Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Going Down Smooth

You've got to get busy inviting by noon if you want me to join you.

So when a favorite sax players messaged at 12:16 suggesting, "Hey, I just had an idea for people interested. Go up early for wine tasting, dinner and then show. It's Charlottesville appreciation day!" he'd missed me by about fourteen minutes.

I'd been invited to go to Charlottesville to see Lake Street Dive, a band I've twice seen at Balliceaux for five bucks and one which is just now hitting the big time (see: recent Colbert Report appearance), back in December by someone who had caught a couple of their songs at a festival a few years back and been itching to see them again ever since.

Fast forward to the day of the show and Facebook is lighting up with Richmond friends who are also planning to go to the show.

But since I was picked up at noon, I didn't see the sax player's suggestion for making an all-day event of it until I got back.

As it happened, his bright idea pretty much mirrored what we'd planned for occupying ourselves pre-show. As in, great minds think alike.

We began at Barboursville winery for lunch at Palladio where I was tickled to see the restaurant windows open to the blue skies and warm air outside.

Fittingly, the meal began with Barboursville's Brut Cuvee 1814 as we noshed on herb focaccia and waded through the wordy menu to choose which three courses we each wanted.

Given the beautiful day, I imagined myself at a seaside cafe come summertime, opting for crispy shrimp, lobster, oysters, calamari, rockfish and lemon slices (yes, also crispy) with a rich saffron chive aioli worthy of the delicately battered frittura di mare and made all the better with a pairing of Vintage Rose 2012.

Ah, seafood and pink wine, is there a faster way to reduce me to a grinning fool?

My devotion to swine would not be ignored, necessitating my first course be housemade spicy Italian sausage, white bean and escarole soup even though it wasn't really a soup day, but the fancy pork and beans was stellar with the Chardonnay Reserve 2012.

Since our reservation had been for 1:30, by this point in our meal, other tables were beginning to empty so we asked our server to hold off on the next course so we could take a short stroll and finish our Chardonnay along the way.

His only admonishment was not to leave the property, hardly likely since we had more food and drink on the way.

But you can only admire sweeping vistas and rolling hills for so long once your glass is drained, so we strolled back to our table for our final course.

Returning to my warm weather theme, my last course was seared Rock Mountain trout filet with apple chestnut hash, parsnip puree and sage brown butter sauce complemented by the Viognier Reserve 2012 and enjoyed down to the last bite.

In theory, a cheese plate would have been a divine finish, but neither of us had room enough at that point, so we demurred when our server asked. He then suggested we go next door to the tasting room for the complimentary tasting that comes with lunch at Palladio, a fine idea, we concluded.

Except that it wasn't because the tasting room was crowded with winery hoppers out on a gorgeous day, and since we had just tasted through four of the wines anyway, instead we got a bottle of the Viognier Reserve 2012 and headed up the hill to the Barboursville ruins.

Nothing like a little archeology with your afternoon grape, I always (wanted to) say.

Since I'd last been to the ruins, scaffolding had gone up as if they were shoring up the old chimneys deigned by T.J. One thing I was sure of, it would have been a magnificent view from up there.

But our place was on the ground. Piles of snow lingered in shadowy spots, but we took a blanket and found a sunny meadow with a view of a white clapboard church in the distance, a red outbuilding and a ring of trees surrounding us while we enjoyed the juicy wine that further reinforced my summer theme with aromas of peach.

And just like that, the afternoon was gone and it was on to Charlotteville.

After a nosh at Bijou (I'm not ashamed to say I kept it to a bleu cheese salad with candied walnuts and blueberry vinaigrette followed by a copious chocolate mousse) we made our way down the mall to the Jefferson Theater and a rapidly gathering sold out crowd.

This is when I go into standard operating procedure for shows: procure Espolon and take up residence in front of the sound booth where it not only sounds the best but I can be assured of not being knocked from behind, a peril of being short.

From that vantage point, I spotted the sax player surrounded by friends, the restaurant owner who never stops talking at shows and the guy I run into at lectures and shows all the time.

So Richmond was representing nicely.

Opening was the Congress, a quartet who clearly worshiped at the altar of jam bands, blending blues and southern rock, covering "People Get Ready," which pleased me and Van the Man's "Into the Mystic," to the great delight of the crowd, especially the Boomers present.

During the break, the crowd grew hugely and when the canned music went to "What's New, Pussycat?" Lake Street Dive finally took the stage.

Singer and front woman Rachel looked fabulous in a fitted-waist '50s style dress with a full skirt with which she could swing and sashay to great effect.

From the Balliceaux shows, I'd recalled her jazz vocal stylings, but in the nearly two years since I'd seen them, she's clearly come into her own, adding an even more dynamic presence to her already impressive voice.

And the band! I remembered the female upright bass player (from Iowa City, Iowa, no less), the guitarist/trumpet player who'd gotten his new glasses just before I'd last seen him and the talented singing drummer.

Actually, all three sang backing vocals, making for some impressive harmonies on almost every song.

Introducing "Another song about Bobby," Rachel explained, "Some people you can't stop writing about." Tells you everything you need to know about Bobby, doesn't it?

Or is it just me who finds romance in writing?

She sang "Seventeen" about wishing she'd met a certain someone when she was younger, about being wasted in her parents' basement, the new "Use Me Up" and "Bad Self Portraits," the title song off the album that just came out this month.

The Congress were called back onstage to join them to cover McCartney's "Let Me Roll It," which they'd done Congress-less last time I'd seen them, but it sounded fresh with the additional voices and it's a song I love anyway.

I was thrilled they did "You Go Down Smooth," a song they'd done when I last heard them, long before this album came out and one that had been memorable even as they apologized for its newness then.

When they left the stage, we all knew they were coming back and I felt pretty sure it would be to cover "Rich Girl," which they did, to the ecstasies of the crowd.

Then the canned music kicked back to "What's New, Pussycat?" and we spilled out onto the downtown mall in the cold night air, everyone raving about the show.

The sax player was dead on. Hell of a Charlottesville appreciation day, even if I didn't join the group field trip.

Sometimes you want to fill up your dance card and sometimes you don't.

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