Saturday, December 31, 2011

Eve Hands Off the Apple

Before Richmond had a Listening Room, there was Ashland Coffee and Tea.

It used to be the only place I knew of with a guaranteed no-talk policy during shows.

So with an invitation to head there to see The Hot Seats, we took a drive up 301 for an evening of bluegrass.

We got there in time to score a table right at the corner of the stage, affording a great view of the flying fingers of The Hot Seats.

Our waitress looked like Carole King in the '70s and had a low-key wit that made her endearing.

When she brought our food, we all noticed the absence of roll-ups.

Rushing off and returning with them, she said,: "And here's some silverware so you can eat with dignity."

I especially appreciated it since chili can be ugly when eaten with one's hands.

My partner-in-crime amused me with stories of a friend who had been busy "finalizing the loopholes on her New Year's Eve resolutions."

I found that to be laugh out loud-worthy. If I were going to make resolutions, I'm not sure I would have remembered that important step.

The Hot Seats have many strengths, not the least of which is their range.

From Flatt & Scruggs to Porter Wagoner to John Prine, they have a knack for finding the covers that most closely align with their original and hysterical material.

Introducing "Jail Song," banjo player Ben held them up a second, saying, "I'm not in tune. I got this one mixed up with the other jail song. Sorry."

I can't help but like a band with multiple jail songs.

The song "Peaches" provided one of my very favorite lines of the night (and there were many). "You can always find your type if you like 'em over ripe."

Fruit (low hanging or otherwise) as metaphor for women?

The song "Soft John Blues" got plenty of laughs with lines like, "Gotta get me some of those pills."

A statement of our time, Viagra references seem to be cropping up surprisingly often in songs, as in the zydeco tune "Can't Rooster like I Used To."

The band brought up guitarist Ed's brother Dave to add "traditional bluegrass trombone" to a few songs.

That brass and strings combination is one of my favorites and it's everywhere these days.

The Hot Seats' set moved along at a fast clip with a dozen songs in each set.

Introducing one, they said, "Not all bluegrass is supposed to be happy. Not only is this one not happy, but discordant."

Unhappy and discordant, what more could you need on New Year's Eve eve with trains whizzing by every few minutes?

Okay, house-made chocolate cake slathered in ganache, but we had that.

Another thing I loved about the band was their musicianship; they endlessly and effortlessly switched instruments, demonstrating the range of each performer.

After the encore, our server came back to bring us our check and thanked us for being such great customers.

Telling us that lots of shows brought in picky people, this one had not and she appreciated it.

Susan Greenbaum shows, she said, brought in the worst.

Why? I guessed that it was because the audience would be largely female.

Cracking wise, my dinner partner asked, "Aren't all women picky?"

"She's not!" the server said, pointing at me. "She's perfectly nice and reasonable. You should keep her."

As if I were up for keeping.

I'm not sure whose eyebrow went up higher, mine or my seatmate's.

We walked out into the mild late December air of Ashland and  began the leisurely drive through rural Hanover County homeward.

Among an evening of great lines, I'd have to give the honor of funniest yet deepest line to: "Can we just have intellectual honesty?"

Only if you're given the dignity of using silverware to eat while a talented and humorous band plays.

And a Honeycrisp apple.

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