Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Birth of the Cool

Because this:

We, the humble members of  the Richmond Avant Improv Collective, are trying to initiate a jazz-themed monthly series at Gallery 5. This would be our initial attempt at such a  foolish endeavor.

So with that kind of can-do spirit and the abundance of talent consistently on display here, it's little wonder that gushing articles about the delights of Richmond keep showing up in the national press. Let me tell you, a non-local travel writer would have a field day trying to convey the abundance of cool here.

From the trendy Quirk Hotel, walk a short two blocks to Gallery 5, a quaint 19th century firehouse that now houses an art gallery and hosts a music stage. 

If you're lucky, you may stumble into a dimly-lit show of local talent such as the Richmond Avant Improv Collective. The ever-changing line-up could be dropping cymbals, rattling chains and riffing on Italian music scores while a woman sings in a voice that sounds otherworldly with Hudson Valley jazz fusion guitarist Lucas Brode sitting in. That's the kind of thing five bucks buys you on a Saturday night in Richmond.

Come on, you're reading this in Des Moines as you plan your trip to the capital of the Confederacy to experience battlefields and all of a sudden, you're getting a clue that Richmond may be way cooler than what your aunt Betty told you it was after her trip there in the '80s.

With Richmond's vibrant music scene, you're going to have to make hard choices, especially on a weekend night. Do you want to hang out at the funky Gallery 5 and hear Yeni Nostlji playing '60s Turkish pop music and original material - a song title translates as "Don't You Dare Take Me Lightly" - inspired by that sound sung in a throaty female voice and accompanied by guitar, maracas and whistling? 

Maybe you'd prefer a tenth anniversary show at the Broadberry featuring No BS Brass band, a 13-piece ensemble of horns and drums born out of VCU's Jazz Studies program. At tucked away Sound of Music, you could catch indie rock from the Trillions, a group of nerdy scientific types with masterful musical chops and boundless energy. 

All ages feel welcome at Richmond's venues, where you might spot a keyboard player sporting a fur Cossack-style hat and belted coat in a nod to mid-60s-esque Dr. Zhivago style heading outside for a cigarette before her band's set. Welcome to Richmond, where eccentric is the norm.

The thing is, a visiting writer would be hard pressed not to leave with a favorable impression, no matter what the angle of the piece might be. Richmond is a place where people talk to strangers and simply eavesdropping on conversations would be a good indicator of the kind of locals a visitor might encounter out.

Spend some time in the architecturally significant neighborhoods known as Jackson Ward and Monroe Ward for galleries, arthouse films, a comedy club, live theater and music.

It's the kind of place where you'll hear a musician telling a jewelry maker she painted her earrings to match her fingernail polish before tonight's performance. Or a couple of writers trading book recommendations on the Civil Rights era. After getting down on the concrete floor to shoot, a photographer will explain what a pain it used to be to have to change a roll of film mid-performance. A place where a singer will call out hello from the stage to a late-arriving friend.

Richmond's high quality of life and low cost of living make it a hotbed for practically everyone to indulge their artistic impulses on the side.

And don't get me started on how so many of the national articles I read about Richmond regurgitate the same "hot spots" rather than cluing in an out-of-towner to some of the city's lesser known charms and secrets.

Fans of world music as well as Dead followers who like to dance (or is that redundant?) should check local listings to see if the long-running Hotel X is playing. Their improvisational takes on songs about cul-de-sacs and dedications to Jamaican guitarists often culminate in a Senegalese prayer for peace while fans allow their bodies to interpret the music in a scene that wouldn't have been out of place at a '60s "happening." 

Richmond's got its groove on and it's an organic one that grew out of a scene that relied on local momentum and not mainstream move-ins. Richmond's hip quotient is not be taken lightly, but not heavily, either.

Man, this stuff practically writes itself. Too bad I was just a music-lover at a show tonight and not a travel writer on assignment.

Otherwise, I might have shared the secret to our charm: Richmond excels at trying foolish endeavors and showing up to witness them makes you part of it all. Fur hat not required.

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