Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Put Your Chips Down and Dance

Home by 3, out the door by 4 after a laid back weekend away.

On a day this bodacious, what's a three block walk to hear an Athens, GA band and a Swedish band do a quick in-store performance of tuneful melodies with the front door flung wide open?

"I love how it sounds with these hard wood floors," the lead singer of King of Prussia said, explaining that when they'd first gotten together, they'd rehearsed in an old church with floors like the ones in Steady Sounds.

When they finished, their tour mates, Sweden's Case Conrad, who shared two band members from Barcelona with King of Prussia, took over and gave us a taste of their '80s-influenced sound.

Mid-song, an old guy in an overcoat who'd been wandering down the street, came in, put down the bag of potato chips he'd been munching and began dancing and playing air bass, both quite well, I might add.

The bassist (from Barcelona)  grinned and mirrored the guy's moves.

It might have been at that moment that I decided that I was going to go to the Case Conrad/King of Prussia show at the Camel tonight.

After, of course, I finished with my community duty/

Tonight was the fourth in the Valentine's community conversation series and it was taking place at Mama J's Kitchen, a few blocks away, on the topic of "Transportation on Broad Street."

It was my first time in Mama J's special events space and while today's beautiful weather put a hurting on the attendance numbers, those of us who did show up dove into Mama's famous seafood salad along with a big platter of fried chicken.

Tonight's subject was considerably broader (ha!) than past evenings since it wasn't just about an area, but about addressing an important issue there.

We broke into small groups to discuss our memories of Broad Street (one woman recalled 8 cent rides on the streetcars) before using keypads to determine the demographics of the room (versus the city) along with other details.

When asked what our favorite things about the city were, the choices of history, outdoors, neighborhoods, people, proximity to other cities, Short Pump Town Center and weather varied among people depending on how long they'd lived here, but one thing was crystal clear.

"We like everything except Short Pump and the weather," facilitator Matthew drolly observed after zero people chose either of those answers.

One depressing statistic was that 45% of the people in the room never used any means of transportation other than a car to get somewhere in Richmond.

As in they never walked to a restaurant or store, much less took the bus or biked. On the plus side, at least they were interested enough to attend this conversation.

Next came the Valentine's slide show of vintage photographs from the collection, showing things like when railroad tracks used to run down the middle of Broad Street. I had no idea. Pictures of the horse-drawn streetcars from 1860  and the electric trolleys that began operating in 1888.

One of my favorite images was of the Ashland-Northern Neck streetcar station depot, the one at Laurel and Broad that has been recently renovated by VCU and will host its first art show this week. I passed that building for years on my daily walk and had never seen what it originally looked like.

I learned that the original farmer's market at 6th and Marshall was called Second Market because the one at 17th Street in the Bottom was First Market. And now I get the bank name, too.

Completely over the top was a photograph from Richmond's elaborate 1900 street fair, at which we erected a plaster, steel and wood replica of Paris' Arc de Triomphe at Broad and 10th Street, big enough for the trolleys to go under.

Oh, and by the way, at the other end of Broad was a model of the Eiffel Tower. No joke.

They just don't make street fairs the way they used to.

Our small groups met again to talk about our hopes for Broad and transportation and one guy in our circle works for a group pushing rapid bus transit on Broad from Rockett's Landing to Willow Lawn with dedicated bus lanes and green light capability to keep them moving. It's a start anyway.

Then tonight's speaker, Richmond Magazine's "The Hat" got up and began explaining why he was qualified to talk about the topic.

Explaining that he was a native, albeit one whose parents had taken white flight from the city in his toddlerhood, he explained, "So I hired a canoe and a native guide to find my way back across the river," where he's lived ever since.

Harry impressed upon us how Richmond was the first city in the world to have an electric trolley system and how crucial this was in eliminating the overabundance of horse dung on Broad Street.

He left us with his insistence that whatever the next big transportation thing is for the city, it has to be as grand and memorable as the trolleys were.

We can only hope.

After walking home (not bragging, just stating the facts), it was time to return to the Athenian and the Swedes.

When I walked into the Camel, Grass Panther only had a few songs left but enough for me to catch the one man band's excellent guitar shredding and intense vocals.  I had, however, missed hearing his magnum opus, "Skinny Pants Hurt My Nuts," but perhaps I'll get to hear it next time he plays.

Tonight's crowd at the Camel was small, a shame since shows now start not only at a reasonable hour for worker bees (8) but on time (unheard of in Richmond).

I found a couple of music-loving friends, told them what I'd heard at Steady Sounds earlier, and soon after Case Conrad started with "Sugar Factory" and moved into the moody and new "Kill the Lights," they turned to me and started nodding that they liked it.

My inner synth-loving self fell hard for "Copper Thief" and the exuberant "The Years I Spent Punkrocking" about San Francisco, Dylan and Diamond Dave Whitaker.

Honestly, I'd have been happy if they'd played everything off their new album.

King of Prussia came next, playing their version of '90s college rock (Athens, GA, hello?)  with the two musicians from Barcelona helping them flesh out their songs, like on a song described as about "breaking hearts and taking names" and with a sinuous slide guitar to really evoke the gut-wrenching of heartbreak.

They did a country-tinged song ("Wouldn't it be funny if we covered Blake Shelton?" Blake who?) and a sunny, older song they dedicated to the two guys next to me who'd known them back in Athens.

When they finished,  a couple of friends and I talked about '90s music and how far less of it grabbed us than '80s, a function, no doubt of our ages.

Last up were local experimental and shoegazers Canary, oh, Canary, always good for killer guitar riffs and dramatic vocals and tonight, bathed in red lights, their choice of the color spectrum. Don't give them no stinkin' green lights.

Their set was abbreviated to make the curfew but they called DJ Black Liquid (who entreated the crowd to come closer) onstage to help with vocals on "Dirty South" resulting in a lot of grinning and satisfied looks from lead singer Michael.

It may have been short, but Canary, oh Canary represented well for Richmond in front of the likes of Athenians and Swedes.

As for Broad Street and transportation, 1st Street to Lombardy, seven hours out and about. I'm doing what I can here to support the cause in the dirty south.

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