Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Harder: Change or Acceptance?

Sunday recap: It was a singular experience, both thrilling and demanding, to be asleep in a single bed on the screened porch of a guesthouse at the river when thunder and lightening roll in on three sides of me in the middle of the night. Truly, I felt the final thunderclap, painfully loud and incredibly near, reverberate inside my body. Okay, okay, you didn't have to shout.

Sometimes when you need it most, the universe delivers.

In the spirit of Helen Mirren wearing a purple dress in tribute to Prince at the White House Correspondents' dinner, I have been carrying a purple umbrella practically nonstop for over a week. The frequent showers have allowed me to grieve in my own purple way.

I'd barely left the house to walk over to Gallery 5 when a thunderclap announced the beginning of my night, rain began and out my Purpleness came again. Don't get me wrong, I have no problem walking in the rain, especially when it's warm, but I like it best from under an umbrella.

Hearing my name called as I reached for the gallery door, I saw a musician friend and sat down in an alcove to talk, where we were joined by guy who recognized her from a house show in Blacksburg. Next thing we knew, he was warming up his voice to ably demonstrate that he could throat sing, a rare skill in this town outside of Folk Fest weekend.

And that randomness doesn't even make it into the top tier tonight.

While I'd heard of Dharma Bombs, I didn't know what their sound was, but with four horns, guitar and bass, it very quickly showed itself to be a rousing mashup with some Dixieland roots that worked because of the group's sheer enthusiasm, energy and talent.

Or perhaps because of their intention to "chase away our Mondays."

The lead singer was barefoot and full of gusto for performing, which is not to say that the horn players weren't because the trumpeter pulled in a few jazz-like rounds of applause for his solos, the clarinet player had the crowd eating out of his hand, the sax players wailed and the bass player did an extended intro with no one else playing to highlight his abilities.

A rousing spiritual called "Glory, Bernie" ("Sing it with me!") was a bona fide toe-tapper while "Abigail" was more of a lament ("I went down to St. James Infirmary/To see my baby there/ Laid out on a cold, white table/ So calm, so cold, so fair") involving whiskey and "The Virginia Swing" closed out the set, appropriate given that people had been dancing throughout.

And if dancing on a Monday night isn't good for the soul, I don't know what is.

During the break, I caught up with my favorite silent movie expert about the public orchard he and others are spearheading on Southside. He's discovering the enormous satisfaction of working on an issue at the grass roots level to bring about change, even when you have to dance the bureaucratic dance to make it so.

This is just part of what makes him and his partner two of the grooviest people I count as friends.

We traded sides of the room when the Sun Flights took the stage, eager to be able to see all four band members: the two women who were the original members and the two guys recently added in to fill out their sound and add more beautiful voices to what was already exquisite harmony.

Seems they'd heard about Gallery 5 back in 2014 and been eager to play it ever since. "We made it out to the river today!" they shared with the crowd who responded with shouts of affirmation. "That's exactly how we felt about it!"

It's old news that I'm a sucker for harmonies and not only did they wow us with two and three-part versions, but they knocked it out of the park with a cover of "500 Miles," with each band member singing lead on a verse and breaking our hearts on the chorus singing together.

During their set, I used the friend card to call out a couple who were chatting near me while I was trying to lose myself in the ethereal harmonies onstage. Tapping on their shoulders, I whispered, "Two musicians walk into a venue. Who do you suppose were the talkers while another band played?"

The looks on their faces were priceless: surprise at my bossiness, perhaps, but also guilt because they are musicians and like people to pay attention to them. Pointing at each other, they mutually acknowledged that they'd been shot down.

All that matters is that turned their attention to their brethren onstage.

Referring to Virginia's river issues with Dominion Power, Sun Flights' last song was "These Times" (heaven help us with these times) which followed the introduction of the two new members of the Sun Flights project, who've sort of taken them from house show status to full-on venue status.

"Well, they were absolutely delightful," the guy next to me said. Turns out he'd come because a friend had told him he needed to see Lobo Marino, so I satisfied his curiosity about what he could expect as the duo began to set up (except his questions about the harmonium, which I hadn't a clue about).

Laney announced that while they got set up, there was going to be a Maypole dance since it was May first and that it would be set to Talking Heads.

A decorated May pole was produced and show-goers claimed ribbons attached to it to participate in the pagan ritual as one of the two guys next to me shook his head and grinned. Where else in Richmond could we be watching a Maypole dance set to Talking Heads? I wanted to know.

"Where else in the world?" one asked rhetorically, smiling happily.

Not judging here, but it was clear that not everyone participating understood right away the concept of going over and under the other ribbons, but eventually, the ribbons began to braid over the pole until it was mostly covered.

Ahh, can you feel it? Now May can begin.

Jameson began by telling the crowd to relax and let things happen, that they were going to ask us to step outside our comfort zones. "But not in a creepy way," Laney qualified. "In a migratory way."

When they performed the always-stirring "Holy River," a dancer named Sara in belly dancing garb took the stage behind them to undulate to the music, undoubtedly the first time many in the room had seen such dancing.

"Okay, here's where it starts to get experimental," Laney said. Jameson pulled out his mouth harp and played drum with his ankle, Laney played the rim of the drum and one of the Dharma Bombs' horn players appeared to blow. Midway through the song, DB's clarinetist and guitarist slunk through the curtains and joined in.

Then it was time to leave our zones. Jameson and Laney told us we were taking it to the streets and to grab some of the gigantic puppet heads sitting around.

With the musicians leading the way, the entire audience did a Pied Piper, following them down to Zephyr Gallery where people at the door were handing out small, lit white candles as we spilled in.

The gallery was dark, lit mainly by candles and the musicians sat down on the floor at the back and the audience filled up the floor in front of them. On the walls was art related to the mural projects, being readied for the First Fridays opening in a few days.

It was like we'd been led to a secret art temple to witness another Spring rite.

Listening to "We Hear the Ocean" in that hushed gallery was just short of a mystical experience. An a capella song followed with the audience providing the only accompaniment, our finger snapping.

"Candle down!" someone called out when a pillar was spotted horizontal. "Josh, can you get that?" someone called. "Oh, shit," Josh exclaimed before righting the wrong and making everyone feel a little safer.

And what would Laney say to all this, but, "See, this is what community is all about." Candles and May poles, spirituals and puppet heads, heavenly harmonies and migratory shows.

All that and walking home under the purple, in the rain. Where else, indeed?

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