Friday, June 22, 2012

You Got to Hold On

I broke down and went to Friday Cheers for the first time.

Ever.

And I've lived here since the late eighties.

You'd think after decades of avoiding the event that it must have been a favorite band of mine that broke my streak.

It wasn't.

What it was was an up and coming band who won't likely be playing $5 shows for very much longer.

A band who blends soul, rock, blues, garage and maybe even a twang or two of country (or is just southern rock?) into a pastiche that is wooing music fans.

A band I'd only heard three songs from but could tell I'd enjoy hearing the lead singer do live.

A band call Alabama Shakes.

Even the Venture Richmond people who book the event were beside themselves, posting, "When we booked these guys, all they had was a Bandcamp page and a few hundred followers."

What a difference some Internet hype makes.

So a fellow music lover and I made the pilgrimage to Brown's Island, crossing the new access bridge to it for the first time, to find a spot of grass to call our own.

Opening was Robert Ellis, a Texan who blends country, rock and bluegrass.

As in, when he says he's doing an old bluegrass song, he does it rock-style.

During his set a gentle rain began, but trusty sidekick and I had had the foresight to anticipate that, so we erected an umbrella fort from which to check out the crowd and listen to the music.

Among the t-shirts seen: King Crimson, Dune Burger and Bad Manners. "Nuff said.

During the break between sets, the rain stopped, making for a better view of the main event.

Alabama Shakes jumped right into the Friday mood with "Going to the Party," and the line, "There's gonna be dancing and there's gonna be a fight."

Well, it is Friday night.

Lead singer Brittany has the lungs of Aretha Franklin and the blues leaning of Janis Joplin and it was clear to see that she'd be a standout no matter who was behind her.

She played her green guitar for the first part of the set before putting it down to do some serious testifying.

She returned to it later in the set, which pleased me no end because you just don't see that many women fronting a rock band, much less playing guitar, too.

"I didn't expect to see so many of you here," she gushed. "Thank you!"

From the roadway above, a photographer shot pictures of the dancing crowd.

From where we stood, the trestle of the nearby railroad bridge framed a watercolor view of the river and south shore.

After a soulful start to their set, Brittany said, "The sun's going down and you know what that means. Rock!"

Which is exactly what they did.

And, no they aren't reinventing the wheel and yes, they wear their influences, numerous as they are, on their sleeves.

But they were young, they're obviously having a ball doing what they do and they did it with enthusiasm and energy.

I'll disagree with the local music writer who said that this will be the best show of 2012 in Richmond, but I'll agree that there was no better place to be tonight than on Brown's Island with fireflies lighting on my arm while listening to Alabama Shakes.

Does that mean I'll return to Friday Cheers?

Probably not.

Yes, five bucks was a steal for the band Jack White recently asked to be his opener.

But as one attendee noted, "Friday Cheers has become talkers and smokers."

And when the band came back out for their encore, a blase-looking guy condescended to his friends, "The popular song has already been played."

Sigh.

As for me, I just took Brittany's advice.

I'm praying, I'm swaying to the sweet melody.

Yes, ma'am. And it was a real pleasure.

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