club, a group with an emphasis on Appalachian music ("...because, you know, Harlem is a hotbed of Appalachian music," he said).
Everyone involved was supposed to bring a song to contribute to the group and Smith's was a gospel number entitled, "Dying to be Born Again."
He closed his show with it, but that wasn't the one that stuck in my head as I drove back down 301.
I know your lips, the cut of your hair
The shape of your hips, baby I've been there
Think about my coat hanging on your door
And I think about your dress, it was lying on the floor.