Thursday, May 12, 2016

This, Sir, Is an Outrage

Sometimes the universe gives you a sign, good or bad, about what's to come.

Musician Jason Webley said that when he picks up his accordion, he knows by how heavy it feels what kind of performance he'll have that night.

When I'm driving over the Huguenot Bridge in the later afternoon glow of the impending sunset and Prince's 1992 song "7" comes on - a song I adore but haven't heard in years, I'd wager - I can pretty much feel that it's going to be a fine night.

My destination was a 1949 house on Southside built by Richmond architect Bud Hyland, a student of Frank Lloyd Wright, open tonight for a Modern Richmond tour. The narrow street was already teeming with traffic when I joined the fracas, but a low-key gent suggested I back up and take a nearby driveway spot.

"Think you can back up that far? he asks me, one step short of mansplaining.

I got this, buddy. Backed, turned around and on my way to a more civilized street to park, another guy who'd watched me called out, "That's some good driving!" as if surprised. Please.

Walking back to the house felt like walking through a rain forest, buggy, muggy and near the river, so different than the city streets I'd just left behind in Jackson Ward.

But it was worth it to check out the house which, while built in '49, felt like the granddaddy to all those '60s and '70s tract houses with its wood-paneled walls (cypress, no less), infrequent doors and expansive windows to bring the outdoors in.

And what outdoors it was: a pond, a sloping hill, an 80-year old Dogwod tree with impressive undergrowth, just the kind of problematic location Wright relished. Its coolest feature (mercifully, the wall to wall shag carpeting had been ripped up years ago) was a 1950 Cubist-inspired fresco by VCU artist Jewett Campbell over the entrance to my favorite room, the screened porch.

The former garage had been turned into a weaving studio with three looms and a straw basket filled with multi-colored balls of yarn, a look I recall copying for my own bedroom when I was in college, not that I knitted or wove.

People streamed in for a look-see, demonstrating the fabulous flow of the house, evident when one of the organizers said that they'd never expected to get so many people in the house. Referring to the monthly Modern Richmond tours, she said, "This is the one night a month folks can imagine they're in Los Angeles."

I could imagine it but I couldn't imagine wanting it to be permanent.

Check, please.

Amour welcomed me into its bar during my break between culture with happy hour small plates and a glass of Terrasse du Midi Rose.

Saying yes happily to everything on the happy hour board, I was rewarded with a petite crepe piled high with duck confit in garlic butter, a Croque Madame with a quail egg astride and the owner's grandmother's potato pancake with applesauce recipe fried up golden brown and crispy.

Discussing the new rules of civility whereby potential employees can't be bothered calling in to alert staff to their no-show, a nearby millennial picked up the thread of our conversation and said in all seriousness, "Yea, what's wrong with my generation? They've got no worth ethic at all."

Best guesses were bandied about - too much coddling, no parental limits, meaningless sports trophies - and before long, someone else reminisced about mowing lawns to save up to buy a Nintendo when he knew his parents never would.

Somehow, we have bred out of our youth any willingness to mow or shovel snow for the sake of earning unreported income.

It's a crying shame, I tell you, and delicate Rose-poached pear with strawberries went a long way to taking my mind off the crisis at hand.

I left Amour for Gallery 5 because singer/storyteller Jason Webley was back after a five year hiatus, an intended break which he began by explaining had been compromised almost from the beginning. First friends wanted him to play, then he was offered money, then he was going to be in town (or nearby) anyway and, before long, hiatus was code for working musician.

Jason not only had a knack for (as he called it) long-winded storytelling but thoroughly enjoyed it, too, so he warned us early to keep him in check, not allowing too much music or too many stories. That's like putting the patients in charge of the asylum, don't you think?

Come on, it had been announced late, promoted almost not at all and still a solid and appreciative crowd had shown up on a random Wednesday for a show that wasn't even supposed to start until 9ish.

When Jason referred to getting older, a woman near me called out, asking how old he was. "43, how old are you?" Jason called back. She was 42 in a few months, but she also admitted, "Sorry, I heard that question in my brain and I don't know how it got out."

Sucking us into another story, this one was about kissing a beautiful girl on the railroad tracks while a train whizzed by on an adjacent track. "I'll never have a better first kiss."Just when I was thinking he'd hit a personal best, he said later that night they danced in a parking lot.

Now that's a night of high romance.

He took second place in a street performance contest after that and the two went to Bali together except by then she'd made up with her creepy boyfriend, so it was a platonic week during which he wrote a song which he now performed for us.

So, you see, the introductions to the songs were easily as long as the songs, but that's just how Jason rolls and a big part of why most people were there.

In the absolute pinnacle of a stellar show, he slid in a slow burn cover of Prince's "Purple Rain" during one of his songs, although most of the crowd didn't even recognize it until about ten lines in, a fact which only gives more weight to our earlier concerns about certain generational failings.

For heavens' sake, I can let it slide if you don't know the words to "7" (although I did better than I'd have expected), but we should all know "Purple Rain" by this point, right?

Jason agreeably played his accordion and stamped his feet for percussion and before long, many of us were dancing along to songs about pork goulash until all of a sudden he was notified he had sixteen minutes left and needed to decide how to use it.

His choice was a song about a candlelit march to a cemetery's pyramid, then a final closer that had people dancing tavern-style around him on the floor to a song about the need to relax.

That's some good advice. And if not, how about we smoke them all with our intellect and our savoir faire?


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