Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Suddenly I Can See Blue Skies

Never turn down an invitation for a road trip.

Do I want to go to a show? Probably. Do I want to go to a show in another town? Always.

Donning my finest rainy day attire - hot pink raincoat, green and pink floral rubber boots - we set off for Charlottesville, making our way through a traffic jam and skittish drivers despite the rain being over. Why must people overuse their brakes when pavement gets wet?

En route we decided to make our way to Belmont rather than the downtown mall for dinner, choosing the Local's inviting, dark ambiance once we were there (and obviously seduced by their adjacent wine room with its old outside sign saying "Betty's Beauty Salon" overhead).

Inside, we were asked if we were with the such and such party (meaning the unruly cluster of men in sports coats at the bar) and when we demurred, led upstairs to the charming (and well-heated) patio space enclosed by windows.

Because a night away feels like an occasion, we began with crisp, citrusy Cap Classique Colmant Brut Reserve (a nod to trips to South Africa of yore) and a cheese plate generously laid out with five cheeses - goat, cheddar, bleu, Brie and Swiss - including three from Virginia (they are called The Local, after all). While we worked that lovely combination down, the group of salesmen-looking sports coats from the bar arrived upstairs and settled at the table behind us.

Much ordering of Cabernet Sauvignon and hushed phone calls about the day's business ensued. Almost all of them wore wedding rings and almost all of them seemed to be overdoing it on a night out. They were a cliche, in other words.

We ignored them, choosing our entrees which seemed to arrive in a twinkling of an eye. A special of lamb shanks with potatoes and green beans went to my fellow road tripper and I'd chosen the buttermilk Tabasco-braised local chicken with mashed potatoes and horseradish poppy seed slaw. Braised and crispy, yes, please.

Each of us thought we'd made the right choice but if you ask me, how can can you beat a crispy thigh, drumstick and wing? Impossible.

By then, the patio space had begun to fill up with all sorts of Monday night revelers: a four top of a certain age who never stopped conversing and laughing, a couple of 20-somethings where she kept pulling out her phone for fear of missing out, a lively table of friends enjoying each other loudly - making us just another table of people happy to be out at the start of the week.

Keeping the bubbly thread going since we had an hour to kill, we stayed local with Veritas' creamy "Scintilla" to accompany a banana split for dessert. Not typically a split fan, I was seduced by the caramelized bananas, the three distinctive flavors of house-made ice cream (blackberry, blueberry and peanut butter with chocolate chip) under a blanket of chocolate sauce and whipped cream.

Not your average banana split, am I right?

Between the split and the local bubbles delaying us, by the time we got to the Southern, T. Hardy Morris and his band were already playing. Much as I hate to miss an opening act, we'd been having too much fun to get there sooner, although I was glad to catch part of their set with its lovely pedal steel.

During the break, I headed out to wait in line for the bathroom. A guy joined me, asking if there were lines for men and women. Before I could answer, a bathroom door opened and I looked at him.

"No, you go ahead first," he said gallantly. "You're beautiful-er." That's the kind of man I want to wait in a bathroom line with.

Jessica Lea Mayfield - a waif with a guitar -came out joined by a bassist and a drummer, looking wan (surely she never sees the sun) with the blondest bob and briefest bangs.

She didn't have a lot of stage presence (she is only 25, after all), but after the second song, she inquired of an audience member, "What are you talking about? Tell me the secret!"

You can't handle the secret, honey.

Her set was an amalgamation of her earlier acoustic, confessional stuff and songs from her latest album, which sounds like it came directly from the Nirvana era with gloriously grungey guitar sounds.

"Are you guys having fun?" she asked of the unfortunately small crowd. "Cause this next song is called 'No Fun." Some might say her voice is no fun, bordering on a monotone with just enough edge to keep it interesting. And always, plenty of soul-baring in the lyrics.

"This is a song about having to do the dishes, do the laundry and kill yourself before your husband gets home." An amusing take on a song, even more so when she introduced the bass player Jessie as her husband ("He legally agreed to love me forever").

She was clearly getting off on the newer material, channeling her inner grunge ("I'm an awkward girl"- join the club, my dear) with raucous guitar and occasionally 12-string (be still, my heart). Some songs shimmered, others raged, but every one shone with her distinctive voice.

For the encore, she came back alone, sitting on the lip of the stage and singing, "You've got a stranglehold on my heart." Could I hope to hear anything more romantic?

Husband Jessie came out for the last song, playing guitar for her and singing along, just the two of them on the edge of the stage with the small crowd gathered around. Their voices melded beautifully to close out the night.

Sure, then we were looking at an hour's drive home, but there was so much to talk about. Jessica Lea. All that grunge. A fabulous meal. The clarity of the stars in the sky. The loss of clarity as we approached Richmond.

Even an awkward girl couldn't have asked for a beautiful-er evening.

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