It was an evening of samplers.
Arriving at the VMFA, the two security guards both welcomed me in. "How are you?" one inquired.
So cold, I said. It's freezing out there. But I just passed another girl in tights, so we're both crazy.
"Thank you!" the other guard said.
Gratitude is appreciated given the sacrifice in this weather.
I kicked off the weekend at Amuse where I arrived just as the window shades were being raised.
The hostess said they'd had a steady line all day, no doubt Johnny-come-latelies to the Chihuly exhibit, which closes next weekend.
When a stool emptied, the hostess led me over, mentioning that it was right next to the absinthe drip.
I took that as a sign from the green fairy and ordered one despite the sun not yet being down.
No need to judge.
The bartender, always witty and never more so than when she smiled and informed me that she was expecting to be handed her ass on a platter tonight after the afternoon they'd had, was nonetheless efficient, personable and genial.
She got me a dish of mussels and Surry ham in no time at all while all around me, the tables filled up as if by magic.
When I was down to nothing but broth, she kindly inquired if I needed more bread, but I was worried about the time.
Hearing that I had eight minutes to spare, I took more bread for the broth and still made it downstairs in time for the poetry reading.
Laura Minning, perhaps nervous, read her poetry like it was all one piece, barely taking a breath between the last word of a poem and saying, "The name of my next poem is..."
One of her poems had been commissioned by a man for his wife on the occasion of their 20th anniversary.
There's a gift that'd be hard to top.
Anna Claire Hodge's poetry was passionate and focused on what sounded like life experience.
"I only have two mugs in my house," she told us. "One is Tupac Shakur and one is the royal wedding of William and his bride. I feel like that sums everything up."
It did, indeed.
After that, the growing audience was encouraged to take a break and grab some vino at Best Cafe.
"I can tell that there are some people here who could use some wine for the poetry," our hostess Shann said.
The break was followed by the poet I'd come to see, Cynthia Grier Lotze, a friend and teacher.
She began with a poem about "a friend who keeps bees," a man I also know, that referenced "one way streets and three-cornered parks," both familiar to this city resident.
Favorite line: "The step down from the porch into night."
She read several pieces from a book-length poem she's been working on for five years ("I'm going to finish it," she promised) about two people named Peter and Stella.
In "Prayers," we heard about Peter "carrying his silent heart."
A devastating mental image.
"Another Accident" was described as "where I leave Stella, so if you have any ideas what to do with her, I'm all ears."
Just as she read the line, "The scientist, whose notes are precise," I spotted the scientist in the crowd.
Unfortunately, he was too far away to inquire of him if he had any chocolate with him. He almost always does.
I had to smile at the line, "As if life is one big Presbyterian potluck," part of "First Rabbit."
One poem she described as having "the whole cast of characters in my life in it," but it was the evocative language that stuck with me.
How will we winter over in this small apartment?
There are thick books to be read.
It concluded with, "So sit. Let us watch fall come in."
I don't even especially like fall and I was ready to sit.
Last up was Tarfia Faizullah, who opened with a poem dedicated and about her dead grandmother.
She told of going to an Episcopalian private school and how that Anglican experience had caused her to write poetry to exorcise the memories.
That kind of an experience can scar a person for life. She's lucky she was able to be inspired by it.
I hated to be read to and run, but I really needed to get to the WRIR party for the rest of us as soon as I could.
Because, you see, WRIR's birthday party is a sampler of all kinds of my favorite RVA activities.
I'd already missed the Listening Room and David Shultz doing a solo set (that included a John Prine cover) I later heard was stellar.
Soon after, I got permission from a Foundry member not to have it counted against me that I'd missed it.
Michael Murphy was spinning records when I got there and his well-chosen picks were tempting people to dance by the buffet table.
Wolf//Goat had just started their set, so I went in and watched (once again) as kids who have never seen violas and banjos in a ramshackle folk project were sucked in and start dancing wildly.
It's really something to see.
Since I'd just seen them play a few weeks ago, I changed rooms for tonight's installment of Secretly Y'All, Tell Me a Story, which featured musicians.
I try never to miss a Secretly Y'All.
Josh Bearman of the Hot Seats shared how modern country music had devolved to nothing more than nostalgia and cliche.
That said, he also sang an original song he claimed was one of the very few songs he wrote based on feelings and not just thinking it up.
The lovely Julie Karr, looking fetching in a flowered sweater, was next and shared the saga of being tested to see if she could donate a kidney to her brother.
After days of testing and inconvenience, she was found unsuitable but a song was born out of it.
Written in three parts, it was essentially three conversations, one with her family, one with herself and one with her brother.
Her heartfelt voice totally sold what was already a strong song.
Before I even knew who the next musician was, a guy came over and asked if he could stand next to me and film the next band
"They only got one song, but it's worth it," he promised.
Emmanuel told of a guy who tried to pick a fight with him, not because he had a beef with him, but because that's what he went around doing and his friends would film the fight and put it on YouTube.
Can I just say what an unpleasant reminder it was to hear that such people exist?
But the resulting song came out of it, so there's the bright side.
Storytelling over, I moved back into the main room to mingle.
One sure thing about the WRIR party is that everybody comes out of the woodwork for it.
Even people who don't go out much show up for this benefit.
So besides the usual suspects, I saw a long-ago Floyd Avenue neighbor, a former editor, a member of the Foundry, lots of musicians and more deejays than you could shake a stick at.
Canary, Oh Canary played a strong set but seemed small on a stage so big.
I remember seeing them on Sprout's tiny stage what seems like ages ago and now they were commanding this big room.
Reverb and obtuse lyrics will do it every time.
They even played a song they'd written especially for tonight.
After their set, I got down to the business end of the party, meaning I went for birthday cake and got there just as the chocolate cake was being cut.
Everyone was reveling in the cakes not having black icing this year since in the past it's been a tad disconcerting to party with people with black teeth.
I reveled so much I had two pieces.
Next came Richmond Comedy Coalition riffing on Richmond Famous, another of my mainstays.
Tonight's "famous" guinea pigs were WRIR deejays Shannon Cleary and Mike Rutz.
Shannon told of band practice for a band called 27 based on rock stars who'd died at 27.
Recalling the band practicing for the Monster Mashquerade party at the Garber building, his main memory was Paul Ivy yelling, "Goddammit!" all the time.
He revealed for the fist time that the way the band knew to begin playing was when Lindsey struck a certain pose.
Let's just say it was fertile material for the comedians to work with.
Mike told of planning the party for the rest of us for seven years, including 2010 when it began snowing at noon on the day of the party.
After anguishing about whether to cancel, his decision was made when Heks Orkest's singer managed to fly down from NYC in time for the show.
Mike figured if he'd made it down, Richmond could manage a little white powder.
As it turned out, the snow turned to rain at 7:00 and stayed that way until midnight.
I remember because I was one of the ones who braved the soggy weather to come to that party.
The comedy troupe made the most of Mike's story, starting by dealing with the burden of carrying around a seven-year old child.
Back into the main room for Samson Trinh and the Upper East Side Big Band, whom I hadn't seen since summer 2011.
They were in full swing when I arrived but it wasn't long until they moved into their Abbey Road project, doing big band takes on the seminal album.
From a down and dirty "Oh! Darling," that had No BS's Reggie Pace standing in front of me with his hands to the ceiling grooving hard, they took it up a notch.
"This is the part of the show where we blow your mind," Samson said and he should know given the knockout red suit and black vest he was wearing.
He's the most energetic conductor a big band has ever seen, dancing and highstepping non-stop as he led his band, several of whom I recognized from the RVA big band.
A funked-up version of "Back in the USSR" had half the room dancing or, if you were like me and near the front, bopping hard in place.
There's a song I've danced to more times than I care to count.
That segued into "Dear Prudence" before a rousing number that had many in the crowd doing "jazz hands" as the female singer testified the song to a close.
During the mingle period, a friend went looking for cake only to find none cut. I found a server and asked and she rushed off for a knife.
"I just needed to get a clean knife, honey," she assured me.
I wasn't the one who needed cake, that was my friends, both too timid to ask for the cake they wanted.
"Karen always knows how to make things happen, " one said as the other nodded.
Yea, I ask.
Back to the other room for the Colloquial Orchestra, also known as Dave Watkins and whomever he chooses to play with on any given night.
Tonight there were a record eleven musicians onstage and the sound was enormous.
Let's see, there were three drummers, two violinists, a keyboard player, a guitar player, Dave on his electric dulcitar, a sax, a trumpet, a jack-of-all-trades (PJ) and Nelly Kate on vocals and knobs.
At one point, five of them were crouched and turning knobs to get effects out of their instruments.
I saw drummer Brandon (Snowy Owls) playing a maraca with his right hand, using it to hit the cymbal and holding his beer in his left.
Not long after, Jimmy (White Laces) took his beer from the windowsill and enjoyed a long drink while letting the other drummers have a moment.
PJ played a giant plastic harmonica through a megaphone, that is, when he wasn't hitting a metal bowl.
Midway through the epic improvised piece they were creating, drummer Nathaniel picked up one of his drums, carried it to the front of the stage and began banging with a frenzy.
PJ wasted not a moment taking over his remaining drums, so now we had four drummers.
Nelly sat on the floor, out of the way, but making her distinctive sounds into the mic to add to the overall mix.
Usually Dave blows into his dulcitar and tonight he was joined by Joon blowing into his violin.
As many times as I've seen the Colloquial Orchestra, tonight's huge cast made for a particularly grand performance, both in intensity and sheer variety of sound.
Last up was Dead Fame and by the time I got in there, the crowd was way into them.
Balloons were everywhere, being batted about and all at once, there were two Dead Fame beach balls being thrown into the mix.
We have a band in Richmond with beach balls. Who knew?
"Does it have to be so f*cking bright in this room?" the lead singer asked before things got a bit dimmer.
The bouncing balloons and balls got old when both me and my girlfriend got beaned by them from behind, but that problem was partially solved when one of them landed in the crystal chandelier high above our heads.
Meanwhile, the band played on, all black-clad and '80s intensity as the party wound down.
When I went to find my coat in the coat check room, it appeared that a bomb had gone off, but I eventually located my scarf and coat, both absolutely necessary for the walk home.
As I walked, quickly, very quickly, it was with the satisfaction that I'd packed a month's worth of Richmond happenings into one short seven-hour period.
For anyone looking to sample the kinds of stuff I do day in and day out, tonight was a nice cross-section of it all: storytelling, DJs, Listening Room, bands, comedy, poetry.
Tonight Karen didn't have to make it happen. It was all there for the taking.