You know how they say a nod is as good as a wink to a blind horse?
Well, Tobacco Company is as good as Hardywood to a music-loving non-beer drinker.
Which means that after my hired mouth and posse finished dinner and a friend was too tired for fun, I found myself alone at Tobacco Company to see the Hi Steps on a Friday night.
Taking a seat on the far side of the bar, a tequila discussion ensued with the white-shirted bartender before Don Julio landed in front of me. A couple at the end of the bar asked of him what kind of music the band would be playing and his best guess was jazz, based on their instruments.
Unwilling to let him put misinformation out there, I corrected him. Vintage R & B, I shared. Motown even. Smiles abounded.
Not long after, a guy sat down next to me wanting more information about the band. I supplied it, sharing how good they were, and he decided to stay.
"I used to live in Detroit," he said, smiling. "I've got Motown in my veins." Well, my friend, then you're going to have a good time.
Visiting from Ann Arbor, Michigan, he turned out to be a music-loving radiologist in town to teach a class. Already, he'd had lunch at Bistro Bobette, dinner at Magpie (where he'd been forewarned about the 'hood and I un-warned him) and to the Country Club of Virginia.
I've gone on record as being no fan of the Tobacco Company or its clientele (the kind who order "three Fireballs and a Budweiser"), but I do so enjoy the Hi Steps, so I ignored my aversion for a chance to kick off my soul-filled weekend appropriately.
It only took the first few strains of "Let's Stay Together" for my new friend to thank me profusely for the recommendation. A huge Stevie Wonder fan, he totally dug hearing "Superstition" and raved about the musicianship on "Ain't Too Proud to Beg."
Between songs we chatted, during which time I learned that his first concert was 38 Special opening up for Journey in 1980. Nice. Hold on loosely, baby.
I think he decided he was going to talk to me when I pointed out that singer Butterfly's mic wasn't high enough in the mix and he pegged me for a music lover.
As the Hi Steps began winning over the drunken, shouting crowd with gems such as "Chain, Chain, Chain" and "It's Your Thing," a highly perfumed, overly made-up blond asked if the stool next to me was taken and sat down.
Explaining that she was in town from Minneapolis to visit her hospitalized brother, she was at T.C. with her sister who'd been part of a rehearsal dinner upstairs on the third floor.
Given that this woman was no spring chicken, I inquired about the wedding party's age. Uh-huh. The groom is 50-something and the bride-to be is 25. "They have a pre-nup," she informed me. Good thing.
"I give it six months," Blondie said, promising to point them out when they came downstairs to the bar.
Rather than discuss the obvious, I asked about her first show only to learn that she'd grown up in Richmond and her inaugural concert had been Foreigner at the Coliseum in 1984.
When I replied, "Wow, Foreigner," she seemed to take it as an insult, quickly sharing that she'd been to plenty of shows since.
"I saw Bon Jovi there, too," she said eagerly. "And Faith Hill and Tim McGraw. And Roger Waters doing "The Wall." And Barbra Streisand. And Bob Seger." I told her that was plenty of proof that she was a true-blue music lover.
All of a sudden, there were shrieks and the crowd behind us against the big front windows began making noise. Turning, I saw that many of them had their phones out and trained on the sidewalk outside the window.
A fight had broken out in front of TC and it wasn't even midnight yet. Give me strength. Even worse was the knee jerk reaction of the crowd to immediately begin filming it.
Meanwhile, a guy comes over and orders a double Amaretto as the bartender is lining up ten Jager Bombs for another wedding party. Kids, it's going to be a looong wedding day if you keep drinking that stuff tonight.
By now, the Hi Steps had a full crowd dancing in front of them while they played Stevie Wonder's "I Wish" and "Try a Little Tenderness." The bartender sashayed over and gave me a thumbs up, saying, "You were right!" about the band. Duh.
I noticed a shy, quiet looking man across the bar eating a sandwich and fries and after a bit, he had a bartender put some of his fries on a separate plate and send them over to a couple of older women at the end of the bar. After delivering them, the bartender pointed out the man to the women and he saluted them with a smile.
Honestly, I might prefer that a man sent me fries rather than buy me a drink at that point in the evening.
And speaking of such, after Blondie and her sister left for the club downstairs (thankfully taking her noxious cloud of perfume with her), a guy took her stool to order drinks and pay for them.
But when the check arrived, he squinted at it and handed it to me. "Can I use your eyes?" he asked. $34.68, I told him, but why in the world are you asking a woman of my advanced age, sharing it to prove my point.
"God, I'm ten years younger than you," he said, leaning in closer and staring. "You look beautiful! Is that your husband next to you?" Nope. "Can I buy you a drink?" Nope.
When I spotted a white van pull up in front of TC and a gaggle of drunk girls spill out of it, I commented to the bartender that that was the last thing they needed given the already large, loud and drunken crowd.
He agreed, acknowledging that the music was the only redeeming part of the evening. It was true, throughout the night, all three of the bartenders had been dancing behind the bar as they poured and served to the irresistible sounds of the band.
During the band's break, Mr. Ann Arbor pointed to a screen where a referee had been trampled and was laying motionless on the field face down. Watching the replay, he diagnosed what had happened to the man's leg when two large players had collided over him.
That led to discussion of sports and his teams: Lions, Tigers and Wolverines, apparently. Sounds one step removed from the "Wizard of Oz" to me.
When I explained that I grew up in a Redskins family, he first made a joke ("I hear the Redskins are thinking of changing their name. They're dropping the 'Washington' part" Ba-dum-bum) and then told me we were lucky to have Kirk Cousins quarterbacking because he'd played at Michigan State, clearly a good thing in his opinion.
But mostly we talked music while the band played songs like "Movin' On Up" and he raved about the keyboard player's prowess or the guitar player's effortless licks. Seems he'd also been at TC last night and seen a lackluster duo so he was hugely impressed with what he saw tonight.
Yea, the Hi Steps will do that to a music lover.
Realizing the late hour (and the fact that he had to be up at 6 a.m. to teach), he finally said, "Okay, I'm going to have a Fireball to remember Richmond by and then go." Since he'd already said he'd never even heard of a Fireball, I was a tad surprised.
He should have known by the bartender's face (a grimace) when he asked about it, but he bravely took a sip and turned to me. "Don't bother getting a Fireball." Don't worry.
After a killer rendition of "Take Another Little Piece of My Heart," I walked up to the stage and gave bandleader Jason a salute and a thanks for the terrific night of music.
The cobblestone streets were freshly wet from rain and the booty-short crowd was out en masse headed to clubs.
Don't drink beer, don't care for the crowd at Hardywood, but I've been to all kinds of shows there because the music appealed.
Crowd-wise, TC is far worse with golf shirts and Rumpilminz drinkers, but they at least carry tequila, so there was no reason to miss the Hi Steps.
I may not have lived in Detroit, but I got a little Motown in my veins, too. And while I'm at it, as a public service I'm willing to share my eyes with a blind horse.
Or man, as the case may be.