Sunday, March 31, 2013

Who's Zooming Who?

Ah, the challenges of a religious holiday for a heathen.

I don't want to eat Easter brunch, I'm sure as hell not going to church and I don't need to see overdressed dogs in hats.

So, taking a cue from my game-designing friend Dave, I organized a board game afternoon.

I know, so 20th century, right?

There was a suggestion of beer pong (as if) before we decided on something slightly more cerebral.

One of the guests graciously brought plenty of Prosecco and I supplied the Scrabble (50th anniversary edition) as we spent the gray afternoon trying to beat the pants off each other.

Maybe it was the bubbles, but my crowning glory was "zoom," which only garnered me 35 points.

So I've had better Scrabble matches.

Eventually thoughts turned from vowels and consonants to food and I persuaded them to consider my traditional Easter dinner: Chinese food.

We arrived at Peking in the Slip just about the time they opened and the four of us slid into a booth to do some refueling.

I was teased about my boring order of wonton soup and Hunan pork, but I wasn't looking to reinvent the Easter wheel today, just for comfort food.

The conversation got kind of raucous but fortunately there were only two other people in the joint then so we told ourselves it didn't matter.

We'd already decided to finish out our day at UR for tonight's international film series selection, a Colombian film called "Fat, Bald, Short Man."

Irresistible title, right?

Walking into Ukrop Auditorium I found a couple of attendees thanking the cinematography professor for showing a movie on this, the resurrection.

I threw in my gratitude while they were at it.

He admitted that having to cancel last Sunday due to snow had been a factor, a boon for the religious-averse this week.

The movie was a dark humor, animated (rotoscoped, actually) tale of a 46-year old man who lives the lonely lifestyle.

Colleagues make fun of him, gambling brother uses him, no real friends and not even cats to keep him company.

And what lonely middle-aged man doesn't surround himself with cats? I can't think of a one.

Everything changes when he gets a new boss who happens to be fat, bald and short.

Despite their physical resemblance, though, the boss is successful, respected and has a pretty wife.

Kindly, he takes Antonio under his wing and they become friends.

Before long Antonio is encouraged to join a self-help group to get over his shyness and befriends a sickly and slightly crazy neighbor with whom he can talk.

Because the film was animated rather than live-action, part of the charm of it was the starkly simple figures (like a child's drawing of a face: dots for eyes and a line for nose and mouth) set against real backgrounds, which made for few distractions from the sweet story of a man who finally learns to step outside himself.

When challenged at a shy group meeting to share one of his experiences with woman, he's so embarrassed he makes up a story about his quiet co-worker.

Something about passionate lovemaking behind the coffee plants at the botanical garden.

No one buys it, but rather than ridicule his fantasy, the group leader tells him to imagine what he wants to happen and make it so.

One particularly poignant exchange between Antonio and his group leader summed up the challenge of changing yourself.

Why aren't you married?
It's not that simple to be married.
It's not that simple to be alone, either.

Don't I know it.

By the time Antonio stands up to an obnoxious co-worker (who's trying to pressure him to lie for his benefit) and tells off his brother (while assuring him he still loves him), you couldn't help but cheer for the fat, bald, short man.

Thankfully, it was a foreign film, so there was no tidy conclusion, just an obvious change of attitude in Antonio's demeanor by the time the credits rolled.

As he all but dances around his kitchen making a meal for himself, there's a clear optimism and enthusiasm for life that he hadn't shown before.

It was like he'd been raised from the dead...or the 46-year old lonely lifestyle (with or without cats), which is practically the same thing.

Ooh, did I say that out loud?

Sharing the Love

Fueled by an Industrial sub eaten in the sunshine at Coppola's, I was ready for anything.

First there were two brothers reading.

I was the first arrival upstairs at Chop Suey and convinced the guests to open the window and let in the afternoon warmth.

Steve Wishnia's book, "When the Drumming Stops" was technically fiction but it drew on his own experiences in the NYC music scene.

"It was love at first pluck," a character said about his $200 Fender guitar purchase.

Sounds like something my formerly prickly friend Paul would say.

His characters took their music seriously, one defending his love of a song because despite its dance beat, it had noisy guitars.

Rock and roll is supposed to make you dance, we were reminded.

How many times have I heard that?

There was a reference to "thirteen perfect notes in four bars," a terrific descriptor, and a "helicopter in a  cave buzz" (which sounds an awful lot like my beloved "music from a cave") and having "captured the spirit of Coney island in 2:49."

No mean feat, that.

His brother Ken, who'd written the mystery "23 Shades of Black," began by explaining where he found inspiration, which once was in a church in Ecuador where he noticed that the hymn numbers on the board reminded him of baseball card stats.

It takes a certain kind of mind, if you know what I mean.

His heroine was a female cop, coincidentally Ecuadorean like his wife, trying to make it in the male world of an '80s-era NYC police force.

Considering it was a man writing in a woman's voice, the words rang surprisingly true.

After his reading, he talked about the luxury of youth, saying he had written the bones of his first book in six weeks, back before he had drains like wife, kids and job.

Squander it while you can, kid, he advised the youngest member of the audience.

Because the group was small, the discussion afterwards was more like a conversation which eventually included all of us and I admitted how I earn a living.

They immediately jumped on it, asking me to recommend a vegetarian restaurant they could walk to afterwards.

In thanks for my suggestion, I was awarded the book giveaway, "Send My Love and a Molotov Cocktail: Stories of Crime, Love and Rebellion," in which Ken had a story.

It was an awfully nice gesture considering I couldn't afford to buy any of their books, interesting as they sounded.

Then it was down to the Bottom for Fado Nasso's CD release show at Globehopper.

I'd been invited by Brian, the bass player, whom I knew from Marionette and some jazz permutations, but I also recognized Leah, the guitarist, from a performance at Classical Incarnations.

Upright bass, classical guitar, voice and occasionally violin were playing up against the big front window, while the afternoon sun slanting through the glass door made for musical chairs (and sofas) when it became too much.

We found a table and sat back for what's affectionately known as "Portuguese blues," melancholy songs of love, longing and the sea.

Singer Bernadette, in a long dress and shawl, opened her mouth to beautifully sing songs like "I Heard That You Forgot Me," which she explained she'd be singing to the guitar.

It was while she was singing "I Wouldn't Even Confess to the Walls" that the woman behind me said in a stage whisper mid-song, "It's so quiet in here. I feel like I'm in church."

Obviously some people have never been in a listening room environment.

I only glared a little at her, but come on, honey, you can't tell that every breathy Portuguese note of this music isn't meant to be heard.

"I find the words are useless when the silence speaks much better," Bernadette sang achingly before reminding the crowd, "Just so you know, fado goes much better with wine."

Um, what doesn't?

For tonight's show, she said, "CDs are only $5 and we'll mow your lawn for you," pointing at poor Brian.

During the break, people made a bee-line to get CDs, no doubt struck by the beauty of fado and the bargain basement deal they were offering tonight.

The second set began with only Leah and Bernadette, who were the group's original members.

The beautiful "I Have Fado in All of Me" preceded a song by renowned fado singer Ana Maura (coincidentally playing UR this week) before we had to leave.

I could have listened to fado for hours, but Ian MacKaye was in town.

Yes, that Ian MacKaye, as in Fugazi, and playing at Plant Zero with his partner Amy Farina as the Evens.

Post-post-hardcore. It was really non-negotiable.

Walking in, I found a lot of "Y" chromosomes, as expected, and only a few friends, but every one of the people in the room had a look.

It was a look that said "How the hell did we get Ian MacKaye doing a show on a Saturday night for five bucks?"

Most people were seated on the floor in front of the raised stage with rugs and lamps, a drum kit and a stool on it.

As soon as Ian and Amy came out, he looked at us and told us to stand up because it was a raised stage.

A mass arising followed.

"It's 8, let's have a show!" he commanded and we did.

It didn't take any time for me to figure out that he wanted us upright because it was easier for him to make eye contact that way.

"If you weren't here, this would be a practice," Ian said. "So let's make this a show. If you want to sing along, do it."

"Doesn't this feel like a show, Ian?" Amy asked from behind her drums.

"It's getting there," he admitted, taking up his well-worn baritone guitar again for "Cut From the Cloth."

Maybe they found their voice while shopping
The price was hard to beat

Because MacKaye is not shy about sharing his strongly-held opinions, most songs got introductions by way of issues.

Of a song about cops on which he wanted us to sing the refrain, he said, "It doesn't mean they're bad people. It's just observational."

Between songs, a male voice called out, "I love you, Amy!" to which she answered, "I share the love."

When she had technical difficulties with her mic, they stopped mid-song.

Then Ian asked if they should pick up the song at the chorus or restart and the audience was asked to vote.

Chorus got a few shouts and starting back at the beginning got major support.

"Okay, we'll start with the chorus, then," Ian joked. "It's the American way."

Before doing "Dinner with the President," he spoke of awards and those who proffer them, but ended with, "It's a dance song."

I saw no dancing, although much grooving in place.

Next he went on what seemed like a tangent about a childhood friend inviting him to a matinee, a concept he couldn't appreciate until he went.

Why would anyone want to go inside during the afternoon when they could be outside?

"When I got out at, like 5:00, I still had the whole night ahead. It was great. So tonight we're going to play for an hour and then sell CDs and vinyl and you can still have your whole night ahead. Isn't there a techno rave at Steady Sounds or something?"

Their last song had a refrain that seemed to sum up the duo's take on life.

We're not lucky, we're blessed,

With a Saturday that ranged from punk memories through Portuguese blues to post-post-hardcore, I'd skip the blessed and call myself lucky.

Damn lucky.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

F*ck Off and Boogie On

Never has the f-word been used so many times at the VMFA.

Okay, maybe amongst the staff, but definitely not at a marble hall event.

Secretly Y'All, Tell Me a Story had paired up with the museum to show a film silently while people told stories relating to the film's themes.

The movie was Jim Jarmusch's "Down By Law," a very southern black and white story of jail mates who escape.

Walking in early, I heard Tom Waites music playing (he also stars) and saw not only a bar but food for sale.

Since neither was yet on sale, I laid claim to my seat and went upstairs to Amuse for a quickie.

Standing at the end of the bar while my absinthe drip was prepared, a woman from Texas asked for a quick lesson in the green fairy.

Happy to oblige.

"Mmm, it smells so good," she said, eyes closed.

It is so good, I told her.

When I returned to the marble hall, a crowd had begun to gather with lots of familiar faces, many of whom I'd never seen before at a Secretly Y'All event.

Who wouldn't want to hear other people's secrets?

I took advantage of the southern food available, scoring a pork barbecue and cole slaw sandwich and a bag of Cheetos.

When I suggested to the food servers that pork rinds would have been more southern-appropriate, they agreed, saying that they hadn't been able to get them despite trying.

First up was Glynn, who'd impressed at a previous storytelling night.

Her theme was break-ups and her story was a doozy.

She mentioned the many red flags she ignored as she met and set up housekeeping with what turned out to be a seriously deranged man.

Within moments of starting, people in the audience were making empathetic noises as she told her incredible story of a mate who decides to take up with the woman next door (leaving a note saying "Do not try to find me") and move into her house.

Again, next door.

It's a brave woman who can share publicly a breakup story of that magnitude.

The best part was how she managed to move on, find a good man and live happily ever after. Next door.

Chris' story was about a scoop he got when working for the Times Dispatch about a divorce.

The wife wanted it known that her husband was a woman pretending to be a man.

Turns out he was also a liar, a cheat and a Republican.

In between stories, the sound would be restored on "Down By Law" and we'd get a few minutes dialog to keep us abreast of the story.

GWAR's lead singer Dave came next and he brought show and tell.

His first question of us was how many had been arrested and hands went up all over the room, although not mine.

He shared a tale of being arrested in Charlotte, N.C. for wearing the cuttlefish of cthulhu, an enormous phallic piece he apparently wears strapped to his loins during GWAR performances.

Feeling that he didn't deserve a prurient charge, he also pulled out a plastic penis, making the point that the cuttlefish in no way resembled it.

Guy came out and his first request was, "Please don't ever make me follow Dave Brockie again."

He had a point.

Explaining that he doesn't generally get into fights, he'd been in two in his life.

"The first happened when I accidentally joined the army," he deadpanned.

Most of us cringed when he told of a guy's leg being held and a pipe wrench brought down on it.

And the moral?

"If you don't like fighting, "Married with Children" is a bad influence, just like hard drugs."

Four-time Grammy loser Randy Blythe of metal band Lamb of God told his amazing saga of ending up in a Czech jail on manslaughter charges.

Seriously, here's the guy who made international headlines telling us his story at Secretly Y'All.

See why I don't miss this event?

His story of a cellmate who knew little English and whistled "Jingle Bells" incessantly provided one of the best lines of the evening.

"Come find me if the zombie apocalypse comes."

Will do.

Mark's story was called "The Hidden Man" and involved being an aide to an old man with dementia (who didn't like wearing pants) in Philly.

Despite non-sequiters like "You'll break your neck!" after Mark sneezed, he had some lucid moments when he gave Mark life advice.

It was actually a very touching story.

During the intermission, I bought another bag of Cheetos (don't judge) and stood in the endless bathroom line, where I overheard a girl tell Glynn how moved she was by the honesty of her story.

Not everyone would share such a difficult break-up, but Glynn's a Secretly Y'All pro.

Another Dave came out first once the movie was restarted.

His story of camping out at a quarry involved silent bloodhounds, supposedly teaching a blind girl to scuba dive and torrential rain.

Turns out the scuba was a ruse and the guy was really staking out the lesbians on the hill.

I kid you not.

Another Chris began his tale by saying, "I still camp out with my family despite the story I'm about to tell you."

He's a better man than I am because if I'd been forced to hike ("more of a traipse") ten miles as a six-year old, over a yellowjacket nest and after being charged by a  bull, I might have ended my family camping adventures.

On the plus side, he did learn that day that his Dad was not all-knowing and we all need to learn that lesson.

James, whom I know from the James River Film Society, got up to share next.

His tale of a road trip to NYC when he was in college with his buddy Rodney Honeycutt included many humorous asides ("There was dinner and supper, no lunch, in the world I grew up in") in his drawling North Carolina accent.

He told of stopping at his grandmother's house on the way north, where she loaded them up with biscuits with ham and sausage.

Ah, pig.

And as anyone (like me) who's ever had a southern biscuit-making grandma knows, there is nothing like homemade biscuits.

When they arrived early in NYC, they killed time because, "I was taught a lot of things and one was that you don't show up to someone's house four hours early."

I was taught the same thing, James.

The two North Carolina boys found kindred souls in the Bronx with two divorced women singing show tunes and the trip turned out better than they could have hoped.

By this time, the movie was going faster than the stories, so it had to be paused for us to catch up.

Richard came up saying, "Boston cream pie is not a pie. It's a cake."

That was a lead-in to his story of teaching in jails.

As he explained, that meant teaching to people like the woman who had microwaved her baby.

And the UR professor who'd killed her husband.

Not exactly a plum teaching job.

He told of how women in jail use moistened M & Ms as make-up, a garish visual image if ever there was one.

Richard said it was DeAntonio (Tony) who had originally made the Boston cream pie observation, which led to several other philosophical discussions between teacher and pupil.

He'd even tried to teach his students the Robert Frost poem, "The Road Not Taken," which dovetailed nicely with the movie's ending, where the two characters  part ways at a fork in the road.

Well, all except Roberto Benigni's character, who conveniently happened on a beautiful Italian woman and stayed put in the bayou.

Some people might call that a night, but I was having none of it.

After a phone call to help a kindred soul resolve some matters of the heart, I was off to Balliceaux for music.

It was already crowded and the band wasn't even starting until 11:30.

No problem. I ordered Cazadores and found a good spot to enjoy the DJ collective that had come up from Miami with the band, Psychic Mirrors.

Chris, who'd booked the band, told me that he'd like their sound, that it reminded him of K.C. and the Sunshine Band.

Enough said to know it was going to be fun.

The music the DJs were playing was Miami-sounding boogie, right down to the covers.

And let me tell you, a Miami-fied version of "Cheek to Cheek" is a far cry from Fred Astaire.

When the eight members of Psychic Mirrors took the stage (guitar, bass, drums, percussion, keyboards/vocals, synths and two vocalists), it was to force Richmond to shake their collective booty.

Front man Mickey Introducing the band, said they were from Miami (duh) and began with "Money Crazy," a song that jump-started the night.

Somehow, they managed to infuse "Rapper's Delight" with enough funk to make the few people in the crowd who remembered the Sugarhill gang forget them

They introduced one of their own songs, "Midnight Lover," saying it was on a D.C. label, but qualifying that they were doing it "Miami gangster style."

Honestly, it just sounded as dance-able as everything else they'd played, a very good thing if you ask me.

Their whole set was like that; if you weren't dancing or shaking your booty, something was wrong with you.

But nothing was wrong with me and I found it impossible not to dance, despite some of the people around me more interested in checking their phones than moving their groove things.


Their all-too short set ended with a song off their 12" EP before another Miami DJ kicked it back into overdrive to keep the party going.

Tell me stories and I'll dance until the band stops. Promise.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Sea Sorrow and Yellow M & Ms

It was the rough magic and the BOGO that sucked me in.

Not that I'm not always eager to see Richmond Shakespeare's latest offering, but their recent staged reading of "Rough Magic," a play re-imagining characters from "The Tempest" come to life in modern-day New York, had featured actors from their current production of "The Tempest."

Seeing how strong they were in the reading made me want to see the original.

So when Richmond Shakes announced tonight was going to be buy one ticket, get one free, I scratched out the other things in my little red book and found another Bard lover and set sail for St. Catherine's.

We barely made it in time, took seats in the back row available and I immediately realized that the guy in front of me was blocking my view. Almost entirely.

With all the nerve in the world, I nudged my companion and we moved up a row, climbing over the guys who'd been blocking our view.

By then the thunderous storm had begun on stage, a place of fantastical multi-colored trees, a rock holding a sorceress' son and the home of Prospero, the exiled duke of Milan.

Hell is empty and all the devils are here.

John Mincks as the spirit Ariel was a wonder, sprinting around the stage, leaping across platforms and generally showing the same impressive physicality he'd shown in last year's "Spring Awakening."

Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows.

He was a perfect example of why one of the best things about this production was the casting.

Instead of the usual aged Propsero, here he was played by Charlie Raintree as a vibrant middle-aged man still in his prime and wearing the most magnificent embroidered magical coat.

Keep a good tongue in your head.

Just as impressive was the choice of Isabelle Andrews to play Propsero's daughter Miranda, a role that calls for a 15-year old.

Andrews is a ninth grader at St. Catherine's, meaning she was every bit as fresh-faced as Shakespeare intended her to be.

How often does that happen?

Of course, that also made for a 21st century audience to be vaguely uncomfortable when her father allows her to marry, albeit another teenager, ninth grader Daniel Kunkel as Ferdinand (looking, if possible, even younger than Andrews).

I would not wish any companion in the world but you.

David Janosik as Stephano was his usual hilarious self, getting drunk, wearing women's clothes (well, too) and being chased by hounds.

During intermission, the guy whose head had momentarily blocked my view looked over and said hello.

Surprise, it was a friend, a charming wine geek I know who also happens to be a theater lover and who'd been lured to the play with a friend who'd already seen and loved the production.

He'd just returned from the lobby with a bag of M & Ms, prompting a discussion of them.

Seems he thinks the yellow M & Ms taste the best and he was generous enough to share some with me to prove his point.

His friend had a bag of peanut M & Ms, but no yellows, although he also generously shared.

No tongue! All eyes! Be silent!

It was such a lively and colorful production with the actors in their turn-of-the century garb looking so genteel.

I drink the air before me, and return 
Or ere your pulse twice beat

One of the actors who'd been so impressive at the reading was Jeremy Gershman who played the sorceress' son, Caliban, a deformed native of the island, referred to as a monster.

In  a tattered costume, the man hobbled around, living under a rock where he'd been banished and totally selling himself as a miserable human being.

He stayed in character to the point where he even hobbled offstage after the curtain call. Impressive.

You cram these words into my ears, against
The stomach of my sense

Nothing like having Shakespeare's words crammed into my ear for half price.

Twas a clever quibble, for sure.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Grit Fries and Good Vibes

It's the manic/depressive nature of freelancing.

I devote my day to driving to Urbanna, a place I've never been, to interview a woman for a piece I am writing.

Having to do so means I drive on uncrowded roads on a sunny day to the river to spend hours sitting on a couch talking to a happy woman.

She lives with the love of her life and they run a business together.

An avid cook, she blogs about what she cooks for him every night.

And every night, they go to sleep on their houseboat.

Oh, sure, they have a house, but that's for guests...and the six chicks currently living in the living room.

Her charming partner was there because they'd just finished lunch together and he insisted on giving me a brownie from the lunch for my drive home.

Needless to say, it was a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon, hearing another woman's interesting life story.

After we finished, I asked for a suggestion on where to eat lunch.

Leaving the store unlocked, she walked me next door (literally) to what was once a Coca-Cola bottling plant and is now a boutique hotel.

The interior had a New Orleans feel, with a fountain scavenged from the Big Easy and screen door frames (retrofitted with glass), which came from the old John Marshall hotel, of all places.

Best of all, she'd been right; they were still serving lunch despite the late afternoon hour.

Ostra, the restaurant, had only a few customers at that point, but she knew them and introduced me.

One of the servers, upon hearing I was from Richmond, told me she used to live there and still enjoys picking up "Style Weekly" when she visits.

"It makes me feel so in-the-know," she said, even more impressed when she learned I wrote for them

Rather than leave me to my lunch (because she needed to return to their shop next door), she insisted I get my food to go and return to eat it with her.

And she insisted I try the grit fries.

Seeing me scanning the menu, the bartender leaned in and told me that the new chef was from Kansas.

My eyes immediately jumped to the half pound Ostra burger with aioli, Gouda, applewood bacon and port onions on a Kaiser bun.

Surely any Kansas boy worth his salt does a decent burger.

When my food came, I took it next door to eat it while chatting off the record with my former interviewee.

She applauded my choice of beef, saying it was the chef's strength (good guess).

And the grit fries were as delectable as she's promised, with a mixture of goat cheese and grits cut into little cakes and fried up to crispy perfection.

That's the way to teach a Northerner to like grits.

It was girl talk par excellence with a woman who'd been a stranger when I'd walked in four hours earlier.

Great fun.

Driving back towards Richmond, listening to a favorite car mix CD, I basked in how lucky I am to earn my living in a way that allows long talks and late lunches.

So naturally, I walk in to find a message from one of my editors telling me a piece slated for print might get pushed aside and end up online only.

Don't get me wrong, I'm happy to see the results of a two-hour plus interview with an artist end up anywhere people can read it, but I'm also old-school enough to know that some people will never read what I wrote unless it's in print.

Because it's about art. If it were about restaurants, I'd know plenty of people would see it even without the print product.

Ah,well, that's the way the cookie/canvas crumbles.

Being a freelancer means that as long as they pay me the agreed-upon fee, they can run it anywhere they want to.

But I gotta admit, it was just a little bit of a dark cloud on otherwise lovely way to spend a working day.

Good thing I had that brownie to ease the sting a little.

Full Moon Soul Cage

It's a hell of a swing from prepared piano to R & B.

The final installment of UR's John Cage Centennial celebration was tonight.

Pianist Paul Hanson was playing Cage's "Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano," so I gathered some adventurous music lovers to hear this seminal Cage work.

I'd had a taste of prepared piano at least week's Cage concert but tonight it was only about the prepared.

And by prepared piano, we're talking about Cage's instructions to insert all kinds of things into and on the piano's strings.

Stuff like screws of different sizes, some with bolts, wing nuts, strips of rubber, pieces of plastic.

Even a whole pink eraser.

You can imagine what interesting things that does to the sound when the keys are played.

If you can't, I'll tell you.

I heard what sounded like a toy piano, a muted gong, xylophone, harp, vibes and occasionally, an actual piano sound.

When a normal note cropped up during the performance, it was a surprise and a bit jarring, since my ear very quickly attuned to the prepared sound.

Hanson took a few minutes before he began playing to talk about the piece, saying it certainly qualified as "art music" and saying that it takes three hours to "prepare" the piano according to Cage's notes and specifications.

Then he sat down on his bench and since he was all clad in black and the piano was also black, they were a contrast to the orange-lit backdrop behind him.

For the next hour, he played Cage's masterpiece, alternately challenging and lulling the audience.

Most gorgeous of all were Sonatas XIV and XV, known as "Gemini," and they were also the most structured.

It hinted at the more conventional direction Cage could have gone had he chosen to do so.

Afterwards, Hanson invited the crowd up on stage to look at the prepared piano and, like most of the rest of the audience, I couldn't resist.

Seeing the assortment of random objects placed just so on the piano's strings explained a lot about the sounds we'd just heard.

A UR music student, leaning in as I did, regaled me with a tidbit about pianist Ben Folds.

"You know, he always put an empty Altoids box on the high strings for his last couple of songs," she informed me, clearly taking her Ben Folds very seriously.

No, no I hadn't known he did that, but I suppose it speaks to Cage's legacy in some small way.

Leaving Booker Hall, I decided to surprise my companions with another musical stop.

Tonight was Mekong's 18th anniversary celebration and the Hi-Steps, a band neither of them had seen, was playing.

I suggested a beer and some music and then drove them there without waiting to hear them agree to it.

Not surprisingly, the place was mobbed when we arrived and everywhere I looked were people with glasses of beer in their hands.

I don't drink the stuff myself, as I told drummer Pinson Chanselle when he said hi, so it was the promise of vintage soul played live that put me in the middle of a beer fest.

Mekong is one of those Asian places with room after room and I found the Hi-Steps setting up in a back one.

Later, bandleader Jason Scott cracked that it looked like a smoking lounge at an airport and he wasn't far off.

From the fake plastic ficus tree to the peeling paint on a column to the wall of mirrors (so '80s), it was not the most attractive room.

Like anyone cared.

The octet of trombone, sax, trumpet, drums, guitar, bass, keyboard and singer proceeded to fill the room with a funky backbeat that, in a better-suited room, would have had the crowd up and dancing within minutes.

Clearly everyone was well-lubricated enough to shake their groove thing if there was room enough.

Sadly, there wasn't, since I have heard Jason exhort audiences on more than one occasion to dance, reminding them that they are not meant to be watched, but danced to.

The horn section did it up right, swinging their instruments side to side as they played, like generations of soul bands before them did.

The set list ran the gamut from "Lonely Hearts" to the ubiquitous "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" to "Higher and Higher."

The slow burn of Lee Dorsey's "Get Out of My Life, Woman" was especially well-executed.

The talented left-handed guitarist was a treat to watch, both for the soulful voice coming out a skinny white boy body, but also for his excellent guitar faces.

His female counterpart, singer Brittany, brought her mother up to sing "Chain of Fools" and there's nothing like hearing family members harmonize.

After their spirited number, the dutiful daughter kissed her mama goodbye and went back to work with the band.

And I don't want to brag, but the two music lovers I'd brought along were totally digging the surprise musical treat, so different than Cage.

As the set progressed, even more people kept arriving, beer glasses in hand, adding to the party-like vibe of the room.

Look, I'm happy for any restaurant who makes it 18 years in this town.

That Mekong has established itself as the premiere RVA beer venue is also a good thing; I've brought an out of town guests there myself to wow them with the myriad choices.

But for this non-beer drinker, it was all about the Hi-Steps tonight.

Throw in a little John Cage and it might just have been the best possible way celebrate full moon fever.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

At the Sock Hop

It's hard to top Brazilians in the living room.

So when I learned that a favorite girlfriend had no plans on this, her birthday, I took matters in hand.

We will go out for a celebratory drink and then we will go hear a band at the mid-century modern home of some talented friends.

And not just any band, but a Brazilian one. One fresh off of playing South by Southwest. One playing music that will cross genres and moods.

With a Brazilian chef,  Bistro 27 got the nod for where to toast her natal anniversary and dish about life while sipping Sangiovese.

A couple came in whom she knew and they finally got our attention away from each other.

Like us, they had interesting plans for the evening, theirs being a fundraiser involving drag queens.

Soon I heard a knock on the front window and there I saw some music-loving friends, who came in to say hello.

It was turning into a party right there.

The restaurant was packed, so we felt certain no one would  miss us when we slipped out and headed across the river.

Finding the charming rancher (circa 1957) was a snap given her breadth of knowledge about southside, a good thing given that mine is non-existent.

We walked in to find the band, Marcelo and os Cozinheiros, doing a sound check on the eggshell-colored wall-to-wall carpeting.

That's all it took to know that we were in the right place.

The lead singer of the band came over and introduced himself as Marcelo, a generous gesture.

We found seats to wait for openers the Low Branches to start when suddenly I realized that we were the only people in the room with shoes on.

In our excitement arriving, we'd missed the sign requesting that we remove our shoes.

Done and done.

More people arrived, although not nearly as many as I'd expected, including some favorite music lovers I'd felt sure would want to hear these guys.

Oh, well, you snooze, you lose.

The Low Branches's Christina began by saying, "Welcome to the sock hop!" to the small group spread across the floor, the couch and up against the wall and dining room table.

She explained that their Parisian drummer had a stomach bug so they'd be a string trio tonight

They began their set with the exquisite "100 Years," allowing Christina's beautiful voice to wow the Brazilian boys as they stood transfixed.

It was during their third song that a cat unexpectedly ran into the room, took one look at the group in socks and hightailed it back to the bedroom.

Clearly, Toast was not impressed.

It cracked up Christina, though, and she laughed intermittently throughout the rest of the song.

They closed with Dolly Parton's "Jolene," a song well suited to the band's talents and one that got a huge ovation.

The scientist, sitting near me on the couch, stood up afterwards and, referencing the song, looked at me and said, "Flaming locks of auburn hair."

Hey, I'm no Jolene.

Afterwards, we were back to mingling when a musician friend said that she'd have to leave soon to feed her new baby.

Trying to decide whether to leave before the band started their set or during it, I forced my opinion on her (see my profile, right).

Since I'd heard their sound check and she hadn't, I knew with certainty that she was going to like these guys.

I suggested they stay for at least one song, if only to feed her new-mother soul.

She agreed and took up residence with her two guys up against the wall in front of the band.

Marcelo and os Cazinheiros consisted of a singer, a bass player, two guitarists and a drummer.

Marcelo said that "cazinheiros" meant cooks and it didn't take long to understand the choice of word.

Their music was a savory concoction of Brazilian music like bossa nova and samba, with tango and tropicalia thrown in, along with jazz and pop.

Marcelo was a dynamite front man with an expressive voice, a dramatic delivery and an obvious delight in his enthusiastic audience.

They began with two beautiful, poetic-sounding songs, both with great grooves and then explained what they were about.

The one they'd just sung, Marcelo said, was about relationships. And the first, well, that had been about relationships, too.

I was hardly surprised to find that Brazilian men are in touch with their relationship feelings.

"Now to take the stage away," Marcelo said, indicating the area right in front of the band, "We'll play some Herbie Hancock."

Boy, did things get funky then.

Before long, one of the guests, Bio Ritmo's Giustino (in a stylish red shirt because he'd just come from playing congas with an army band...what?) went out to his car and grabbed his cuica.

I say that not because I recognized it, but because the scientist saw it, nudged me and said, "Cuica."

What fascinated me was how it was played: he took a moistened cloth and rubbed the wooden stick fastened at one end inside the drum, producing high-pitched sounds which he used as accents to t he music.

Soon the band noticed him back by the dining room table and looked at him, all smiling broadly.

After the song's many improvisations ended, the singer looked up and inquired, "Where did that cuica come from?"

With his trademark grin, Giustino deadpanned, "Brazil? I only brought it out because you guys were jamming."

I don't know who looked more thrilled about the addition of cuica, the Brazilians or the stealth cuica player.

Because the had a new album out called "Aion," he explained how all the different concepts of time was central to the album's music.

Aion, in particular, referred to non-measurable amounts of time, like eternity or infinity.

The next song was introduced as being half in Portuguese and half in English, "So you'll know some of the words," the charismatic Marcelo promised.

"Point of View," he explained combined the tropical sounds of Brazil with the subtropical sounds of Uruguay and Argentina and tango and rock.

"Because everyone has been doing the rock since the '80s," he claimed as the song took the temperature up to high.

"That was a very dramatic one," he said, finishing with a flourish.

Unsure of the time, he asked of our host how many more songs they should sing.

When host Josh went to look at his phone to see, Marcelo reminded him, "Better to decide with your ears, not the clock."

Fortunately, that meant we got two more songs, although several of us wanted more like ten.

For the samba they did next, Giustino was called to play cuica in the midst of the band, moving his feet nonstop as he did so.

For the very last song, it was no holds barred and half the group was following Giustino's rhythmic lead in clapping and others were dancing sinuously in the midst of it all.

It was an all-out Brazilian bash in the middle of a '50s living room and the sound was all but perfect.

The birthday girl and I went up to Marcelo to thank him for such a stellar night of music, but all he wanted was to interview us on camera.

So the same camera that had captured the intimacy of a Richmond house show now captured our effusive babbling about our new favorite Brazilian band.

Marcelo's smile grew wider the longer we gushed.

Thank you so much for coming out, he said in farewell.

No, Marcelo, thank you and the boys for making a side trip to this lovely living room on an evening when my friend needed a once-in-a-lifetime birthday treat.

I'd have been there anyway, entranced by your smooth grooves, but I'm pretty sure you made her birthday the best ever.

Or at least the best in aion.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Make That 1 for 4

"I'm 0 for 3 for hanging out with Karen," a friend messaged me yesterday.

True enough; he'd forgotten our lunch Friday, I couldn't do lunch yesterday because I was on deadline and he didn't get my e-mail about dinner last night until it was too late.

Today we were going to make it happen, come hell or high water.

Waiting for the perennially late one outside in front of my house, I used the time to pull weeds from the brick sidewalk in front of my garden.

Everything came up easily because of the recent snow and rain, and I tossed the weeds into the street, satisfied in taking care of a chore during a few found minutes.

Bent over and pulling up a particularly large clump of wire grass from around the light post, I look over and see that a cop car has stopped in front of my house.

The window is down and the officers inside the car are glaring at me.

"You know that's illegal, right?" the one in the driver's seat says in a stern police voice.

Gulp. My heart is now pounding like it's going to come out of my chest.

Meekly, I admit that I hadn't known this and was counting on tomorrow's street cleaning to remove the green debris.

"Just kidding!" the cop says. "I told my partner I was going to mess with you when I saw you."

Oh, ha ha. Real funny.

He assured me I was doing nothing wrong, wished me a good day and cruised down Clay Street.

Are my city tax dollars going to comedians or cops?

My friend arrived minutes later and when I told him the story, he laughed long and hard, bent over double at how funny it was to challenge Karen on breaking the law.

I'm sure it's much funnier when you're not the one being reprimanded by men in blue.

Once he stopped laughing at me, we set out on our walk with me taking him by some of my favorite sites - the crooked blue house, the living roof, my broken swing.

As we walked, we tried to decide where to have lunch but he was leaning toward pho (and I wanted more than that) and I was leaning toward a burger (but he'd recently had McDonald's against his will and was uninterested).

Once back at my house, we piled into his large vehicle to go to his bank in Carytown, thereby narrowing down where we might lunch.

When I found out he didn't know about Doner Kebab, our choice was made.

We waited behind a sweet-looking, older couple ordering before deciding on what we wanted, shawarmas both, his beef and lamb, mine chicken and white garlic sauce.

While they were being made, we went to claim seats at the tiny counter that faces Cary Street.

I saw that the couple had already staked their claim on the bar, laying out utensils and drinks, but my friend didn't notice them and sat down in claimed territory.

The nice older man came over and pointed out their stake, suggesting we all share the prime seats for watching the street theater.

It gave me a chance to tease my friend about his obliviousness, small compensation for his earlier belly laughter at my expense.

In an effort to show there was no hard feelings about his seat poaching, Friend showed the couple his malt beverage (non-alcoholic) pomegranate drink with Arabic writing as a way to get conversation going.

It was their first time and they were as happy with their beef/lamb and falafel choices as my friend was with his.

Tasty, cheap, fast, an ideal lunch with strangers.

And, significantly for me, no laws broken while eating it. As if.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Working on my Karma

I've found the best way to meet Church Hill people: go to Dutch & Co. on Monday night.

I took a seat at the bar and before long was asked to move down a stool to accommodate an incoming couple,

Doing so put me next to a Church Hill resident, business owner and eager conversationalist.

While I ordered a glass of the house red, Vina Temrana Garnacha, he was busy chowing down on a bunch of the $5 blackboard specials, also my favorite way to order.

Before long, he was telling me his thoughts on Boston (we agreed Cambridge is eminently bike-able), the U.S.'s economic woes (devalue currency before violence forces the issue) and karma (you can only skirt giving back for so long).

He told me his opinions on the three blackboard specials he'd had, even sharing his fromage fort with me.

The blend of cheeses, garlic, salt and pepper on toasted, thick-sliced sub Rosa bread was lovely and his unexpected generosity negated the need for me to order it.

Instead, I ordered beef heart stracetti (meaning thinly sliced) with bone marrow and apple slices on crostini.

Yum, tender beef heart with rich marrow and crisp apple was a delightful way to begin my evening.

While discussing how many hours are necessary to master an instrument (he said he'd done 1500 of the 10,000 required for guitar), he highly recommended the abalone mushroom with persimmon, walnut and mushroom vinaigrette as "delicious and nutritious."

As if to prove his point, he ordered it a second time, intending to take this one home with him as a snack while he practiced guitar.

It was a unique preparation and since I'd never had the distinctive abalone mushroom, a chance to try something new.

He left with his abalone while I was still eating mine, but I soon found the stools around me taken by new Church Hill residents on both sides.

Over another glass of garnacha, I chatted with the low-key man on my right (also a Bistro 27 fan) and the chatty duo on my left (brunch hounds who wish Dutch & Co, would stay open later at night), all of whom wanted to know why a Jackson Ward resident had climbed the hill on a Monday night.

It's not that far, people, and any restaurant with great food open on a Monday night is a worthy destination as far as I'm concerned.

The guy to my left ordered the skirt steak with pork belly and shared his favorite brunch spots (Magpie, Black Sheep and Lunch).

His friend spoke of inefficient cab companies, texting versus e-mail and how reliable Bamboo Cafe is while her phone charged at the bar's outlet.

When they cleared out, I got my final companions of the evening, a local mixologist and his companion.

They'd already been to Magpie for small plates and a firkin, but wanted a "perfect egg" to finish out the night.

They accompanied it with rye old fashioneds, rillettes and beef heart minus the apple, due to a fresh fruit allergy.

That topic led me to confide my stone fruit allergy and suddenly, I had a brother-in-arms.

Only another person with the same allergy can truly understand the pain of not being able to enjoy fresh peaches.

At one point, a customer came up and asked of the bartender, "Is it always this crowded on a Monday night?"

She assured him that Mondays vary, but since it was my second Monday, I feel qualified to say, yes, given the dearth of Richmond restaurants open on Mondays, of course it's busy.

But a smart Jackson Ward resident will arrive early enough to grab a stool before all the neighborhood regulars show up.

That way, she's assured of non-stop conversation and some excellent Monday night eats.

The way I heard it, I may as well spend my currency before it get devalued.

Word Games

Pay too much attention to the French Film Festival and you'll miss the great Spring snow.

Hell, I missed even knowing it was coming.

On the other hand, "Le Prenom," a film essentially about a dinner party-long war of words and revelations, was delicious.

But a movie about food requires food so my FFF girlfriend and I made a pit stop at Secco for sandwiches.

I don't know which of us was happier, she with her curried egg salad with crispy onions or me with my house bacon, Gouda, spinach and whole grain mustard.

If nothing else, the aroma of our lunch eaten in the close quarters of the Byrd seats must have had our neighbors drooling.

And then there was the comedy of words we watched.

Is naming a baby Adolf or even Adolphe wrong? Do friends have the right to pass judgment on your children's names? Is a 26-year old age difference between a man and woman understandable when the women is your mother? Is it okay to take credit for killing a dog when you didn't actually do it? Why are French men so charming and thoughtless at the same time?

Afterwards, we stretched our legs before the next movie, the historical drama "Therese Desqueyroux."

But the wait was endless as the French delegation of actors and directors got introduced, followed by the UR and VCU interns who'd helped with the FFF, followed by a reading, followed by endless boredom at being stuck in uncomfortable seats for far too long.

Rather than suffer in silence, we slid out (getting a thumbs-up from a French friend sitting two seats away) for a stop at Amour and some Lucien Albrecht Cremant d'Alsace rose and a trio sampler of a Dutch egg, crispy on the outside and soft-cooked inside, sherried crabmeat and a decadent foie gras.

But the issue of the moment was where had all this snow come from while we were stuck inside?

We had no clue, but a charming and erudite law type from Jamaica joined us at the bar, followed by Carytown's newest restaurant owner and his smiling bartender, so we got a little company to tell about our recent film-watching, among other things.

On the table were such hot topics as children's books, Scrabble and men who remember women's birthdays.

By that time, Carytown was a ghost town, so I left the film-lover to go get a music-lover and find some jazz.

We found it at Commercial Taphouse where the Scott Clark 4-Tet was in full swing.

Honestly, we were just grateful that everyone hadn't closed down for the snowy evening, so getting to hear one of my favorite jazz drummers was icing on the cake.

Taking the only unoccupied table, the one in the back under the big (read: cold) front window, we had a mostly decent view of one of Richmond's best quartets.

Friends came in, musicians all, saying they were going to give the music six minutes and if they didn't like it, go build a snowman on the grounds of the VMFA.

An hour later, they were still there.

Maybe it was because drummer Scott and bassist Cameron (who was also celebrating his birthday come midnight) with occasional horns from Bob and Jason, were playing some of the pieces from the work he wrote based on his reading of "Bury Me at Wounded Knee."

I'd first heard the work back in January at a show he'd done at For Instance Gallery and I recognized the aching, tribal quality of the music as soon as he began playing it.

I don't know how someone couldn't be caught up in such moving music.

And since one of the friends who'd come in was a drummer, I wasn't the least surprised when their six minutes lasted indefinitely.

During the break, Scott came over and we talked about composer John Cage and the tribute to him, the Musicircus, I had attended and he'd played in the other night at UR.

Naturally the weather came up and he admitted that he was only too happy to come out and play on this snowy night.

"What else was I going to do?" he asked rhetorically.

My sentiments exactly.

Saturday, March 23, 2013


I guess the French weren't enough, so I added in some Spanish.

Braving a mobbed Carytown, we found the last parking space behind the Eatery and made our way to the Byrd.

Showing was "Nos Plus Belles Vacances," and the overflowing theater was a testament to the appeal of a romantic comedy about three couples, one's mother and two kids vacationing in Brittany during the heat wave of 1976.

Introducing the film was Julie Gayel, the lead actress of the film, wearing a black sparkly shirt and a million-dollar smile.

After gifting the festival's founders with a bell with which to call the smokers and eaters in from Cary Street between movies, she took her seat.

Next to me.

It was my first time sitting next to an actress while watching her onscreen and except for her texting through the first few minutes of the film, it was kind of cool.

I did notice that she buried her face in the shoulder of the man next to her (presumably her paramour) for one of the romantic scenes, but other than that she was just another French actress who decided to sit next to me.

The film did a great job with the period details like rope wedges, K.C. and the Sunshine Band being played at the local disco and the much smaller bathing suits and shorts men wore back then.

One of the best subplots was that of her character's 12-year old son falling in love.

When he meets an adorable farm girl, he immediately asks if she's married, to which the little girl responds, "Golly, no," and he begins to court her endearingly.

His wooing got a lot of "awwws" from the audience throughout.

"Girls are trouble," the 12-year old soon concludes.

But love is everywhere and soon a man is courting the grandmother, assuring her, "I'll get you past your past."

Now that is a truly romantic line.

My favorite actor in the film was Gerard Darmon, a French Moroccan who played one of the husbands with a dry humor and great intelligence.

I mean, if I was going to choose one of the male leads for my very own, he'd have been the one and I know nothing more than how expressive his face was.

But with the French it's all about l'amour, so the husband who'd started the movie by being discovered in the throes of adultery ends by acknowledging how much he loves his wife,

You know, the one played by the actress sitting next to me.

Unlike yesterday, I only managed one French film today, mainly because I was going to the Latin Ballet to see "El Pintor: A Profile of Spanish Women."

The dance was based on the paintings of Julio Romero de Torres, a Spanish painter who'd portrayed Spanish women of all classes as well as his native Andalusia, and many of his paintings were projected on the screen behind the dancers.

The female dancers wore dramatically colorful long dresses which swirled around their bodies as they danced, while the men dressed simply in dark pants and vests.

It was really the men I was most engaged by, partly their high-heeled flamenco moves, but also the athleticism of their dancing.

One of my favorite sequences featured a group of men clad in black, all with claves, banging rhythmically while stomping across the stage.

And who can resist a man with castanets and arms flung overhead?

The program made its way from inspiration to beauty to love, passion and tragedy, always incorporating flamenco into whatever emotion was being portrayed.

It was a shame that the music was recorded and not live, but no doubt that was a budget constraint.

The audience at the Grace Street Theater was almost as lively as the dancers, clapping often throughout and calling out encouragement during particularly impressive sequences.

One man in the front row was prone to calling out "Bravo!" at the end of certain numbers, but I was never sure if that was a recognition of dance talent or  attraction to a certain dancer.

If I'd been so inclined, it would have been for the dancer with the sinuous hips and lithe form who danced the male lead.

That is, if I decided to go Spanish instead of French.

I did so like the way Gerard Darmon sang a song at the summer festival in the movie. And raised his eyebrow.

Dancer or actor/singer, now there's a choice.

The kid didn't know the half of it.

It's men who are trouble.

You Know You Want It

It requires dedication to indulge one's inner cinema Francophile.

Translation: my backside is screaming after two French Film Festival movies at the Byrd with an interlude on a bar stool in between.

I thought a 5:00 movie would be just the ticket to kick off my Friday night early.

Apparently, so did hundreds of other people.

"Main dans la Main" had everything I could hope for in a late afternoon film.

There was the completely unlikely plot device of strangers stuck to each other, only able to do what the other did.

There was an interesting-looking older woman and a charmingly handsome younger man, both who danced.

There was romantic tension, an hysterical and ultimately tragic sidekick and a man dressed in a polyester tank top and gym shorts circa 1976, to great humorous effect.

I even liked how the characters addressed the audience sometimes with voice-overs.

The music was great, with everything from O.M.D. to Sophie Tucker's version of "The Man Who Got Away" with accompanying sign language.

By the end of the film, I felt quite satisfied in having seen a most un-American movie.

And isn't that why I go to the French Film Festival?

But fireworks and dancing scenes left me hungry, so I picked up a girlfriend and we set out for Secco.

May as well park once and party twice, we figured.

Naturally the place was packed but two seats were free at the community table so we proceeded to get to know the community.

With the Church Hill couple by the window, we told them we'd seen "Renoir" last night and about its exquisite light and they told us about "Un Soir au Club," a film, they's seen last night and one focusing on music and light.

Two girls across from us talked about their men over bowls of soup, too busy to talk to us.

Eager to eat and drink before the next film, we got glasses of Dolcetto to toast our evening.

That was followed by succulent pan-seared duck breast with poached pears, almonds, olives and a spiced duck sauce, which our Church Hill buds had also ordered.

People continued to come in and leave and suddenly a friend stopped by, having spotted me on her way out.

She, too, had seen "Main dans la Main" so we talked about it, she having enjoyed it a bit less than I had, but then, it wasn't her first movie of the day and I'll bet her butt colored her opinion.

"Even so," she admitted, "I'll take a bad French movie over a bad American movie any day, just for the visuals."

That and the fact that women look real, not nipped and tucked, the men are manly but not macho and the scenery is a treat.

Once she left, we put the feedbag back on, ordering potato gnocchi with mushrooms, French sorrel and a smoked leek sauce.

We tore into it so enthusiastically, raving about it so much that the girls soon ordered their own.

Oddly, we thought, they didn't come close to finishing theirs, causing us to doubt their palates since the pillowy gnocchi with its earthy accents in our bowl had long since disappeared.

But ours was not to judge (or take).

For dessert, we took the continental route with a plate of Irish Cashel bleu cheese, Brillat Savarin, an obscene butter-like cheese ("You know you want it," the menu says), and sweet Coppa, because what's cheese without a little meat?

We finished just in time to tear across the street, get popcorn to go with our Milk Duds (yes, we're going to hell in a handbasket) and find seats for "Cigarettes et Bas Nylon."

While waiting for the screening to begin, I had a sneezing fit, causing the man in front of us to turn around, concerned.

He thought I was choking on popcorn, saying the very same thing had happened to him yesterday when he'd been there.

"So now I bring these," he said in a charmingly accented voice, holding up a baggie of grapes. "I am Ricardo. What's your names?"

Seems Ricardo comes up every year from Williamsburg for the FFF and had also seen "Renoir" last night, another discussion point.

He insisted we share his grapes and who wouldn't take fruit from a film-lover offering it?

The film was introduced by one of the actresses in the film, Salome Stevenin, and told the story of French girls who married American soldiers during WW II.

Who knew that the army had set up camps to "Americanize" the French brides before they were shipped to the U.S. to begin life with their new husbands?

That's our military industrial complex, always thinking ahead.

Part of that process included a box of goodies each women got once they arrived at Camp Chesterfield (as opposed to Camp Lucky Strike).

In it were American necessities like cigarettes, matches, soap, chocolate and nylons, all the things a girl needs to make her man happy.

One girl was unimpressed with the soap, saying she preferred for her armpits to smell a little. Tres French.

Of course, it takes more than treats to make even a foreign girl happy with a man and not all the marriages ended well, what with post-traumatic stress, alcoholism and death.

One French girl who'd found herself a big, strapping galoot traded him with a girlfriend's beau, preferring the short guy who made her laugh to the classically handsome one.

Lucky her, he also turned out to play piano in a club, although his Jewish mother was kind of a drag.

It was along about the time that we met the French woman who was on her fourth husband that I realized that I couldn't feel my backside.

I would have liked to stay for the Q & A with Salome Stevenin, but my girlfriend was pretty clear that that wasn't happening.

Even though she claims she has more padding than I do, I've no doubt she'd lost some feeling, too.

Luckily, we have fifteen hours before we're considering putting our numb bits back in those seats.

And we will because as my friend had pointed out, "It's a pleasure listening to the French language."

As it is seeing the unlikeliest of stories onscreen.

And eating grapes from the baggie of a fellow cinephile.

Friday, March 22, 2013

History Lessons

I can't decide which I enjoyed more, the dead musician or the dead artist.

Garnett's provided the fueling up required for the next six hours with a farmer's salad and coconut cake with my gang of four.

From there we headed west to University of Richmond for the first of two John Cage Centennial Concerts.

Arriving as the lights were dimmed, we found seats in the fourth row and almost at once I heard someone hiss, "Karen!"

It was one of my favorite sculptors saying hello, so we touched fingers a la Michelangelo and turned our eyes forward.

A half a dozen members of Gamelan Raga Kusuma doing music Cage had written for artist Marcel Duchamp and a film of swirling images and some of the films Cage had scored for other artists friends got things started.

Next came a dining room scene with four people seated and making music with silverware and hands.

Then there was modern dance accompanied by a "prepared"  piano, which we had to guess meant a piano with something laying across the strings, given the sound.

Cage's most important work according to him was 4:33, a piece in which the pianist comes out to play and doesn't.

The piece is about the ambient sound of the room, the audience, whatever and not everyone gets it.

Personally, I was thrilled to experience it after having only read about it and I can only imagine how shocking it must have seemed when first played in 1952.

We got more dancing accompanied by another pianist banging on the wooden part of the piano and a singer chanting.

Members of eighth blackbird came out and played tin cans, piano and playback and we finished with a pianist actually playing piano while imagery of Cage's drawings and paintings rolled by the screen.

It was an awesome sampler of Cage's body of work and a fitting tribute on the occasion of his centennial.

Seconds after the performance ended, the lights came up and immediately a Dixieland band started wailing from the balcony.

It was the signal that the Musicircus, another Cage creation, had begun.

Cage's rules were one venue, 100 musicians, one hour, free and open to the public.

"You won't hear a thing, you'll hear everything" Cage famously said about the event and it's a perfect description.

I go every year to see who's playing and to savor the cacophony of so many musicians playing different music so closely together.

I've been to the musicircus many times, first when it was at the old Chop Suey and since then at the Visual Arts Center.

This year's move to UR was intriguing because of the myriad possibilities for where musicians could play.

Exiting the room, we began stumbling over and into musicians in every nook and cranny.

No BS's Lance Koehler was paired with Josh Small at the bottom of a staircase.

I found Scott Burton playing guitar and Reggie Pace turning knobs and holding a mic in a hallway upstairs.

During one of my trips downstairs, I came upon Scott Clark drumming and Jason Scott on sax tucked into the stairwell.

Pianist Joanne King was plinkling away at a toy piano near a door.

Sax players David Hood, Marcus Tenney and John Lilley held court in another hallway.

There was even a bluegrass duo on the freight elevator, possibly the coolest location of all.

I spent the full hour roaming Booker Hall and listening to music fade and come into earshot, sometimes finding that groups had morphed since I'd seen them fifteen minutes earlier.

There really is nothing like the musicircus for a truly original hour of music and we should all bow down to drummer Brian Jones who organizes the event for Richmond every year.

Just one more example of what an amazing scene we have here.

When that was over, I ditched the rest of my gang and drove to Carytown to meet a friend for the French Film Festival.

The last thing I expected was so many other people willing to wait in a block-long line in 30-degree weather to see a film about the painter Renoir at 10:10 on a school night.

Fortunately the wait was less than a quarter of an hour and since I ran into the man-about-town and discussed the Latin Ballet, I had good company while I shivered.

Inside where it was warm, I found my girlfriend and after securing popcorn, we climbed over people to score two seats front and center.

Asking me about my earlier plans, she observed, "Where do you get the energy?"

If I knew the answer to that, I'd bottle it and sell it and give up my life of abject poverty.

How could I resist a film set in the sun-soaked French Riviera with azure-blue water and a beautiful young model who re-energizes the 70+ painter at a time when he was still grieving for his recently dead wife?

Not this art history geek.

But it wasn't just the senior Renoir's story because his son Jean came home from WW I wounded and looking to recover only to meet his father's muse and fall in love.

Since she wants to act and he's interested in movie-making, it's a match made in heaven.

At least until he decides to re-enlist and his brothers-in-arms tell him film-making is a bad idea for a Frenchman, getting a lot of chuckles from the audience.

But even if there hadn't been the story of two creative men, one at the beginning and one at the end of his creative life, the film was the best kind of eye candy.

Shimmering waterfalls, picnics in tall grass, food so sensual it was almost obscene and always the young girl's translucent skin as she posed for the painter through endless sunny days.

It was a beautiful way to end the evening and a fitting start to the next three days of French film we have in store.

I'd heard a thing. I'd heard everything. I'd seen art. I'd seen love.

It seemed like enough for one night..

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Luddite Version

It was a pizza and comic book kind of night. Well, sort of.

A friend was in town from Maryland and wanted to catch up over happy hour.

Conveniently, Wednesdays are half-priced wine by the bottle nights at Rowland's, which meant they were practically giving away Pocco Prosecco.

She and I are what her boyfriend calls "fast processors," meaning we often only have to allude to a thought before the other one gets it.

It not only saves time, but allows us to cover so much more ground given our infrequent meet-ups now that she lives somewhere other than Richmond.

I heard about her recent trip to Las Vegas and an artery-clogging meal at Gordon Ramsay Steak while they were there.

Having eaten half of a massive steak at lunch today, I was looking for something a tad lighter tonight, so we agreed to share one of Rowland's new iron skillet pizzas.

I'd have chosen the pizza blanco, but Friend wanted the Plain Jane of Roma tomato marinara and Mozzarella.

Except we couldn't leave well enough alone and added applewood bacon.

And crimini mushrooms, Bermuda onions and roasted garlic.

Suddenly our plain Jane was pretty elaborate but extremely tasty.

By the time I finished hearing about her upcoming trip to Jamaica, it was time for me to cut out for culture while she moved on to Buckhead's with some mutual friends.

She was making the rounds while she was in town.

Tonight's mental stimulant for me was Richmond Shakespeare's Bawdy Bard staged reading at Capital Ale House.

In a unique twist for live theater, the audience was granted permission to tweet and text as long as they did so about the play.

But instead of a staid Shakespeare reading, we were in for a much more recent play tonight.

"Rough Magic" was a laugh-out-loud look at what would happen if the characters from "The Tempest" came to life and decided they wanted to destroy New York City. 

And it was the kind of reading where the actors leaped on and off stage, slid down brick walls and removed a severed head from a grocery bag, not the kind with actors in chars reading lines.

The best kind, in other words.

The author writes Marvel comic books and the story very much felt like it had been torn from the brightly-colored pages of comics.

Because Richmond Shakespeare is currently doing "The Tempest," tonight's production used actors from that along with an energetic cast of young Richmond talent.

The story of a young woman named Melanie with the super power to pull characters out of books and into real life and the posse of oddballs who got along for the adventure had some funny dialog.

Working at Morgan Stanley is like committing suicide slowly.

This is New York. I think we can handle a fairy.

Even better, there was so much theater humor that relied on the audience knowing their Shakespeare.

When Melanie needs to pull a character from Shakespeare who will be fearless in the face of the wrathful Prospero, she immediately knows what kind of man she needs: Coriolanus.

"Dumb as a stick and a total Mama's boy."

Yep, just the type a woman can control with no problem.

Luckily, Melanie's posse has her back for all the action.

They're three Greek furies who carry a Nerf gun, a Nerf bow and arrow and a spear of destiny to handle the bad guys.

The only thing they lacked was Batman-like subtitles saying "KaPow!" and "Bam!"

Feet were cut off (and black socks worn to indicate missing feet) and reattached (a zig-zag pattern showing reattachment) and a 17-year old drank a margarita (gasp!).

It was all highly entertaining.

But no doubt you've already heard that from the tweeters and texters.

Lincoln Ate Here

"My Dearest Love.......the second love of my life! Lets do lunch today if you can get away. But I want to go some where different...away from here. Someplace...think?"

The best possible invitation to come home to after my daily walk.

After a conference, we decided on Arcadia in the Bottom.

Walking in, the hostess's first question was, "Do you want the Lincoln table?"

Hell, yes, we want to sit exactly where Daniel Day Lewis sat back in November 2011 while filming "Lincoln."

I took the window seat with a plump black and white pillow and my charming friend took the very same chair that once housed DDL.

I deferred our wine choice to my host who opted for Napa Valley, namely a bottle of Starmont Sauvignon Blanc, a solar-powered winery with the greenest of aspirations and layers of citrus and melon.

The music was surprisingly enjoyable, with Fan Farlo, the Arcade Fire and Devotchka working their way into my ear while we dove into intimate conversation.

We began with crab and avocado salad (corn, jicama, Boston bibb, orange vinaigrette), causing my friend to proclaim it "the perfect summer salad" while I pointed out that today was the first day of spring and the salad was so well suited to that.

I admit, I was tempted by the tomato pie, especially when our server said her aunt makes them and that they are the best ever, but my lunch companion had more meaty interests in mind.

So it was that two lunching companions ordered the 22-ounce bone-in cowboy cut rib eye, a hunk o' red meat that no two people need to share at lunch, but did.

The garlic/parsley butter only added an obscene richness to the thick-cut steak which we soon devoured.

Over wine and cow, we dissected the State of the Plate, house renovations and how service could be improved in Richmond, a la Washington, D.C., a city with which we are both overly familiar.

Don't challenge either of us on the halcyon days of disco or D.C. in the '80s, for we will destroy you.

Our server attentively kept up with our needs, eventually asking about dessert and encouraging us to linger.

With the sun beaming in the front window and a glass of Moet & Chandon Brut Reserve, I acquiesced to a flour-less chocolate torte served with Gelati Celesti's chocolate decadence, my personal favorite among their flavors.

Nearby, a couple of businesswomen talked account reps and inferior service ("they're costing me money," one lamented), boring us to tears and sending us back to talk of the tenets of successful relationships, themes for summer parties and the hazards of poor upbringings.

I'd have happily walked away then, but with the late afternoon sun coming through the window, we opted to linger and I was enticed to enjoy one last split of Chandon Brut Rose, despite my companion's disdain for anything pink (fortunately, I don't share his distaste for rose).

Fact: Arcadia would not have been my choice, although the cachet of eating at DDL's table overcame any reservations I may have had.

Our steak was damn near perfect, medium rare and pink in the best sense and with a garlic/parsley butter that sent it over the top.

Next time my friend suggests a steak place for lunch, I will not fight him.

And, truth be told, our multiple hours at Arcadia did feel like someplace completely different, especially with the New York Post's page six article about DDL eating at Arcadia hanging over our table.

Every now and then, a girl's got to eat like a cowboy to enjoy a friend who needs something completely different.

Even if I am only his second best love.

Love and Despair, No "the"

It was a good night to get called out.

Sliding into a barstool at Don't Look Back, the hirsute bartender cocked an eyebrow and inquired, "Need a menu?"

Nope, I told him, I need a Frito pie and a Coke.

"Awesome," he responded. "How simple is that?" and, I swear, not more than two minutes later I was eating.

Nearby a server informed another, "I'm not here to have fun. I'm here to earn a living."

Son, you need to figure out how to do both and you'll be much happier.

I heard my name and felt a hand on my back, turning to find two wine geek friends enjoying beers, providing a welcome break from my bag o' beans, cheese and salsa which I'd been inhaling at an unladylike pace.

Both expressed their love of the Frito pie, too, before moving on to more compelling things like traveling to Spain, rose' parties and anniversary restaurants before rejoining their fellow beer drinkers.

My Frito pie scarfed, it was time to head to the Firehouse for the Listening Room.

I was delighted to walk in, drop off some cookies I'd brought and immediately see a handsome keyboard player of whom I have been a fan for something like six years now.

Since I hadn't known he was part of one of tonight's groups, it was an unexpected delight to learn I'd be hearing his mellifluous tones and agile fingers.

Taking a few steps toward my usual seat, I was stopped in my tracks by the drummer onstage doing a soundcheck with a band I didn't recognize.

He waved, I waved and, for the second time already tonight, I had the pleasure of discovering that a musician I admire was part of one of the groups playing.

The night was going very well and it had barely started.

When I arrived at "my" seat, it was to find that a music buddy had reserved it for me, lest some interloper usurp it, as has happened a few times.

First up was Chris Dowhan, a guy I've known for years, although, as I found out, not as well as I thought.

I knew Chris as a talented baker and cook. As an attentive server. As a frequent traveler to Italy who actually knows Italian. As an all-around nice guy.

And while I knew he was musically inclined, it was with a guitar.

When I saw him, I teased him, telling him not to screw up and he said that no one would know if he did.


Emcee Chris Payne got things rolling late (a fact I may have alluded to, but only for the sake of first-timers because I wouldn't want them to think that the Listening Room isn't usually a punctual event), explaining that they were shorthanded.

That's a veiled way of saying that organizers Antonia and Jonathan are sorely missed.

He then introduced Chris Dowhan, who moved to the grand piano and announced, "This piece is in five movements and I've been working on it four or five years now."

Well, this was news.

He proceeded to play his composition sensitively and seemingly lost in it.

It didn't seem like he was even aware of the audience.

As he played, I looked around at the rapt crowd and it reminded me of another first at the Listening Room, when Antonia had curated an all-jazz evening.

And if jazz, then why not classical?

When he finished, he leaned down, picked up his beer and moved away to major applause.

I was amazed; how had I not known he had this talent? I had to find out.

During the break, I waited in line to compliment his performance, but what I really wanted was answers.

Turns out his piano playing is a solitary escape for him, something he doesn't mention to friends.

A lot of the piece had been written at night one summer when he'd worked at an Italian winery.

He'd agreed to play it in front of an audience because he'd been invited to play by a musician friend and had figured if not now, when?

I was just glad I'd been there to hear it.

Wandering around, I ran into some latecomers, including a drummer friend I see at shows where he is always fixated on the band's drummer.

Explaining that he'd missed a very cool piano piece, I assured him that the next band had a drummer he could watch.

But after four hours of drum practice today, he said he wasn't interested in any more drumming.

Kevin won't want to hear that, I told him, referring to the next band's talented drummer, familiar to me from his own band, Marionette.

"Why do you know all the drummers in town?" he asked, smiling.

Duh. They're personable guys, I told him.

And, drummers do it with rhythm, I didn't tell him.

Back in my seat, emcee Chris threw out a thanks to me for bringing cookies, causing the stranger next to me to say, "I didn't have any, but I'm sure they were good."

Isn't it gratifying how a perfect stranger can have such faith in me?

Drummer Kevin was part of Patrick Bates' band, who played next and included cello, sax, acoustic guitar and bass.

Explaining that he hadn't played a proper show in this town in a very long time, the band proceeded to prove that they should.

He dedicated the second song to Chris because, "I know how much he likes a good samba."

I liked it because the bass player played bongos, the cellist played keys and Kevin used brushes instead of sticks.

"About a month and half ago, something happened to me," Patrick said by way of introduction. "Let's see if I can get through this," as the other musicians put down their instruments and let him accompany himself solely on acoustic guitar.

It was a beautiful, if sad-sounding, song.

Lyric: Though I know it was worth the effort, There are no guarantees."


For their last song, he said it had a chanting part toward the end and asked that we join in.

"We'll try to get the energy in the room circulating," he explained.

"There are also tabs of acid under your seats," the droll bass player added.

Truth was, there weren't, but many of us joined in on the "come together" part anyway, getting the energy going.

So it was that we started the third set with the energy well-placed.

"Thanks for hanging around," emcee Chris said from the stage. "You guys are my favorites. Don't tell the people who left."

He came clean about tonight's programs, which were suspiciously absent of the usual.

And by usual, I mean, the poster imagery, the times the sets would happen and the upcoming events on the back.

He admitted that they'd just been printed today.

Meanwhile, behind him the leader of the next band to play the smart-assed keyboard player pointed out that he'd put a "the" in front of their name when there wasn't one.

"Take out your programs and scratch off "the" in front of Mason Brothers," Chris instructed. I did.

I'm beginning to think I need to volunteer to help these poor guys out.

Last up was Mason Brothers (no "the") with mandolin, guitar, bass, drums and Ben Willson on keys, the man whose talent and humor I have been impressed by all these years.

Leader James joked about the vibe of the Listening Room being like the last season of "Lost," although Ben differed in opinion.

With no TV, I'd have no idea.

"We're One" was introduced as a "song for everyone" and showed an infectious quality while "Calling Out to You" was more plaintive.

James took a moment to acknowledge the talent that had come before, saying, "Thanks to Chris Dowhan for that piano piece. Listening, I felt love and despair, like my life and now you get bubblegum from Mason Brothers. We are one, we are one."

It was some quality self-deprecation.

After a few songs, Ben called out to Dave in the sound booth, "I'm going to need a little more keys in the monitor. I'm so needy."

That made two of us because up until then, I was straining to hear his keyboard, although fortunately his backing vocals (and joking asides) were coming through beautifully.

James cracked wise, saying, "For future Listening Rooms, I think artists should have to whisper."

At one point, listening to the band's tight and melodic roots rock, it occurred to me how far the Listening Room has come.

This is my 37th  of 39 Listening Rooms and in the beginning, such things as electric instruments, much less drums, were conspicuously absent.

Mason Brothers' last song "Ghost Season," which came from their second album and which James called "very scary," perfectly demonstrated the evolution of the music series.

It was easily one of the most rocking finishes ever at a Listening Room.

Looking around, I could see that people were as into having their faces rocked off as they'd been when Chris had been playing piano or when Patrick Bates' band had been playing a samba.

Maybe it's something for the Listening Room organizers to think about.

When the music's this good, people forget about the late start, uninformative programs and missing baked goods.

And that's without tabs of acid under their seats.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Killing Monday

It was a simple plan.

I took the remaining sections of Sunday's Washington Post and went to dinner at Bistro Bobette, content to have reading material and good eats.

The end result was so much better.

When I arrived, it was to a server who recognized me and directed me to the bar with a smile.

There, I found two couples who graciously welcomed me.

I began with a glass of a grenache/mouvedre blend and a look at the bar menu.

As I slurped a bowl of the soup du jour (vegetable/pasta with Parmesan) and enjoyed a mixed green salad (where did they get such flavorful grape tomatoes this time of year?), the couple at the end of the bar introduced themselves.

Except that they weren't really a couple.

He was from Raleigh, N.C. and she was from Arlington and they'd both brought their own bottles of wine since there's no corkage fee on Monday nights.

Before long, they wanted to know my back story and I wanted to know how they'd ended up eating together.

Next thing I knew, they were inviting me to join them for lunch tomorrow at Buzz and Ned's for baby back ribs and further conversation.

Seems they're both regular visitors to Richmond and were excited at the idea of having a local guide.

They insisted that at the very least, I meet them back at Bobette next Monday for more chatting.

Meanwhile, I moved on to lamb tenderloin over couscous, swooning over the buttery-textured meat and savory grain.

It didn't hurt that the music was Pandora with a starting point of Thievery Corporation, meaning a nice range of jazz to bossa nova for my listening pleasure.

The chatty couple said goodnight just after a new mustached arrival took a seat near me.

He turned out to be the producer of "Killing Lincoln" and had just come from Mama Zu's.

I was introduced by the owner and enjoyed a bit of conversation with a man who will be in Richmond through the end of the summer.

Cataloging where he'd eaten so far (Arcadia, Tio Pablo, Kuba, Kuba, Edo's, Millie's), I tried to make suggestions to better represent Richmond.

He told a charming story of buying a nice watch for his son when he was 18 and holding on to it until the son was 27, the better for him to appreciate it.

I had to assume he was a smart man based on that story alone.

After he left, the Raleigh guy returned and offered to buy my girlfriend and I a drink.

Given that he'd already made a stop at Tobacco Company since we'd seen him last, we declined.

Not to be unkind, but the chef had finished cooking and come out and he was far better company than someone who was obviously on the prowl.

"I see how men look at you," my friend observed. Like idiots, I asked?

Because the chef cooked for many years in my hometown, Washington, we got off on a tangent about what works there versus here,

He lamented that kidneys and other exotica no longer get ordered at his restaurant.

Sweetbreads are about the only offal he consistently sells, he said.

When a French-speaking customer stole the chef's attention, my girlfriend and I returned to the matter at hand: girltalk.

Men and bathrooms and space. The important stuff.

Best line overheard: I'm a pain in the ass but I'm always right.

I finished my meal with chocolate truffles and more wine, while we discussed good and bad Asian food, the pursuit of nose to tail menus and our preference for brunch menus that don't depend solely on egg dishes.

But then maybe we're atypical.

Next thing I knew, it was closing time and I had yet to open my Post.

Newspapers can wait, perfect strangers not so much.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Drink, Puke, Die

It was the best kind of St. Patrick's Day party at Helen's.

First, the holiday food specials: Guinness beef stew, shepherd's pie and reubens.

When I got there, I found two musician friends slated to perform already at the bar eating.

But being vegetarians, they weren't going to be much help in choosing which meaty special to have.

What they were was nice enough to join me at a table where I decided on beef stew.

The bowl of stellar stew had nice, big chunks of meat, plenty of carrots and potatoes and a hearty gravy full of pepper.

It should have been enough but I followed that with a reuben if only because I was told the corned beef was house-cured.

I don't know if the kitchen staff had any Irish in them, but this was some beautiful corned beef, sauerkraut and Swiss on perfectly grilled rye.

About the time I finished the first half of it, another musician friend came in and I invited him to join us.

I made the introductions and he complimented my sandwich.

Feeling generous full, I offered him a bite.

He reminded me that he's become pretty much a least until this afternoon.

Seems he'd stopped by a friend's house and had ended up eating pig.

And a lot of it.

As if that wasn't surprising enough, he was eager to eat my beef, too, so I cut him a piece of the sandwich. And another.

I felt like I was contributing to the delinquency of a vegetarian.

Saying he once considered himself a connoisseur of reubens, he proclaimed mine possibly the best he'd ever had.

Aren't you glad you came now, I asked.

"Well, I thought the music would be good," he countered.

And it was.

Leading the charge were my friends, Lobo Marino, who began by addressing me, with Jameson saying, "We're not playing anything you haven't heard, Karen. Nothing new."

I didn't mind.

I'm a big fan of their tribal folk with harmonium and it wasn't long before a guy at the bar was so taken with Laney's harmonium playing that he moved closer to try to figure out the instrument.

Admitting that they hadn't had time to learn any U2 or Cranberries, they launched into their set.

Laney had told me earlier that she'd tried to learn one Irish song that had a lyric about drink, puke, die, but they didn't play that one, either.

And I feel safe in saying that Lobo Marino is the only local band who could have pulled out a papal gem for the occasion.

"This is dedicated to Francis Francis," they said before playing "Pope's Nose," an older song of theirs with great imagery ("Do you know the Pope? He picks at his nose") that I hadn't heard in a while.

They tried to go even older and play "Animal Hands" but for some reason Jameson had lost his voice, so that song wasn't happening.

The improvised a song instead and then ceded the floor to Williamsburg's Poisoned Dwarf (just as an influx of people came in the door), who'd been billed as a five-piece but were clearly six.

The most amazing part was how they managed to fit six guys and at least nine instruments (unique things like Scottish small pipes, a mini-bagpipe, and Irish flute) in an alcove that usually holds a two-top.

At one point, I feel sure I saw the fiddle player's elbow bonk the drummer's head.

They played Celtic music that had people clapping and toe-tapping by the second driving song.

A guy near me started dancing in his chair and then moving his arms in time until I reminded him that no arm motion is allowed in Irish dancing.

Besides the appealing variety of instruments the band played, they also traded them off to each other, so you never knew who'd be playing what.

At one point, a girl grinned and said to no one in particular, "I love Irish music!" to which her boyfriend responded, "That's because you're drunk."

It was funny, but the truth is when you have a bunch of musicians playing traditional Irish music with as much skilled musicianship as we were hearing, anybody's going to like Irish music.

Especially at a St. Patrick's Day party where no one pukes or dies.