Thursday, June 3, 2010

VMFA: Music was Jumpin' Again

To hear me wax poetic about Jackson Ward, you'd think I'd lived here forever, but actually it's not quite four years now. Before that, I lived in the much more sedate (and therefore less enjoyable) Museum District back when it was still called "West of the Boulevard" and as such won in 1996 as "West of the Boulevard, Richmond's Neighborhood of the Year" (no joke; I have the t-shirt to prove it).

And while it was usually a very well-behaved neighborhood, it did have the benefit of being home to the VMFA's Jumpin' concert series, which I attended faithfully because it was two blocks from home. I know, I know, it had a reputation as a meat market, but I actually went for the music. Really. There's a lot to be said for live music in a sculpture garden on a summer evening, no matter what most of the attendees are there for.

I saw some outstanding bands there and the schedule always included music from all over the globe and representing all genres. Amongst the more memorable were Shemeika Copeland, Nuevo Menco, The Insteps and for those of us who like girl on girl action, both Antigone Rising and Fruit wowed the crowd with their girrrl power performances.

Well, after six years of no Jumpin', the series returned tonight and, as luck would have it, the threat of bad weather moved the show inside to the atrium; unfortunately, that meant I missed the rainbow I've already heard so much about. So while Jumpin' is back, it won't really feel that way until I attend an actual outdoor show.

Tonight it was Alejandro Escovedo and the Sensitive Boys, a band I almost drove to Charlottesville to see last year, so definitely someone I wanted to hear live. Except for the loudest songs crashing off all the hard surfaces in the atrium, the band put on a great performance. The first set of two was especially hit-heavy and the crowd was the type that knew the lyrics to many of the songs.

There was a brief power outage during the second set and the staff scrambled to put it right. A much larger crowd had assembled by that time, probably most unaware that when you choose to arrive late at Jumpin' you miss the entire first set, not a wise choice for a music lover. When the band came back out for its encore, they began by playing the lead-in to "Black Dog," thrilling the audience. Alejandro joked that they were "the worst Led Zeppelin cover band ever," but I don't think the adoring audience saw it that way.

The show attracted all kinds of people I know or knew, including the guy who once leaned in like he was going to kiss me and instead told me I wasn't attractive, here (he was right, I'm not, but his timing!). I hadn't seen him in years, but he's still being overly-complimentary to compensate.

I also ran into a DJ, a farmer, a magazine writer, a botanist, a hipster and a random blogger and her main squeeze, so I was not lacking for people to talk to before and after the music. Hell, I even knew the teetotaling girl who served me my Y & B Rose (an organic winery with oh-so-green packaging, written up as recently as yesterday in the Washington Post). Best of all, there was no meat market vibe; it actually seemed like people were there for the music.

Maybe it's just a shift in the cultural wind in the intervening years. People will now come to Jumpin' for musical rather than hormonal reasons and next thing you know, I'll be wearing a new t-shirt.

But it's not going to be white and the wording will be a bit less sedately 1996; check it out:

RVA's 'Hood of the Year

But you'll have to demonstrate that you can shut up at shows in order to get one.

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