Tuesday, May 22, 2012

I'm on Fire

Growing up, my birthday meant cheeseburgers.

My five sisters weren't thrilled about it, but that's what I picked for my birthday dinner year after year.

So naturally when I drove out to the Northern Neck today to have lunch with the people who spawned me, my Mom served cheeseburgers.

And in lieu of birthday cake, hot fudge sundaes for dessert.

Is it any wonder I try to celebrate my birthday with as many people as possible with options like that?

After an afternoon at the river, I came home to get cleaned up and meet a friend for a birthday drink.

He was having a screwy day (his words) and couldn't choose where to take me, so I defaulted to Bistro 27 so I could walk over after so much car time earlier.

We toasted my beginning with Briccodi-dei-Tati Rose and talk of the difference in Frenchmen and Italians (attitude).

Although I wasn't terribly hungry after my burger bash, we noshed anyway on small plates.

Fried calamari, tomato bruschetta and a delightful Asian-inspired dish of Chinese broccoli, onion and duck confit kept us busy until a visiting Philadelphian joined our conversation.

We switched to Chester Gap's 2009  Merlot ("when it was 2009, it was a very good year"), but only after all of us tasted it and none of us guessed that it was Merlot.

It was big with notes of cherry and herbs and a lingering finish, all of which made my companion insist I order dessert to accompany it and further celebrate my upcoming big day.

You don't have to twist my arm.

The chocolate fondant cake arrived with a pink birthday candle alight and everyone at the bar joined in singing happy birthday to me.

The only way to follow such a fine birthday second installment was with, what else, live music.

A two-block walk deposited me at Gallery 5, where I walked in to hear, "Karen's here," from the back of the room.

I found some friends, although not as many as I would expected given the stellar bill.

First up was Dogs on Main Street, whom I've seen before, so I could appreciate his humor three songs in.

"I forgot to introduce myself," Mac said. "I'm Dogs on Main Street. Yea, I know. Don't grammar me!"

I enjoy Mac's earnest sound and everyman lyrics, but especially his self-deprecation.

He explained how thrilled he'd been when River Whyless had contacted him to play the show, saying they'd found him online.

"I didn't know I could be found," he deadpanned. "So I've been practicing for three days straight and this afternoon I blew out my voice. Now I sound like a thirteen-year old girl."

Which he did not. His melodic growl of a voice was just fine for songs like "Home" and "Williamstown, Massachusetts" and he closed with a killer version of Florence and the Machine's "Shake it Out," done doggy (on Main Street) style.

My favorite thing about Low Branches' set was getting to hear new songs ("Love happens naturally, There's no use in trying") in addition to some from their last record, which I have and love.

They were short a member tonight with cellist Josh not in attendance, although lead singer Christina not only pointed to where he'd be on stage, but when he would be playing.

Although usually shy on stage, tonight she shared how she'd done the Church Hill yard sale yesterday only to watch all the customers flock to the "salmon cornbread guy" next to her, although she didn't understand what salmon cornbread was.

That makes two of us.

And lo and behold, she said the salmon cornbread guy was in the audience tonight.

No doubt he was as tickled as I was when, for the last song, Christina called Mac onstage and said, "Turns out Mac and I share a beautiful thing called a love of Bruce Springsteen."

Launching into "I'm On Fire," I can't quite express the satisfaction of hearing the demure Christina singing, "Only you can cool my desire. I'm on fire."

It isn't quite up there with hearing her cover Nine Inch Nails' "Closer," which one of my favorite couples had  said they'd give anything to hear her do, but it was still stellar.

Asheville's River Whyless was up next and they caught my ear right off the bat.

During sound check, violinist/vocalist Halli sang, "Oh, Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz? My friends all have fifteen-passenger vans, cause they're all in bands."

She also took an audience poll to decide what color wine to drink during their set (red won).

The band had a baroque pop sound with lush vocals, lush instrumentation and literate lyrics ("I'm not searching for perfect, I'm perfecting my search").

Aren't we all?

We heard the three (four?) part suite "Stone," which could only be described as epic with its plucked violin, hand clapping and three-part harmonies.

Okay, so I was completely taken with their sound.

They played almost all of their CD and in order, too, because, as guitarist and songwriter Ryan said, "We figured we put them in this order for a reason."

As they layered voices and instruments for soundscapes that filled every inch of Gallery 5, the audience was as quiet and attentive as if it were the Listening Room.

Well, except for one couple in the back and who talked and laughed loudly through their set, but the loss was theirs.

By the time their set ended, many in the audience stood to applaud because of how impressive they'd been.

I was one of them; as the musical component of tonight's birthday bash, they were superb in delivering a kind of music of which the birthday girl-to-be is very fond.

Wow, if I'm already having cheeseburgers and chamber pop two days in advance, this looks to be a pretty amazing birthday celebration before it all winds down.

Which, according to my friend Gregg, should be sometime around mid-summer.

And the problem with that is...?

I'm just perfecting my search for the perfect series of birthday celebrations.

To paraphrase Christina, there's no use in not trying.


  1. "doggy (on Main Street) style"... Karen's getting a little sexual with these write-ups. -CG

  2. Maybe it's pre-birthday lust!

    But who wouldn't after hearing Mac and Christina singing, "Can he do the things that I do? I can take you higher. I'm on fire"?

    I mean, come on!