If you were from Atlanta, you'd be mighty impressed with my evening.
It started at Hardywood for Cover to Cover: Back to Black, a performance of Amy Winehouse's music. What you have to understand is that I was never a big Amy fan, more of an appreciator of her talent. Unlike the performers involved, I certainly didn't know most of her material.
But that's why you go.
Host Matt Shofner began by high-fiving the band, an appropriate move given how talented these guys are, before calling up Carolyn Meade - nailing it in a sleeveless yellow dress, red belt an shoes and red head scarf over long beehive brunette hair.
If possible, her voice was even more spot-on that her ensemble.
Within two songs, she'd turned that brewery into a jazz club by singing the first two songs off Amy's Frank album (the one that references Frank Sinatra), nailing the singer and the song.
Midway through the first set, the heavens opened up and rain came down, causing Matt to say, "Hopefully, this rain will cool things off or at least not steam things up," before removing his loafers and donning a pair of very high-heeled red pumps ("Any chance to get into pumps, I take it. I'm short, that's the only reason) to sing "F*ck Me Pumps."
Fabulous as Matt's version of the song was, it was rocking the world of the two hatted bros in front of me, who proceeded to look dumbfounded at each other, snap pictures and try to prove that they weren't staring, but staring repeatedly.
As the troupe of actors moved through the album, the trumpet player joined them late. "That's how you do it, you just walk onstage and a do a trumpet solo," Carolyn said of the less than punctual horn player.
The absolute funniest moment of the entire show was when Matt got up there to explain what was going on. "These Cover to Cover shows are a chance to introduce you people to the people who are actors in this town doing live theater like this in actual live theaters. It's a way to let you know that Richmond has an amazing theater scene."
It was like those disturbing "human zoos" that the British had in past centuries where they "exhibited" Africans as some rare species. What he was telling the beer-soaked crowd was that this was an "actors' zoo." Look, but don't stick your hand in.
And, by all means, learn something here.
After Frank, there was an intermission before getting back to black for the second act.
During that time, I gleaned from a woman her first concert (John Denver at 14 with her parents and Boston in 1977 on her own), but the best story was about the time she saw George Thoroughgood and the Destroyers. An Innocent at the time, she'd been surprised when a guy in the row in front of her turned and offered her a joint.
Flash forward to VCU, they re-meet, date and then go off and each marry someone else for 20 years. They reconnected post-divorces and have now been married for 11 years. "We're having a ball," she beamed. We were fine until she shared that she'd driven alone to Merriweather Post Pavilion to see the Eagles before they broke up and then she was dead to me.
I can forgive many things, but not the Eagles.
Back to Black began with Matt singing "Rehab" and a girl walking by me with her phone and hard box of Marlboros tucked into her cleavage. Then Maggie, looking out-of-this world gorgeous in a leopard print dress and gray pumps, positively purred "You Know I'm No Good."
I think it was as Durron was knocking it out of the park with "Me and Mr. Jones" that I overheard the people next to me marveling about the music. "I'm used to bar cover bands!" one guy lamented. Another girl arrived in front of me, pointed to the stage and told her friend, "It's so weird! He's like my neighbor!"
Seems she'd never suspected her neighbor had musical/theatrical talent, so she'd come to the actor zoo to see for herself. It wasn't long before another clutch of females began discussing what a great cover band they were, necessitating a friend explaining that these were not musicians but people who worked in theaters. The girl talking made them sound very exotic.
Saying that they were going to do an obscure song, Maggie noted, "We're giving you an education." It was absolutely true. I'd known nothing from Frank but by the third song knew I needed to own it. The things you can learn at Cover to Cover are enough to make it worth hanging out in a beer joint.
And then Matt announced the last song "to play you guys out into the night" and the three-set Amy Winehouse extravaganza wound down with the crowd singing and dancing along.
They played me right out into the night and over to Balliceaux for the final night before they close for three months. After countless nights spent there, I knew enough to arrive sufficiently early to nab a stool and enjoy the view and close service.
When my favorite bartender there asked if I wanted tequila, I surprised the hell out of him by requesting a cocktail. I watched him make it while chatting with a wine shop owner sipping Mezcal, which turned out to be part of my drink, along with Aperol, Yellow Chartruese, habanero shrub and grapefruit juice, a complex and blushingly pink sipper he claimed was a riff on the classic Corpse Reviver.
I only hope it wasn't a comment on how I looked.
Before long, a guy came up to get a drink and immediately complimented my hair and introduced himself. He was visiting from Atlanta and wanted to hear more about Richmond. When he pulled his friend over to introduce, I recognized a J-Ward neighbor.
Soon we were a trio at the bar, discussing all they'd been doing in RVA and DC over the past four days. Their itinerary had included four shows- Phantagram (neighbor's fave of the four), Billy Idol ("Vegas-ready"), St, Vincent and Hot Chip ("A sausage fest!") and countless meals and cocktails.
When the Atlanta guest kept looking at his phone, I called him on it and he explained succinctly, "I'm Tinder-ing the hell out of this town while I'm here." Swipe away.
In between tangents, I spotted or spoke to the chef, the organizer, the trombone player, the comedienne, the non-drinker and probably others I've already forgotten due to having my first two cocktails tonight.
I heard about all the things they'd done here and what was still on their agenda for tonight. When invited to join them at Strange Matter, I declined. One instructed the other to finish up so they could pay their tab and get on to next party.
"Drink that last sip! There are sober children in Africa!" Mr. J-Ward cracked, Now that's some quick thinking.
Balliceaux had become a fire hazard by then with people continuing to arrive and need drinks while only a trickle left. Visiting the back room, the Atlantan summed up the scene back there like this, "Music's funk and hip hop. It's a bunch of hipsters steeped in nostalgia." Some would call that tragic.
When I went back there myself, I saw that DJ Michael Murphy and a drummer had the crowd dancing the way he does every time he DJs. No way to know if the crowd was especially worked up about it being the final night (at least for a while) or just enjoying the usual Saturday night dance party.
I was doing both. Here's hoping Balliceaux returns.