What's the point in doing something for ten years if it isn't getting better with every year?
Potentially deep question, but simple answer: absolutely none. Just look at tonight's tenth annual Ghost of Pop show at Gallery 5. Timely start, appropriate set lengths, stellar performances and scads of friends.
Walking over in the pouring rain, I got there right at 8, counting on the fact that a five band bill would necessarily start on time and positioning myself against the radiator hoping for warmth.
None was to be found, as noted by a guy standing nearby.
He was a willing conversational partner, though, who'd been at last year's Ghost of Pop. Excited about tonight's Full Moon Fever set of Tom Petty covers, he shared that he'd seen Petty in concert in 1981 in Memphis.
He had me beat there. And then it was show time.
Adam Eubank and his band were up first and while his name rang no bells for me, his face did. I'd met him just last week at a Sound of Music show when he'd come to snag a beer from a bag stashed near where I was perched and introduced himself.
I was impressed from the opening notes of the band's tight, poppy set with the songwriting and performance they were delivering. How come these guys don't play out more? If they were first, the other bands were going to have to work to keep up.
The organizer of tonight's benefit for Home Again was the inimitable Prabir and he stopped by to chat with me during the first break. When I asked him what he was hoping for from tonight's show, he didn't miss a beat.
"I wanna see a couple making out while we're playing," he said. "Sure it's great that we're helping the homeless, but what I really want is to see some making out. So if we're on our last song and no one's making out, it's your duty to grab a dude and suck face. It's your duty, Karen!"
Curious about why this was required, he explained that at the first Ghost of Pop, a go-go dancer (that's a whole other topic right there) had thrown her arm with abandon and broken his glasses. When she offered to make it up to him, he suggested a make-out session.
Like I've said before, I couldn't make this stuff up.
Next up was Animal Beat, a band I hadn't seen in some time. Turns out this was a reunion show. Lead singer Travis looked like Eric Clapton in his post-drug, cleaned-up period (short hair, attractive glasses sliding down his nose) with just enough reverb on his amazing voice and a killer horn section beside him.
Despite that they hadn't played out together in a couple of years, they'd just finished a new album, "Piece of Cake" (because recording it had been anything but) which was for sale tonight and came with, what else, a piece of cake.
If only I'd brought more than the door price.
Favorite song: "Love In, Love Out," but I couldn't get enough of any notes out of his mouth or the soulful feel the horns added to the songs.
Break time brought more conversation with the guy next to me and his wife (who'd been getting a henna tattoo on her hand when our conversation had begun), namely about his first concert: Humble Pie with Roxy Music opening in 1972.
Said he'd gone in to the show never having heard of Roxy Music and been blown out of his seat by their sound and sky-high platform shoes. She recalled hitchhiking to see the Allman Brothers and getting to go backstage to meet them.
Ah, the good old days.
I was happy to see Long Arms take the stage because leader James is not just a talented musician but a nerd of the highest order (he later showed me a vintage Civil War photograph he is thinking of buying).
The band full-on rocked out, emoting all the way ("This is another song about our feelings") while breaking in a new guitar for James all the while.
"This tent is so cool," he said about the new drape atop the stage with lights above it for a softly lit effect. "You guys wanna have a sleepover in my tent?"
After their set, a WRIR DJ gave me a big hug and his yellow rain slicker wet my face in the process. I met the new squeeze of a long-time music loving friend, who'd shown up late expecting that the show would be running on Richmond time and instead had missed three bands.
As I told him, the sound guy had been extra efficient about how long he let each band play tonight. Too bad that doesn't happen more often.
My new friends were very much looking forward to seeing Andrew Leahy up next because they'd been so impressed with him and his Nashville band last year. This year was a reunion of his original Richmond band, including one of my favorite keyboard players, Ben Willson.
The band's alt-country sound was extremely well-executed but a lot of the comments were about Andrew's distinctive hair. One guy said he'd thought it was a wig, another warned that he frequently flipped it and another observed that if he cut bangs into it, he'd look like any number of '70s rock stars. guys, it's about the music, not the hair.
Several of the songs they did were written in Nashville, no doubt including "Silver Linings" about dealing with men in suits.
More familiar faces showed up while Full Moon Fever set up - the violinist I hadn't seen in months, the ukulele player, the lecture geek - leading the couple beside me to ask how I knew so many people there.
It's as simple as going to shows, friends. After a while, people just start talking to you and goodness knows, I never turn away from conversational opportunities.
When Prabir and his FMF crew began with "Listen to Her Heart," the crowd - not quite as big as earlier, but rabid Petty fans - moved closer and by "The Waiting" they were singing along to every word.
A friend came over and shared his opinion that Petty is the best songwriter who ever lived in this country, giving this lyric as proof:
Think of me what you will
I got a little space to fill
Before they closed with "American Girl," Prabir announced, "This song goes out to Erica if you're still here. If you're not, it goes out to the next girl."
I don't know Erica, so I can't say if she was there to hear her dedication or not. What I can say is that I decided against grabbing a dude and making out so Prabir could have his moment of pleasure.
If you want to keep things going after ten years like Ghost of Pop, it better be about feelings and momentary pleasure. Love in, love out, didn't you hear the man?