Tuesday, April 30, 2013


Sometimes a week gets off to a slow start and all my looking for something to do yields nada.

Fortuitously, there are always the old Monday standbys, Stuzzi and RVA Big Band.

Because they're so reliably there to kick off the week, Monday in and Monday out, it's easy to take them for granted, like a dogged but annoying always freind when you're bored.

But after spending indiscriminately all weekend, there's a lot of appeal to a $2 margarita pizza.

Another thrifty type and I arrived late in the game to find only two seats free at the bar and Katherine Hepburn in "Summertime" playing on the screens.

The scenes of Venice in 1955 were fascinating, with far fewer tourists and far fewer signs of modernity.

Once our pizzas were ordered, we fell into conversation with a nearby man, who'd apparently had enough wine to open up about his love life.

He told us about the three women he's currently seeing, explaining that each one fulfilled a different need in him.

Specifically, he mentioned how important sexual chemistry was and why it sometimes necessitates a partner just for that.

"She's like a goomah," one of the three Italians said, with another chiming in, "Like a mistress."

I said it sounded like a booty call to me, someone you just wanted to have sex with.

Suddenly the woman sitting behind us, who'd introduced us to her Italian boyfriend earlier, spun around in her stool, grinning.

"It sounds like an ex-girlfriend," she said, making the international symbol for texting.

All at once is was a free-for-all on the laws of attraction and mating in general, especially at middle age.

The woman told us how in high school, she lived with her Dad, with him on the third floor and her on the first.

"That way, I couldn't ask him who's car was parked in front of the house because I really didn't want to know," she confessed.

That must have made for some enlightening teen years.

Pizza and wine gone, we wanted a sweet finish to the meal, ordering the Italian doughnuts, excuse me, zeppole with Nutella/mascarpone.

The cinnamon sugar on the outside gave way to a dense interior, a bit heavier than it probably should have been, but still quite tasty.

One by one the others got going, the one couple inciting jealousy in the rest of us when they said they were leaving for five weeks in Italy tomorrow.


Five weeks! She looked positively giddy at the prospect, while for him, it was just going home to Mama in Piedmonte.

We left soon after to go to Balliceaux and hear the RVA Big Band for the first time in ages.

They were swinging hard when we walked in and found seats on the back banquette with a clear view of the 17 musicians.

The beauty of the RVA Big Band is simple moments, like when the drummer takes off on an extended solo, giving the bass player time to grab his PBR and take a couple of long pulls on it before anything further is expected of him.

We were late, so their set ended not long after, giving me time to say hello to some of my favorite people, friends I hadn't expected to see there tonight.

One was celebrating her birthday, happily loopy and looking radiant in a long, blue dress.

Her best line: "Yea, but I'm a lazy hippie."

Yea, but aren't we all?

When one of the trumpet players came down to talk to the couple next to me, I couldn't help but overhear him tell them about how the band practices.

"There's not exactly practice," he admitted. "We get a list of the music we're going to play the day before and that's how we know what to practice."

The couple looked surprised and I felt the same, although I have to assume that at a certain level of musicianship, if you all know your parts, it's bound to come together.

And it did so most sublimely on Johnny Mercer's "Skylark," a song that had me imagining a man smoking at a window, looking out on the nighttime urban skyline and thinking of a woman.

Since I didn't recognize it, I turned to the guy sitting next to me (because he looked like a musician) and asked what it was.

He not only told me the name and composer, but that its lyrics reflected Mercer's longing for Judy Garland, with whom he'd had an affair.

So here we were back to unavoidable sexual chemistry and longing for a woman you can't have.

Just another reliably good Monday night in the city.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Into the Week Gently

What could be better to wind down with on a Sunday evening than a little classical music?

Balliceaux was hosting the monthly Classical Incarnations, a chance for musicians to play solo or in duos or trios.

I've learned to arrive early enough to get a table because the room tends to fill up and it's not a long event.

Tonight, my partner in crime and I were the first ones in, scoring a front table and a dessert that looked like a giant cupcake with strawberry mousse on top and a blueberry filling.

But we were in the minority eating sweet since most people seemed to be getting fries to munch on while listening.

The music began with two violinists doing a Telemann piece with violinist Ellen explaining that while they'd be playing the same music, they wouldn't be playing it at the same time.

"It works because Telemann was brilliant," she said and listening to the piece, it was clear she was right.

Classical guitarist Leah came next, a familiar face since I'd recently seen her play as part of Fado Nasso, a Portuguese fado group.

Tonight she was talking about her Kickstarter (she wants to study in Seville) and playing a couple of her own flamenco-influenced compositions, one accompanied by another classical guitarist.

David played piano for three early 20th century French pieces before showing us his lighter side.

"I did this last time and I'm going to try it again. Someone give me a tune and I'll make a song out of it," he challenged.

A guy at the bar sung out "Menomena," to which David asked, "Sesame Street?" and returned to the piano for an upbeat little ditty that took "menomena" in all kinds of poppy directions.

Daryl took the stage with an electric guitar, something new for Classical Incarnations.

Explaining that it was the centennial of Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring," he explained that he'd reduced the groundbreaking orchestral work for guitar.

Yes, sir, I'd say reducing 44 musicians' parts to one guitar was a hell of a reduction.

Saying he planned to debut the full work on May 29th, the anniversary of the first performance in 1913, he said he'd usually chosen the solo voice when transcribing the piece, although occasionally he'd used his favorite instrument instead.

"Please," he said, smiling, "No rioting,"  a reference to the near-riot caused 100 years ago.

His hands flew all over the strings, recreating the sounds of all those instruments as he played the first three parts of the piece.

It was a very cool experience, very different than the usual at Classical Incarnations, and yet perfectly fitting, too.

And no rioting was had.

During intermission, I chatted with the resident photographer, who's also the man from whom I took a class in understanding jazz, and the handsome bass player who never fails to tell me he's glad to see me.

I don't dwell on whether he means it or not.

The second half was far shorter, and began with Ellen on violin and Bill on cello and moved onto pianist Russell with a singer doing a sad French song

The set closed with pianist Russell, violinist Ellen and singer Lisa doing a Rachmaninoff piece, surely a treat for Russell given Rachmaninoff's piano-centric compositions.

Lisa read us the translation of the lyrics beforehand ("Because they're so beautiful," she said, meaning sad), although the ache in her voice would have told us all we needed to know.

It had been a satisfying evening of varied music and when I went to leave, the bass player tried to guess where I was going next.

That remains to be seen. And probably not told.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Not Normal, but Better

I wasn't prepared to have my emotional socks knocked off at a matinee.

Despite the fact that Cadence Theater Company has been blowing my mind with their play choices and quality productions for over a year now, I had no idea what I was in for.

What I knew was that I was going to see a Pulitzer Prize-winning and multiple Tony Award-winning play produced by Cadence in partnership with Virginia Repertory.


Cadence seems to thrive on choosing important works never before produced in Richmond and bless 'em for it.

This time it was "Next to Normal."

The song list was extensive - 18 in the first act and 19 in the second - making it feel a little like an operetta with most of the action moving forward through song with some dialog interspersed.

They say love is blind but love is insane.

Having a live band is always a treat at a play, although there were times when the music drowned out the voices, a shame when the lyrics explained so much.

But that was my only quibble since the gut-wrenching story of mental illness and how a family deals with it when it happens to a member was absolutely compelling.

The people who think they're happy are just stupid.

With a cast that was strong across the board, it was impossible not to get caught up in the drama unfolding.

Without telling too much about the story, there's an instance of heartbreak that lives on for eighteen years, coloring everyone's lives.

I know from similar personal experience that unless you've experienced such trauma, you can not imagine the toll it takes on the people involved or their worldview forever after.

Let go of the past and maybe I'll see you at last.

That's not to say that a lot of the lyrics weren't funny, lines like, "I'm a sociopath, I love Sylvia Plath."

But despite upbeat, rocking songs and moments of mirth, it was at heart a play about grieving, mental illness,  drug abuse, suicide and life in suburbia.

It's a world where the doctor medicates a person until she says she feels nothing and then he declares her stable.

It had me in tears by the middle of the second act.

This isn't your parents' feel-good musical, but a musical look at some heavy topics that may not be everyone's cup of tea.

That said, the three blue hairs sitting behind me raved at intermission about the acting, the voices, the set and the score, so it maybe it's all in how open-minded you are about new theater works.

What doctors call dysfunction, we call romance.

What Cadence calls their season closer, I call a must-see.

Because life goes on and even when it's difficult, it's always easier set to music.

Sunday Funday

It was just the right amount of getaway.

A 75-minute drive east until we were surrounded by fields and farms and on the Chesapeake Bay Wine Tail, albeit without the verticality of Charlottesville's wine country.

Turning at a field full of buttercups, we made the left into the Hague Winery, pulling up to the tasting room with a sunny deck full of people with bottles of wine.

Inside, our pourer was full of facts and friendly and we tasted through the seven-bottle list including silver winners at the 2011 Governor's Cup.

When we tasted the 2009 Cab Franc, her honesty came through charmingly. "You could age this if you wanted to, but it's so good now and I don't have the patience."

She conspiratorially told us that the locals liked sweet wine, so what she lacked in patience she more than made up for in observation skills.

Before we left, I told her we were going to the nearby Backdraft to eat and wanted a recommendation.

"Get the fried fish sandwich," the tasting manager interrupted. "It's grouper and it's bigger than the bun."

From what I'd heard, the Backdraft was popular with locals, but when we pulled up, it was just the bartender and her boyfriend drinking a Coke at the bar.

She welcomed us aboard, pleased to hear that we'd already heard good things about the place.

When I asked if the fish sandwich was really the best thing on the menu, she boasted, "Well, yea. We bread all our seafood by hand and we use House-Autry. I use it at home, too. Wouldn't use anything else."

Truth be told, I hadn't heard of it, but I now know it's the choice of southern cooks since 1812.

She asked about our choice for a side, and when I asked if her fries were any good, she said they were crinkle-cut, all I needed to hear.

Nothing, I repeat nothing, could top crinkle-cut fries with a fish sandwich.

The sandwich was as good as promised, perfectly breaded, lightly fried and far bigger than the bun.

I did some chatting with the boyfriend who looked bored once the bar started filling up and his girlfriend got busy.

Telling him we were winery hopping, I asked why the locals didn't do the same.

"It's old hat to them," he said disdainfully.

The sign on the bar advertised "Sunday Funday, 1/2 priced burgers and nachos," but I'm inclined to think that even if I came back on a Sunday, I'd still go for the fish.

Apparently the Backdraft is a hot night spot, too, since we'd just missed the magnificently-named Faron Hamblin, but the mirror promised " 5/17 Lickity Splitz."

I almost want to go back just to hear a band with a name that good.

We didn't linger long at the Backdraft and I told the bartender it was because we had more wineries to hit.

Hearing that Vault Fields was next, she called out, "I love the Conundrum!"

I love that there are three vineyards within spitting distance of each other, making for an easy afternoon's worth of entertainment.

We meandered past a square, light blue building in a field, past a faded pink barn no longer red and a sign advertising "alpaca poop for sale" to our next winery.

Unlike the Hague who grows their grapes but has Michael Shaps make their wine, Vault Fields bottles their own, so walking in we got the true scent of fermenting wine.

Our affable pourer was a pro, glib and savvy, and tickled that the Backdraft barkeep had praised the Conundrum, a white blend.

When I tasted the 2009 Rose, I commented that it would be great with fried chicken and our pourer said, "You should try it with chicken livers! Nothing better!"

This was a man who knew what he was talking about.

My favorite was the 2008 Reserve Red, estate bottled, full-bodied and just the kind of chewy red my friend GB lives for.

And just the kind of wine that would have a wine snob marveling that it was grown on the Northern Neck.

We got directions to General's Ridge Vineyard, a couple of miles away and rambled on.

Unlike the others, they had a big event room with windows on three sides, but we preferred the smaller tasting room next door.

There, the table was made of heavy, old, painted wooden doors removed from the estate's manor house, which, we were told, is rented out to guests.

Just in case a bottle and a bed are what you're craving.

General's Ridge may have had the most acres planted (30) of the wineries we visited, but they were primarily a grape grower for sixteen years, only two years ago deciding to start their own label, coincidentally also made by Michael Shaps.

It was nearing 5:00 so we were the last ones in the tasting room yet our pourer seemed relaxed and not at all eager to get rid of us.

They were the first to have a Pinot Grigio, apparently at the owner's wife's request, and it was a little surprising how well the grape had done in Virginia soil.

Seven wines in, we got to a lovely Petit Verdot, so smooth I asked for seconds.

She finished us off with General's Nightcap, a dessert wine of late harvest Petit Manseng that would get my vote to go with a terribly stinky cheese.

I noticed that they sold food, smoked oysters and cream cheese, a salmon salad, Rose pate, so the kind of stuff that would make a good companion to the wine, especially along about his time in the afternoon's activities. If.

If our next stop hadn't been the Inn at Montross.

It had been years since I'd been there, but all my memories were good and several wineries had recommended its new chef and menu.

We walked up on the porch and were greeted by inn guests in rocking chairs with wine in hand, one of whom all but directed us to order the prime rib because it was amazing.

Inside, we went to the bar area, but sat on a red couch facing the bar instead of on stools.

After standing for three tastings, a couch was just the thing.

The inn's wine list has seven Virginia wines, all from the Chesapeake Bay Wine Trail, so I gave them high marks.

A+ for effort.

Since we'd yet to have a full glass of wine, we did so here with glasses of the Conundrum and the General's Ridge Chardonnay.

Dinner service had just begun, so we tried some starters to help the wine go down.

A crab Cristo was crabmeat and Boursin on panko-crusted Texas toast, fried and cut into triangles with blueberry jam.

It tasted like crab dip, but made more portable with the bread around it.

The chef stuck her head over the bar to make sure we were enjoying it, something that was never an issue.

Our other choice was shrimp atop creamy grit cakes with a spicy sweet tomato sauce, a dish that worked well with both our wines.

Leaning back on the couch to finish the last of our glasses, we patted ourselves on the back for having made it to three wineries and two restaurants by 6:30.

A full afternoon and nearly full bellies meant technically we could go home now.

Instead we decided what the hell and drove back up the peninsula to Merroir to end the day right.

Since neither of us had ever sat inside the actual bar, that was our destination.

The river was a darker blue than the sky and plenty of people were sitting at picnic tables outside, but we'd done that plenty of times.

In the white, rustic bar, we ordered Wagyu and cheddar sliders and Sausagecraft pork belly sausage, prompting me to label our last meal of the day "hot dogs and hamburgers" when it arrived.

We devoured it with our first non-Virginia wines of the day, but only because we had no choice other than one Barboursville.

Come on, Merroir, give us some local wines to go with your local lambs, clams and oysters.

Honestly, that would be my only complaint after such a pleasurable day spent on the Neck.

It was just too bad that Lickity Splitz wasn't playing tonight or we'd have been heading back to Backdraft any time now.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

White Lightning

It would have been a day, even if the only major event had been George Jones dying.

But it wasn't, at least for me, so I was happy when Holmes extended the invitation to come join him and his honey for dinner at his house.

She's recovering from recent surgery, so the idea was to stay in and have a low key evening, just the three of us.

I should have known better.

"Do you like linguine and clam sauce?" he asked jovially over the phone, letting me know that they were already well into the bubbles.

When I arrived a few minutes later, I was greeted with Holmes singing "Busy Girl" to the tune of  the La's' "There She Goes," probably a tribute to my schedule.

I've cooked and eaten with these two before and it's a hoot.

If I'd been smart, I'd have brought some of the basil and Italian parsley growing in my dining room windowbox to contribute to the dish.

It's funny, Holmes considers himself in charge, dictating what the womenfolk should be doing, even though I inevitably take over and make the sauce myself.

The good thing about being at his house is that we're both music lovers, so he always spends the evening playing things he wants me to hear.

Tonight we began with jazz (Mel Hefty, Mel Torme) before moving on to Paul Carrack, whom he described as "my favorite blue-eyed soul singer. I don't like Hall and Oates."

Me, I was busy sauteing onions and garlic and throwing back Prosecco.

Over dinner, we talked about the Wesselmann exhibit at VMFA, which they've not seen but are eager to.

I've seen it once, but offered to accompany them for the sake of another look.

We discussed whether it's better to have a drink before an exhibit or after (or both), with Holmes coming down on the side of after, while the girlfriend and I saw no reason not to pregame and re-convene for post-art dissection.

Sopping clam sauce with our heavily-buttered garlic bread, we marveled at the VMFA getting the first full-career retrospective of Wesselmann's work in the country.

This is what happens after multiple bottles of bubbles when you have two art history geeks across the table from each other.

Dessert became a shared effort as Holmes and I made a chocolate sauce of dark Ghiradelli chocolate and butter for the ice cream and eclairs that satisfied the chocoholic needs of those of us with XX chromosomes.

Meanwhile, he played Patty Griffin's unreleased 2000 album, "Silver Bell," filling me in on the back story and walking me through his favorite tracks.

Meal over, it was on to the business at hand: George.

Holmes pulled out a bottle of Herradurra Silver, got out two very different shot glasses (mine was a skeleton head, for what that's worth) and began pouring so we could toast the late, great Mr. Jones.

The recovering one abstained from tequila, probably a wise move.

By then, we were listening to something truly unique, a CD of music recorded by Holmes, a lifelong musician, and various of his musical friends.

There was stuff written in the '70s and onward, including one called "Friend" dedicated to Holmes by the songwriter.

I've heard Holmes play his viola live, so it was a treat to hear him tearing it up on song after song, introducing, as he put it, "the wild card" element which mitigated, as he put it, "the perfection of Josh's songs."

Frankly, when someone's playing a twelve string guitar, I can't find a lot to complain about.

Since I've only known Holmes for ten years, it was fascinating to hear his 20-year old self playing with so much passion, the talent of a young man I never knew.

But I never knew George, either, although the tales of his drinking, stormy relationships and no-show concerts were legendary enough that even a non-country music fan like me knew of them.

A good enough reason to drink tequila and toast what no longer is, George included.

Even busy girls get the blues.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Beyond Epic Fail

What to do when the plan goes awry?

I'd enlisted a friend to join me at Hardywood for the food truck court, which was a fine idea until we actually got near Hardywood.

It was at that point that we saw them - endless running types, all with numbers plastered across their chests - clogging the sidewalks, taking over the intersections and making it perfectly clear that we were out of the loop.

Since neither of us are runners and neither of us keeps up with events at a brewery, we had no idea that trying to eat at the food truck court was going to be an impossibility on a night when a bazillion runners, famished after running, would be arriving for sustenance.

We drove right past the teeming masses, trying to figure out how best to punt.

Secco seemed like a fine alternative.

Walking in, the personable Matt looked at us looking to find bar stools and did the logical thing.

He reminded us it was restaurant week.

It wasn't bad enough we'd known nothing about the Hardywood race and now we'd completely forgotten about the worst week of the year to eat out.

But the folks at Secco were oh-so gracious, insisting we stay and have a glass even if we didn't want the restaurant week menu.

Feeling like idiots for the second time in 20 minutes, we took them up on their offer, smacking our foreheads and wondering how one earth we'd forgotten this was going on.

The last thing we'd wanted to do was add to the mayhem.

Fortunately, we weren't the only people at the bar for drinks and snacks, so we felt grateful to have finally settled in somewhere.

My first question at Secco is always about what's new and tonight's answer was 2011 Valderina Chiaro  di Luna Rosata, promised to us as "Campari-like" and, indeed, the Nebbiolo Rose had a dry, almost bitter-like finish that pleased us both.

Two glasses please.

We noshed on sea-salted almonds and fried chick peas while chatting with the two women to our right.

One raised grass-fed beef and raved about bacon.

The other had a boyfriend who was working, giving her the chance to head out for Restaurant Week with a girlfriend.

It was all very cozy.

Before long, we were talking NASCAR weekend and the hordes who have descended for the next few days.

Count on Secco to be eclectic enough to offer race talk at a wine bar.

Soon we got more company, this time a tall businesswoman from Nashville, in town for the evening.

She took to us like a tick to a hound in summertime and soon we were dishing about all kinds of female quandaries like men and sleep and intellectual stimulation.

Being a visitor with plans to return to Richmond several more times, she asked for a list of good bars and restaurants, leading to an explanation that they were one and the same in the Commonwealth.

Statewide sigh.

We all got along so famously that I regretted having to leave to go to a listening party at Balliceaux.

I suggested she meet me there and gave her the information to do so before walking out with my girlfriend.

Talking about how feminine our new friend had been, what with her jewelry, painted fingernails and perfect makeup, I admitted that I only wished I was that girly.

"Well, you do dress feminine," my friend acknowledged slowly. "But you're definitely not the feminine type."

I didn't know whether to be complimented or insulted, eventually opting for satisfied with her honesty.

After dropping her off so she could get her beauty sleep ( 6 a.m. comes mighty early), I was off to Balliceaux for Salon de Lune, a listening and cocktail party.

My friend Stephen, a musician, had written a song, "Fire and Ice" that had been recorded by local Jessi Coble.

What's impresses me about Stephen is that for 2013, he challenged himself to release a song every few weeks and this was his latest, albeit sung by someone else.

To tie in with the premiere of the song was the premiere of a fire and ice cocktail, which had no relevance for me since I'm not a cocktail drinker.

I didn't know a lot of the crowd, but enough to find people worth talking to while I munched on my french fries.

The scientist was there, eager for finals to be over and his summer to begin.

My long-ago coworker and his main squeeze were there, the former with work gossip and the latter with compliments about my haircut.

Of course Stephen was there and as the person who introduced him to Balliceaux, I felt a little responsible for tonight's location.

I met a local music blogger, grilling him about what shows he'd been to lately.

Turns out he's more of an at-home listener than a live show kind of a blogger, but, hey, I don't judge (much).

Once the crowd had time to mingle and down fire and ice cocktails, the song was premiered, pulsing through the back room while some people got its dance imperative and others chatted on.

I do think that he's got pop running through his veins, so I can totally understand why someone would want to record one of his songs.

Since I'd only heard Stephen doing his own songs up 'till now, it was interesting to hear his words interpreted by someone else, especially a woman.

Of course, she was more feminine than me, too, but then aren't they all?

They Long to Be Close to You

My companion needed a laugh.

Conveniently, Steady Sounds just around the corner was hosting the Midnight Suggestion #15, an evening of comedy.

They were all first-timers and they were there to answer the question, why do birds suddenly appear?

They longed to make jokes under an impossibly low ceiling upstairs at a record store.

We found seats on the sofa not long before Ian got up to amuse us.

That was accomplished with his deadpan delivery and by ending every joke with, "What's the deal with that?"

He had a habit of turning the mic side to side in between jokes, as if to point out how quiet it was.

One of his funniest rants was about Billy Ray Cyrus, apparently a man of excesses, pimping out his daughter.

"That's it," he announced when he was done and sat back down.

Chris lives in Church Hill, so he began with a story about walking the neighborhood with a grapefruit and a knife to cut it with, the problem being once the grapefruit was gone, the knife was  not a good thing to have on the Hill.

Everyone  likes to laugh at neighborhood stereotypes.

He riffed on working in a frame shop and hearing offbeat requests.

Like the woman who brought in a bunch of odd pictures to frame and said they represented the years of molestation she'd suffered at her brother's hands.

"Do you have frames that would work for that?" she inquired of Chris.

I don't know how he kept a straight face.

From there he went to "automobile erotic asphyxiation" and to the first time he masturbated, April 25, 2002.

Claiming that he remembers only because he was watching  a Lisa "Left Eye" Lopez video, the memory was all the more poignant because that was the day Lisa died.

I don't know how he ever masturbated again.

Next up was Josh, who was taller than the ceiling so he did his bit with his head cocked to the side.

He began by telling us he was a Taurus and that he thought star-reading was a bunch of crap.

It's why I didn't shout out that I'm  a Gemini.

Calling himself an alt-comedian, he said the Midnight Suggestion was the show for alt-comedians to play.

I laughed when he told us he was human, meaning "we use tools like spoons..for the primary purpose of getting fat."

He tried to convince us he wasn't a word person, but that he liked word math, a way of arranging words.

Werewolf doctor. Doctor Werewolf. Bird cop. Cop bird. Two completely different things.

Cop cop went on indefinitely.

He assured us that OK Cupid is a terrible idea.

"You're asking to be rejected by a whole new generation of women," he lamented.

Cracking on himself a lot, he said he was too fat and had no courting experience, but then who in his generation does?

I bet he was glad to end his set just so he could straighten up again.

Walking out of Steady Sounds, the night was so warm and soft after the recent chillier nights, I was glad I had more to do.

And if I hadn't, I would have found something.

NO BS was playing at Balliceaux, it had been months since I'd last seen them and I knew someone who had never seen them at all.

It was time to join the sweaty masses.

The DJ led up to their arrival on stage by playing the "Rocky" theme, I kid you not.

Now, I've been going to NO BS shows since 2007 and I've seen them grow and develop as a band and as a stage presence, so I know what to expect.

People are going to dance. The horns are going to be stellar. There will be megaphones.

But besides all that, I got some nice surprises tonight.

Trombonist Brian sang. The trumpet section danced (mostly) in unison. And there was lots of new material.

In fact, during intermission, Reggie of NO BS  and I got to talking and I admitted it had been many months.

"Oh, wow," he sailed, "Then lots of this should be new to you then."

Did I mention Brian sang, the trumpeters danced and there were some crazy good new songs I hadn't heard before?

And where else, I ask you, can you hear live sousaphone in Richmond?

And as always, the people watching was excellent, with my companion and I trying to figure out when the girl just barely contained by her green, strapless sequined dress (and red Chucks) was going to come out of it.

The second set began with an extended take on "Happy Birthday,"  but I honestly couldn't tell you whose birthday it was.

Not that it mattered.

That's the pleasure of NO BS; there's usually a good beat that'll ensure your backside moves.

The funny part was how the crowd reacted during solo and/or when more improvisational parts came in.

Phones came out, talking resumed and they acted like the band was on break.

Only when the beat kicked back in did they shut up.

Everybody dance now.

It's the only way the birds will suddenly appear.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Undone and Modern

You'd think there wasn't anything else to do but Bourdain tonight, but 'twasn't so.

Been there, done Tony six years ago. Next!

So when a Maryland friend called to say she'd be in town late this afternoon, I told her I was free until 7:30.

Her default restaurant is the Continental because it's in the neighborhood where she used to live but it didn't open until she'd moved.

Because she's time-challenged, I took my time arriving so she could feel superior about my tardiness.

She wanted to jump into a bottle of bubbles with me, but I was leaning toward soda bubbles instead, and despite the bartender's cajoling ("She can't finish  a whole bottle by herself," he tried telling me, but I knew better), held fast.

Over a plate of nachos and an encroaching crowd of young West End families, we swapped stories of rich people parties, ancient history and mutual friends.

Her best line: "Even though I'm nodding, it doesn't mean I agree with you."

We got so engrossed in philosophical arguments that all at once we looked up and 2 3/4 hours had passed and she needed to get to her dinner plans and I to my musical evening.

I arrived at the Firehouse in time to hold open the door for the woman who'd been kind enough to do the baking for the evening.

As a devotee of the Listening Room (38 of 40 attended), I felt no hesitation in immediately sampling from the three varieties of cookies she'd made.

Hands down favorite: the toffee bars, buttery and crispy underneath and buttery and chocolate on top, making for butter squared.

I'm enough of a veteran to know to go in to stake my claim on my seat before returning to socialize.

The self-proclaimed "old rocker" was munching a toffee bar on the couch, so I joined him, learning that he'd only found out about the Listening Room happening two hours earlier, and purely by chance.

"I saw it and said,  'That's what I'm doing tonight," he said between bites.

Happily, my favorite Jackson Ward couple came in with the good news that they'll soon be back at their Emrick flat after nine months of house surfing while the building was renovated after the fire last August.

Everyone who knows them is as excited as they are to have them back in the neighborhood, hanging out and going to shows as frequently as they used to.

MC Chris kicked off #40 squinting under the glare of the stage lights, reminding us that while it's taboo to talk during the music, it's okay to laugh at the musicians' jokes and sing along when instructed.

Liza Kate came on first and prefaced her set with, "I'm used to playing in bars, so I'm not used to this whole crystal-clear thing. But we'll get through it together," before dedicating the first song to her Mom.

After a couple of songs with just her hushed voice and guitar, she stated the obvious. "I don't know how to write happy songs."

It was then that I noticed the girl in front of me sketching Liza as she sang, alternately looking up at the singer and down at her sketchpad as Liza took form on the page.

A few more in and the singer loosened up a tad, saying, "Every song sung is one closer to dinner time. That's what's getting me through."

To paraphrase John Lennon, whatever gets you through the set.

At another point, she glanced down at her set list and wailed, "I have like 75 more songs," but her songs were succinct, so it probably looked like a lot more than the length of her set would have indicated.

Her last song yielded my favorite lyric.

We're lucky we're only a little undone.

Her low-key set had been a lovely kick-off to the evening.

During intermission, a dimpled friend came in from a beer-tasting event and took the seat nearest me, noting that our mutual music friend was M.I.A.


Hey, I'm not here to judge, but I've got no problems making jokes about absent friends.

Next Chris introduced Anousheh, saying that she, like Liza, had been making music for quite some time now.

The quintet is fronted by the Cupid's bow-mouthed Anousheh, tonight in show-stopping cute platform shoes that never stopped dancing.

And why should they when the band was playing the most delicious keyboard-based pop with her voice soaring over two killer guitars and a kick-ass rhythm section?

No wonder she couldn't stop dancing.

They were playing songs from her new EP "The Trouble I Find," like the longing-filled "On and On" and the knowing "The Trouble I Need," which got my vote for favorite lyric.

But the trouble I find is trouble I need.

Their set was so energetic and almost non-stop that they were almost through before she reminded the crowd that the record was for sale at the merch table, "We have download cards - very modern! - and t-shirts over at the table."

I've seen Anousheh play her songs with her band and I've seen her do them solo and while I love when all the focus is on her terrific voice, I'm crazy about her band's full sound.

I could listen to Tyler play guitar all night long.

But the sketcher in front of me was focused on the other guitar player and when I glanced at her pad, I saw him coming to life on the page, right down to his blue shirt and brown curls.

Glowing a bit with exertion after "My Hands," she took a big swig from her water bottle and said, "Thanks to Liza Kate for playing. We have both been doing this for a long time."

I heard a chuckle or two from some friends behind me, no doubt at Anousheh's interpretation of "long."

When it got down to their last two songs, she said one was new and the other was a cover.

"This new one is even louder than the others, if you can imagine that. And Marcus Shrock's chord progressions are so awesome."

The bass player got an "aw, shucks" look on his face before showing us how awesome they were.

"We're gonna end the night with a real bummer," Anousheh said, taking us out much the way Liza had brought us in.

Not that there's anything wrong with starting or finishing somewhat melancholy, especially when the voices expressing the melancholia are so lovely.

And the platform shoes so cute. Bourdain who?

Recycling West Virginia

Earth Day is all in how you look at it.

Pie was celebrating today as a recycling day by offering $1 PBRs, meaning lots to recycle by the end of the night.

At least I'm guessing that was the point.

My fellow celebrant and I are not PBR drinkers, so we inquired about a bottle of wine.

The bartender looked confused and said that he thought the owner might keep some of his bottles around and that whatever it was, "he drinks it all the time."

With a ringing endorsement like that, how could we not want him to find a bottle of whatever the boss keeps around?

It was a perfectly fine Cotes du Rhone, even if we weren't contributing much to the recycling effort.

We vacillated between the Greek and basil salad, eventually choosing a large basil because I wasn't in the mood for feta.

When the salad arrived, the kitchen had considerately split the salad onto two plates.

What had been split, however, was a Greek salad, not a basil.

We didn't say a word.

Pie is a place with a screen always on, but once we came in, the bartender had at least cranked up the music, perhaps sensing my dislike of screens in restaurants.

I'd have to say the high (or was it low?) point musically was Pretty Lights' remix of John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads," which every time we were sure was about to end, cranked back up leaving us laughing at a seemingly endless take on West Virginia.

I had to admit, it was recycling, albeit of a song.

When we got around to ordering pie, it was the Pamparius with pepperoni, red stag onions, ricotta and mozzarella, chosen mainly for the pig and onions, not that the red stag part meant anything to us.

Meanwhile, the crowd around us seemed less interested in pizza and more concerned about creating recycling with which to celebrate Earth Day.

Somebody had to do it and we sure weren't being much help.

Conversation revolved around celebrity chefs both of the pop-up variety and of course of the Bourdain variety, what with his impending visit tomorrow night.

I saw Bourdain speak back in 2007 in D.C. and I was convinced then that I was the sole person in the room who hadn't ever seen his TV show.

And although he'd been an excellent storyteller, once was enough, so I'd turned down not one, but two, invitations to go tomorrow while my fellow pie-eater had every intention of being there.

Pizza long gone, we left the PBR drinkers to their noble cause and went to Ipanema for dessert.

There I found a friend patiently biding her time waiting for draft night to start and I teased her because Monday nights tends to be a sausage-fest of guys and here she was waiting out the minutes till it began.

I told her she was a credit to our fair sex.

It wasn't long before the guys started straggling in, so we took a bar table and ordered Franco Serra 10 Dolcetto d'Alba and a slice of chocolate coconut cake, one of my very favorite WPA cakes.

Since there were no screens, the music was far more to my taste, and everyone was drinking out of taps not cans, it ended up being the antithesis of our last stop.

The conversation centered on travel, his trip to Prague and mine to Italy, not the sites explored or the art seen, but various meals enjoyed in both places.

Because honestly, doesn't it always come down to food in the end?

And, for the record, by the end of the night we had managed to contribute a couple of bottles to the recycling effort.

Two people can only do so much, even on Earth Day.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Like Animals

Top a night that begins with a duo singing "Karma Chameleon," I dare you.

Yea, I knew you couldn't.

The Ghost Light afterparty had an animal theme and apparently lizards were the first animals to come to mind.

Pianist sandy, clearly a product of the '80s, harmonized along with host Matt while playing a mean piano.

The woman is a wonder.

Starlet Knight, wearing her snazzy new slacks from Diversity Thrift, announced she'd be singing "Run, Rabbit, Run," a song "from the '30s before things were politically correct."

It was all about a farmer having fun with a gun.

Yep, that wouldn't fly anymore.

Keeping to the theme, Matt and Jason did "Alone in the Universe," a song sung by Horton the elephant in "Seussical," the musical."

It got an added degree of humor because Matt was wearing a green knit cap and goggles, I think hoping for a frog look.

Stretching the theme halfway, Sarah sang "part of Your World," from "The Little Mermaid," so half fish, half girl.

Close enough.

Sara P. had a decided animal motif going on with leopard pants and doing a song from "Lord of the Rings" which she dedicated to a young cancer victim she'd known.

Just before she began singing, a guy sat down in the front row and held up two phones, causing Sara to wave at them and say hello to her Mom and Dad, as he filmed her perform via the magic of technology.

"That's the first time the GLAP has had telephoned-in audience members," Matt laughed.

Honestly, nothing that happens at the GLAP is all that surprising.

The handsome Nick was next and he's definitely one of my favorites because he's got such a terrific voice.

He did "Why, God, Why?" from "Miss Saigon" and had me melted in my seat.

Dan got up to sing, with host Maggie saying, "I can't think of many people more adorable than Dan" and with his hot pink sunglasses nestled in his curly black hair, I was inclined to agree.

The scenery is always so attractive at GLAP, if you know what I mean.

Eschewing the whole animal theme, he sang "I Found a Boy," causing Matt to observe, "Only Adele would put a key change in the middle of an a capella part."

"Adele's disgusting," Maggie agreed, acknowledging the singer's effortless vocal prowess.

Starlet got back up to sing along with Rico, the green puppet pianist Sandy had brought, making for the first time we've had a puppet show at the GLAP.

Next, mime?

Robin was a GLAP virgin but her killer voice had audience members cheering in their seats for some of the notes she hit.

Must be nice to be born with a voice that silences a room.

We veered back into Disney territory (they do have a wealth of animal songs, after all) with Josh doing "Be Prepared," from "The Lion King," clearly a childhood favorite of the better part of the crowd.

Katie and Ian, looking like a darling indie duo, stood butt to butt to sing "I Will Never Leave You" from "Sideshow," a musical about Siamese twins.

Again, straying a bit from the theme, but done well enough that an audience member found her way to teeh front row and waved her Bic lighter in the air, swaying side to side.

When the music moves you at GLAP, you do what you gotta do.

Another of my favorite performers is Ben, the multi-talented Ben, still sporting a mohawk and tonight letting Sandy play (he usually does his own ivory duty) while he sang "Johanna," from "Sweeney Todd."

It was particularly satisfying for me since I'd just seen ":Sweeney Todd" the other night, but in a version without music.

Leaving the stage, Matt and Maggie cracked wise about how Sondheim songs are "so easy, hardly any notes and no meaning to them."

You see, it's okay to be a smartass at the GLAP.

"The Lion King" roared its head again with Josh and Sara doing "Just Can't Wait to be King, much to the delight of the crowd.

Of all the songs done and redone at GLAP, surely one of the most popular has been "Suddenly, Seymour," which Andrew and Tricia did yet again tonight, albeit, as Maggie said, "the most hippie-dippie, kumbaya version ever."

It's not often we get hippie-dippie, kumbaya versions of anything at GLAP.

Starlet brought her retro talent back onstage with "Straighten Up and Fly Right" with Matt hilariously taking on puppet duties.

Once last call was announced, Maggie took charge, saying shed picked the last song and it was to be an animal singalong.

"Cats!" one of the Saras screamed.

Yes, "Cats" as in "Memory," as tried and trite a song as ever written and done in full-on singalong by the last remaining audience members, although not me because I've never seen "Cats."

Well, that and I can't sing.

Midway through, Maggie began some interpretive dance and finally Matt joined in, doing his best ballet moves and ending with a dying swan dip that ended the song.

And, fittingly, animal night at GLAP, may the poor creatures rest in peace.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Pancakes and Purple Martins

The day began with a mutual admiration society brunch.

At Lunch, which for a while, played out a bit like "who's on first?" for one of our trio.

Once she was clear that we were meeting at Lunch but not for lunch, things could move forward.

The only requirement of our third was that mimosas be available and they were.

We only had to wait fifteen minutes for a table and we used that time outside to cover some preliminary bases.

Who did what on Record Store Day and whose hair looked like a punk rocker's.

If this sounds like it was going to be a major debriefing, it was, only because the three of us had not been out together since election day.

And that day, one of us had been so nervous about the outcome that she could hardly even dish for looking at the results on the TV screen.

You wouldn't think three women who like each so much would wait so long in between dates, but life always seems to intervene.

Mimosas and Bloodies in hand, we looked around on the menu to see what suited whom.

I'd gone in knowing I'd be having syrup-drenched pancakes and sausage patties, but the other two were unsure.

Not surprisingly, the one who'd had a chocolate bar for breakfast was looking for something savory like a quesadilla.

It was her first time with eggs in a tortilla, confirming that we need to get her out more.

The one with the mimosa requirement was trying to decide about Texas toast french toast, muttering, "I know it's wrong, but I want whipped cream with my French toast."

Nothing is wrong at brunch, if you ask me.

We'd come right at the end of the rush, so our food was out in no time and we put chatting on hold for chowing down.

Once everybody cleaned their plate, we moved on to the business at hand and were still lingering and nodding in agreement as the other tables emptied out.

We were also in a bit of a food coma as we headed out into the afternoon.

My next stop, after picking up two accomplices, was to head to the Greek theater at UR.

Judging by the hordes of people walking toward the theater, it was obvious we weren't the only ones intrigued with the idea of a 99-piece group performing a 75-minute composition in the woods.

John Luther Adams' "Inuksuit" was written to be performed outside so that the noises of nature co-mingle with what the musicians are playing.

Set up in random places in and around the theater were drums, cymbals, gongs, glockenspiels and the like.

When we got there, we found the Greek theater filling up, with many people having brought snacks, blankets and even chairs.

And while all that sounds like a good idea, we were soon told otherwise.

A man came out on stage, ostensibly to tell us to move our cars if they were parked illegally (mine wasn't) and to tell us we shouldn't be in our seats for long.

"You might think you have a good seat, but you'll find out that's not true," he said. "You're going to want to move around, even if you think you're comfortable now."

Soon dozens of musicians with hand-held instruments began placing themselves onstage.

They stood motionless for a while ("It would be great if they're tuning up," a companion noted) and all I could hear was the sound of tennis balls bouncing on the court nearby.

Just as I was admiring the abundance of flowering dogwood trees, someone began blowing a conch shell.

One by one, others joined in playing the oddest assortment of things.

Plastic tubes twirled overhead emitted a high-pitched sound.

Animal horns sounded deep, like the sound of the animal who'd lost the horn.

A guy rubbed a rock and a brick fragment together.

We sat for maybe ten minutes before getting up to wander the acre or so of woods surrounding the theater.

Everywhere I looked, in bushes, behind hedges, by the lake, up a hill, there was an expressionless musician playing something.

Or sometimes, not playing something, just waiting for his or her turn in the score.

Because there was a score and many musicians had music stands set up in front of them in the dirt with the score on them.

One of my favorite finds was a music stand with a score labeled "Purple martin" with the directive, "light and airy" on it.

Composer Adams always visits the site where his piece will be performed so he can adapt certain parts of the score to the local birds.

I guess the purple martins had contributed to the Richmond version.

After walking around for a bit, the drummers started joining in, adding an impressive depth to the sound.

I happened to be standing near one of them just before he started playing and the initial boom of his drum reverberated through my insides.

Down closer to the lake, the drum sounds rolled out across the water, growing as they did so.

I came upon a cymbal stack in a bush and lingered to hear her play them.

In the same way that the drums had come in partway through the composition, soon I began seeing musicians with triangles tucked away on hills, behind trees and down footpaths.

It seemed like every time I made another loop around the theater and back through the woods  or down by the lake, a new set of instruments was in place, like siren-sounding devices being turned.

There were two unanticipated bonuses to the concert.

First, I found friends everywhere.

One was arriving on his bike as I walked in, unrecognizable with his helmet on.

The poet and her entourage arrived with smiles and blankets.

Coming back up the hill, I saw a favorite sax/clarinet/flute player who wasn't the least surprised to see me and told me he had heard there'd be piccolos.

I'd expected to see drum master Brian Jones, but I ran into him on a trail, not playing and he said he hadn't been able to because he hadn't had time for rehearsals.

The other unexpected delight was how much walking the afternoon involved.

From ten minutes into the performance until it ended, I was walking non-stop.

Given the beautiful afternoon, I couldn't fathom a better way to experience music than while making my way up and down hills, through wooded paths and along the lake.

That's not to say that plenty of people didn't stay planted in the theater, but the loss was theirs.

Moving around as I did, I was constantly changing direction because something new caught my ear and I turned around to find its source.

After about an hour, I began seeing piccolo players (Jason had been right) all over the place, mimicking the sound of birds.

Gradually the drums stopped, the cymbals faded and there was only piccolos and birds.

From what I could tell, one was imitating the other.

When even the piccolos stopped and it was only the birds, the crowd began applauding.

As for the purple martins, they sang on.

Brutus, You Give Good Words

A trip to the theater requires a pre-show meal.

Now that we have several to choose from near CenterStage, I took my pleasure at Pasture, where the patio and bar were full, but the back bar invited all comers.

I barely got my butt in a stool when I heard my name called and saw a food punk sitting at the end of the bar, calling me over.

Company? I'll take it.

But with a curtain to make, I had to be mindful of the business at hand, so I ordered a glass of tonight's featured wine, Domaine d'Andezon, a smooth, mouth-filling red to go with my Frito pie.

Nothing prepares you for a night of Shakespeare like cheese-smothered vegetarian chili, onions and Fritos, especially when served in a red and white checked paper container (sort of like how fries came from the snack shack at the pool when I was a kid).

While I chowed down on an absolutely delightful pre-theater supper, she enjoyed a Lincoln cocktail which she tried unsuccessfully to describe to me.

Since words are what I do, I listened and then asked, "Leather chair?" and she ecstatically affirmed that, yes, a leather chair was exactly what it tasted like.

One sip and I knew I'd nailed it.

We talked about the documentary she's making on Sally Belle's Kitchen, the pleasures of a picnic at the Carillon and how easy it is to get into a rut and not try new restaurants.

Since, like me, she's a come-here, she shares my enthusiasm for Richmond, and the array of options available for anyone who cares to avail themselves of it all.

We almost got off on a discussion of negative-energy foodies, but decided to table that talk for an entire evening instead.

Julius Caesar, after all, was awaiting me.

I walked the two blocks down to CenterStage to pick up tickets and took a seat to wait for my date to arrive.

I was soon joined on my bench by a woman in a striking, long white and purple flowered dress, complete with purple belt and shoes.

She was waiting for her husband, she said, giving me a long stare.

"You have the cutest nose," she said in a very British accent. "It's really a very pretty profile you have."

I think she was saying I gave good nose, so I thanked her.

Soon the menfolk arrived and we headed upstairs for a great tragedy.

Henley Street's production had not only been getting rave reviews, but its artistic director, James Ricks, will soon leave Richmond for no doubt a bigger market, making this the last thing he'd direct for Henley Street.

It was closing night for the show, meaning everyone was superb in their roles, performing at 110% emotion.

He reads much, he is a great observer.

Ricks had set the play in early 20th century Europe, a plausible substitution for a republic headed toward dictatorship.

Who is so firm that can't be seduced?

Watching the action unfold, I couldn't help but be impressed with the level of acting I was seeing.

I grant, I am a woman

At the point that Brutus gets up to speak to the Romans after he and his accomplices have killed Caesar for the sake of the republic, an actor suddenly slipped into our row and sat down.

Your wisdom is consumed in confidence.

He became one of the Romans yelling questions and accusations at Brutus, bringing the drama within two seats.

With Caesar dead by intermission, I was eagerly awaiting and dreading the sadness of the second act.

A friendly eye could never see such faults.

Watching men go into battle, even knowing the outcome, I felt what I always feel about battles.

Why must men do this?

I know young bloods look for a time of rest.

By the end of this grand and glorious "Julius Caesar," one with imposing music, an evocative set and a cast that would have impressed in markets far bigger than Richmond, I joined the audience in giving a standing ovation for such a fabulous theater experience.

Of course, that's just my opinion, but then, I read much and I am a great observer.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Wishin' and Hopin'

It was enough that it was Record Store Day.

It got even better when Plan 9 announced a live in-store Dusty Springfield tribute at 3:00 with multiple friends playing as part of it.

It got even funnier when one of them announced, "We will be taking roll. And 20% of your final grade as a Richmonder will be based on participation."

Although I hardly need bonus points in that department, I'm also the kind of eager beaver willing to go for extra credit.

Naturally it didn't actually happen at 3, but that's beside the point.

It gave me plenty of time to browse the wax and mingle with assorted record-lovers.

The inimitable Herschel, nattily clad and with his hair neatly parted, led off with his uke, doing a couple of Dusty songs ("Randy Newman wrote that but Dusty sang it") before Paul told him his time was up.

Someone near me commented how self-assured Herschel sings when he's singing anyone's songs but his own. Another said she only came because Herschel was playing.

I may have been in the middle of a Herschel fan club meeting.

To his credit, he opened his ukulele case when he was done and solicited donations to the National Breast Cancer Coalition, in honor of Dusty, who died of breast cancer.

It's just the kind of thoughtful thing Herschel would do.

It took a while for the six musicians to assemble onstage and by then a good-sized crowd had formed in front of all the people browsing the stacks.

Charlane was the first featured singer and she did two classics, "The Look of Love" and "You Don't Own Me."

Ringleader Paul took over vocal duties for "Breakfast in Bed" and "I Just Don't Know What to Do with Myself," even though he's not the same sex as Dusty.

I guess being ringleader gives you extra privileges.

Next up singing was Christina from Low Branches and I was eager to hear her ethereal voice doing Dusty.

She moved over to the main mic and looked aghast at it, causing Paul to acknowledge, "Yea, I slobbered all over it."

"Gosh, Paul!" she gulped, no doubt appalled at all the spit covering a device she was now expected to use.

"It's rock and roll," he shrugged, leaving her to removed the mic from the stand and hold it a safe distance from her own mouth.

Alas and alack, Paul's outstanding guitar work all but drowned out her vocals on "Some of Your Loving," a fact pointed out by both Charlie and me, but which unfortunately did not improve much for her second song.

Along with the rest of the crowd, I strained hard to hear her do "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me" and she got major applause afterwards.

Lindsey of Hot Dolphin closed out the show with a kickin' version of Dusty's "Son of a Preacher Man" (with Paul on a different, less noisy guitar), getting everyone in the crowd grooving along with her.

Paul thanked the audience for coming, noting, "That's the way to celebrate Record Store Day!"

The older black guy in shades and a colorful cap standing behind looked at me and said, "You bet it is!"

And, yes, in the spirit of Record Store Day, I bought myself Miguel's "Kaleidoscope Dreams" because my favorite record collector and Beer Betty, Melissa, had turned me on to new R & B done right.

As far as I'm concerned, I got an A in record Store Day and on 20% of my final grade as a Richmonder.

But just to be sure, I'm going to go out and score some extra credit tonight.

Morning Matinee

The trouble with an 11 a.m. movie is being there by 11 a.m.

But it was Hitchcock and a fine morning to walk to Movieland for a black comedy like "The Trouble with Harry."

The opening credit told me it was shot in VistaVision, which means absolutely nothing to me besides knowing that "White Christmas" was also shot in it and that it guarantees garish colors throughout.

In this case, it was fall in Vermont, so everything was orange and green.

The other interesting credit was "Introducing Shirley MacLaine," a baby at only 18 years old, despite playing a woman, Jennifer, who'd already been married twice.

For 1955, the script was kind of racy, with painter Sam (played by an incredibly handsome and charming 37-year old John Forsythe) meeting Jennifer and immediately saying he'd like to paint her...nude.

By the end of the movie, he's in love with her and then his greatest wish is a double bed, so I think we know where Sam's mind was.

The secondary love story was between the Captain, who was only looking to shoot a plump rabbit for his evening stew, and Miss Gravely ("a woman of gentle habits"), who claimed to be 42 and looked like she was 62.

"She's very well preserved and preserves have to be opened someday," the captain says of her, showing that his mind was in the same neighborhood as Sam's.

Which means, of course, the same neighborhood as Hitchcock's mind, which we all know lived in the gutter.

When I'd gotten to the theater, there were only five other people seated and waiting, so I figured that I wasn't the only one challenged by an 11 a.m. film.

But then within the first ten minutes of the film, a dozen more people straggled in, proving my theory that 11 a.m. on a Saturday morning is hard for just about everybody.

But even as I grumble about getting up early, just thinking about the witty dialog reminds me that it was worth it.

Marriage is a good way to spend the winter," the captain says.

So single is a good way to spend the summer?

"He looked exactly the same when he was alive, except he was vertical," Jennifer says.

And since it was 1955, she wasn't even being ironic.

Probably the raciest line after the nude modeling comment was when Sam finally kisses Jennifer and she warns him, "Lightly, Sam. I have a very short fuse."

I guess that's how you can be on your third marriage-to-be at eighteen.

The trouble with having a short fuse is how quickly it can be ignited.

Even, I would add, if you're well-preserved.

Safety Pins and Fireballs

Thank god it finally rained before we all succumbed to death by pollen.

When I walked over to my neighborhood record store, Steady Sounds, the wind was whipping around every Jackson Ward corner, but only hinting at, not delivering, rain.

Inside the store was an array of punk music lovers, appropriately clad in black, studs and, in one case, with a large safety pin through the ear.

To quote Paul Westerberg, "God, did it hurt."

But that's punk rock, right?

The band was Barren Girls, a North Carolina quartet scheduled to play Strange Matter tonight.

They began thrashing away, knocking out two songs in the first five minutes, before multi-tattooed lead singer Carla said, "We're tired and we're hungover."

So what else is new in punk rock?

Each song was a full-on blast of guitar, bass, drums and keyboard, but never lasting much more than three minutes, if that.

The all-ages crowd was enthralled for the most part, with heads and bodies shaking throughout.

"She Devil" was the biggest crowd pleaser and most melodic, and may even have clocked in at a record three and half minutes.

The entire set couldn't have taken much more than fifteen, but then they were tired and hungover.

I only hope they were planning to eat hearty before the show or it was going to be a long night for the girls.

The brevity of punk left plenty of time for art and 1708 Gallery was having an opening.

Of course, by then it was raining cats and dogs, but I'm willing to brave ankle-deep puddles for the sake of photography.

"Still Action!" explored space and time in unique ways, essentially having the artists perform in some way for the camera.

Or, as one of the curators put it, "We were looking for the ways artists could complicate light."

They found 'em.

Sharon Harper's "Moon Studies and Star Scratches" was like seeing through a telescope.

Looking at Geoffrey Short's "Untitled Explosion #6CP" was like looking at a sculpture of a heart of fire, moving and weighty.

At "Untitled Explosion #XCF18," I found myself next to two other women who wanted to discuss what we were seeing.

I was the first to admit that I saw an horrific creature coming out of the fireball's center, causing the two women to nod and agree.

It was the kind of terrifying natural image like a tidal wave, something so big and fearsome that you sensed no human could survive near it.

There were two video pieces by Kevin Cooley, an interesting thing to throw into a photography mix.

"LaGuardia Landing Pattern, Brooklyn" showed an apartment building at night, with the business of life going on inside the window views.

Overhead, light streaked the sky showing the flight patterns over Brooklyn; it was a marriage of still photography and movement.

It was especially eye-catching because the screen had been turned vertically, much the way a painter might turn his canvas sideways.

In his other video, "Empire Lightening," there was a static skyline with images of lightening around the Empire State building and in the foreground, cars busily traversing a roadway.

I stayed for the curators' talk, hearing fascinating details about the thinking behind the show and the process to accumulate pieces to reflect the various aspects of it - performance, sculptural and socially conscious statements.

It's a very cool show and they seemed justifiably satisfied with the final result.

Leaving 1708, it was still raining but now more like kittens and puppies, so not nearly as bad.

I found a restaurant with a bar and ended up by default next to a couple from Atlanta in town for a wedding.

They weren't a couple as in romantically, but co-workers here to see another co-worker married tomorrow.

They were eager to talk about their first day in Richmond, gushing about the beauty of the Capital and Shockoe Slip.

They'd lunched at Lift, marveling at the "eclectic" crowd and stellar coffee and sandwiches, saying they'd intended to grab and go and ended up staying for an hour and a half because it was so enjoyable.

He said they hadn't expected such diverse, interesting people in Richmond.

The wedding they're going to is at St. John's and the reception at the Jefferson, so I gave them the scoop on both.

"You're a regular tour guide," the man gushed after my spiel.

Aw, shucks.

When I heard where they were planning to have lunch tomorrow, though, I had to intervene, suggesting instead that they try Mama J's for a more satisfying meal at a far better price than where they'd intended to go.

Somebody's gotta steer the tourists right.

When she noticed I was drinking tequila, the conversation took a whole new turn because she was Mexican by birth, having moved to Atlanta when she was nine years old.

It's rare I get to discuss tequila with someone as knowledgeable and she said it's rare she meets someone who appreciates a good sipping tequila.

When we found out we were both oldest children, our bond may as well have been sealed with blood.

We instinctively knew each other's childhoods and the trials and tribulations of having to be the good child with endless restrictions.

Because they'd been into their meal when I sat down, I thought they'd be long gone before me, but once we got to chatting, they lingered, ordering more drinks and digging in.

When she went to the bathroom, he started telling me about his marriages, his job and his plans for the future.

Apparently tequila makes for fast friends.

She came back with a souvenir shirt ("Kiss Me, I'm Mexican"), saying, "My sisters will be so jealous, but I'm not going to buy one for either of them."

I told her that was their tough luck.

We made a toast with our tequila to oldest sisters.

When their cab arrived, they both hugged me, saying I had made their night with my sparkling company.

Maybe it's time for my own t-shirt.

Kiss me, I'm talkative.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Women are Wonders

It was double flashback night.

One of my favorite photographers was having a birthday today, which necessitated us going out to dinner to celebrate him.

Instead of leaving the choice of restaurant up to the birthday boy, I suggested Dinamo, knowing it couldn't miss.

Mama Zu + Edo's = can't lose.

What was strange was walking into the old 821 Cafe space, a place I'd spent many, many meals in over the past decade.

Besides looking incredibly brighter and cleaner (to be fair, the old 821 existed during the smoking days, so that was a major factor), I loved the chic black, white and red color scheme.

821, I hardly knew ye.

My first thought was that they were going for a futurism theme, the art and social movement that began in Italy in the early part of the 20th century.

How else to explain the propeller dynamo in the front window?

We chose a table instead of the bar so I could admire the clean lines of the long, narrow space.

Looking at the brief menu, we both saw multiple options we'd like to taste, so we narrowed it down to two so we could start eating as soon as possible.

For our first course, I chose a chilled seafood salad of mussels, clams, shrimp and fish with capers, red onions, olives and celery in a lemon/olive oil dressing.

No kidding, it immediately took me back to a lunch last October in Oltrarno, the quaint town on the other side of the Arno river from Florence.

Sure, that seafood salad had come after a morning at the Pitti Palace, but tonight's seafood tasted every bit as fresh and just as minimally dressed.

Perfection, in other words, minus the palace.

The birthday boy looked very happy.

Although it was a hard act to follow, we agreed that the gnocchi with lamb ragu was the contender most likely to do it.

Pillowy potato pasta swam in red sauce with chunks of ground lamb in every bite.

And, just for the record, I don't even like red sauce.

While my friend sipped his caffe Americano and filled me in on his recent week in Nashville and, oh, falling for a woman the first day he was there, I sopped bread and all but licked my plate.

When he finished his lamb (I think he took his time just to tease me because I'd eaten mine so quickly), he was so satisfied with his meal that he turned down dessert.

On his birthday, no less.

We don't do that in my family, but to each his own.

I'm not the birthday police.

The longer we lingered chatting, the more people began populating the other tables until we finally ended the festivities with him dropping me at home.

He had things to do and I had a demon barber to see.

This time it was my turn to pick up a friend for Theater VCU's production of "Sweeney Todd," a play I hadn't seen since the '80s at the Kennedy Center in D.C.

So while I remembered the bones of the story, I knew a lot of it would be fresh to me tonight.

Freshest of all was that it was staged as a non-musical.

The set was compact and clever, with Mrs. Lovett's Pie shop directly under Todd's Barber shop and a courtroom to the left and a bedroom/lunatic asylum to the right.

We'd taken seats in the front row so as to see every drop of blood shed for the sake of pie-filling.

Okay, so actually the blood was shed for revenge, but even I'd remembered they all ended up as pie filling.

As in savory pies, you know, like Proper Pie up in Church Hill.

Somehow, though, I can't imagine them making the same comment as Mrs. Lovett. "The black buddings are selling very well  now."

Richmond may be ready for savory pies, but I'm not convinced they're ready for savory pies made with dried blood.

Give 'em time.

My theater-loving friend and I talked about the cast at intermission, impressed with how well the young cast was pulling off the grim story of a man who's lost everything and takes it out on the world.

Yes, it's been a few years since I'd last seen this play, but VCU's production was holding up well to my memory of the drama, even tragedy of the play.

Favorite line: "Women are wonders, sir, even when they leave, they are still there."

I especially liked the poetry of that.

After the curtain call, I made a pit stop in the bathroom where I found one of the backstage crew busily washing all the tankards that had been used for ale-drinking in Mrs. Lovett's pie shop.

Now, that I'm sure I don't remember from seeing "Sweeney Todd" at the Kennedy Center.

Brief, but Complete

I saw my first spaghetti western tonight.

Thanks to the James River Film Festival, it wasn't a Clint Eastwood film, either.

Oh, no, to indoctrinate me into the big, bad and incredibly hysterical world of spaghetti westerns, I got to see "Django."

I'd  have gone for the director's name alone: Sergio Corbucci.

So pardon me if I gush about things that are standard-issue spaghetti western material, but as a novice, I wouldn't know that.

Here goes, in no particular order.

Let's start with the incredibly dramatic theme song, sung while our hero Django drags a coffin across the lone prairie.

Long shot, tight shot, always from the back. of a man in a hat dragging his heavy load behind him.

It doesn't bode well.

Then there's the first set of bad guys, KKK-like and all of whom wear red scarves and/or red masks to hide their faces.

Naturally since they're Italians, they couldn't just wear a non-descript colored scarf or mask.

Despite trying to stay aloof, our hero eventually succumbs to the beaten half-Mexican girl (in a unique bit of casting, played by a blond with blue eyes) whom he saved from death.

He does this with the uber-romantic line, "Brief, but complete," after she professes her love to him and he enters her room to have his way with her.

Briefly, of course.

When Italians want to insult someone, they call him a pig, but it sounds like "porko."

This is far funnier when heard than I can describe here.

In the scenes of the scruffy, frontier town, the wind was always howling something fierce.

As it turns out, once inside the house of ill repute where Django and his coffin go, the wind howls just as ferociously.

Mind you, the curtains aren't moving an inch, but the wind is howling over the actors' words.

Because the movie was made in Italy in 1966, all the frontier women have swingin' '60s hairstyles and makeup.

In what was no doubt a fantasy of Sergio's, three of the prostitutes have a catfight in the mud, soaking their finery and looking quite fetching all wet and muddy.

And the violence for violence's sake, oh, my!

Django had to knock off multiple gangs of bad guys, so there was always shooting going on, men and horses falling to their death.

Oh, did I mention that he was carrying a machine gun in that coffin all along?

And, yet, there was a surprisingly small amount of blood for 138 people being killed

A Mexican or KKK would get shot and fall dramatically but with not a drop of red on him.

I've had nosebleeds that resulted in far more blood than what a gunshot did to this cast.

But it wasn't just gunfire that made up the cartoon violence.

In one scene, a guy's ear was cut off as punishment. Then he was made to eat it.

I didn't actually see this happen, but I heard it from one of the guys sitting near me that that was what was going on.

By the time I looked up, the poor guy was staggering away holding his ear when he got shot from behind.

So maybe it was mostly gunfire that made up the violence.

Because there were two groups of bad guys, every time one of them would ride the plains after the other, there would be blood-stirring music as they made their way.

The problem was that the music sounded far more triumphant than it probably should have given that they were evil.

By the end of the movie, the girl has been shot and Django has lost the gold in the quicksand, and it's just him against the last twenty bad guys.

Even though the other bad guy had destroyed his hands so he couldn't be a master shooter anymore, Django has managed to use his bandaged nubs to prop up a gun on a tombstone and take out the last traces of evil in the land.

I was doubled over in my seat I was laughing so hard by this point.

I was asked to keep it down.

Bullets were flying, bad guys were dropping like flies and one man, Django, is able to hobble away into the horizon.

Somehow I can't imagine I need to see another spaghetti western.

I bow at the dusty boots of Sergio Corbucci for has taken me to the summit.

Where the wind howled and the blood never flowed.


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Pop Goes the Afternoon

It was killing me that I hadn't seen Pop Art Tom.

Despite having written up the VMFA's new exhibition of Tom Wesselmann for Style, I'd been out of town for the opening and busy ever since.

And, no, I did not want to go on a Thursday or Friday night (at least for the first time) and battle the crowds.

So I slid in on an innocuous afternoon and, for the most part, my art-loving companion and I had the galleries to ourselves.

It was delicious.

We lingered over the early collages with their bits of wallpaper and fabric, promising so much potential.

I admired "Judy Trimming Toenails," with her wide-brimmed red hat, the perfect accessory for toenail trimming.

Then it was the Great American Nude series, with red, white and blue color schemes and portraits of presidents hanging over the reclining nudes.

We moved on to the addition of products- RC Cola, Beefeater Gin, Lipton tea and 7-Up ("You like it, It likes you") populating the canvases.

Seeing the "Still Life" series, I couldn't help but notice that the radios Wesselmann used were just like the yellow plastic one my mother kept on the kitchen counter when I was young.

And "Landscape No. 5" of a red Volkswagen took me back to the car I learned to drive on (or, more accurately, learned to pop the clutch on when parked on a hill) all those years ago.

Then we hit the shaped canvasses - mouths smoking, breasts at the beach, hands holding cigarettes- and things started getting big.

But the drop-dead delight of the show was the steel drawings, the pieces that required Wesselmann to help develop the technology so that he could render his drawings in 3-D.

Sure, I'd seen pictures of them, but until you see one of his colorful and articulate steel pieces, there's no way to fully appreciate a three dimensional drawing.

Or the fact that he even conceived of such a thing back in the '80s.

"Quick Sketch from the Train (Italy)" conveyed in a few green and brown lines the passing countryside of a country I'd just experienced last fall.

"Monica Sitting with Mondrian" combined his love of the nude with his ongoing acknowledgement of art history and his place in it.

The "Sunset Nude" series that closes the show continued the opulent colors from earlier series with a sure-handed maturity that signaled the end of the artist's life.

It's funny, a friend who'd already seen the show had told me she hadn't liked it because it was too modern, the colors too garish.

Now that I've seen the show, I'd have a crushing reply to her claim.

Go stand in front of "Friday Nude Drawing," as much for the beautifully simple line that makes up a nude reclining as for the title.

I'd be the first to agree with Wesselmann that a Friday drawing is not the same as a Tuesday drawing.

As the Cure said, "Monday, you can fall apart, Tuesday, Wednesday, break my heart, Thursday doesn't even start, It's Friday I'm in love."

A Friday nude drawing can take your breath away, without anything modern or garish to confuse your eye.

Even on a Wednesday afternoon.

Redneck Special

A woman walks in to a bar for a Brazilian.

My neighborhood joint, Bistro 27, has started doing Brazilian nights on Tuesday.

That means that the Brazilian chef now gets to make some of his favorite soul food one night a week.

Soon, they're going to add live music to make it even more fun.

Tonight I found a seat at the bar and was soon joined by another regular.

He made a point to tell me that he used to be a timid eater, but Chef Carlos had gotten him to try all kinds of oddities, things like hearts and tripe.

He was almost bragging, I think.

Chef explained that the two dishes he'd made were essentially Brazilian redneck food and with them, he was pouring Portuguese wines.

Praise the lord and pass the pork.

The wine was Vega Douro, a tasty red table wine that only got better the longer it was open.

Or maybe that was just the longer I stayed.

My first course was two little fried meat pies of ground beef and spices, served with a saffron aioli and mesclun.

I could already tell I'd make a fine Brazilian redneck.

While eating those, a couple more guys showed up at the bar, one from Philly and one from London, so all kinds of conversational opportunities opened up.

We found out the Englishman had been at 27 last night and come back tonight for another kosher meal, his main requirement.

The Philly guy was in town for less than 24 hours on business and after ten minutes talking to our little group, was convinced he'd found the best possible restaurant he could have landed in.

With a gregarious talker like Carlos ("My food is good and I have an accent!"), he was probably right.

Just about the time a New York businessman joined the bar, I got my next redneck plate.

This one was pork short ribs and Chorizo in a Brazilian stew kind of sauce, with a grits-like component and, most brilliant of all, barely wilted collards, served with rice.

It was served with a small mound of yucca flour so you could thicken the sauce if you wanted to.

The rich sauce, with its palm oil and coconut milk, coated the ribs I ate with my fingers, although they were falling off the bone so I suppose I could have used a fork.

As if.

But it was the thinly-sliced wilted collards that added so much to the overall taste.

The contrast of the long-cooked meat and fresh, vibrant-tasting, barely-cooked collards was sublime.

Holmes was meeting me at 27, having made it through tax season without killing a single client, and he was ready to celebrate the end of his crushing busy period.

I'd cleared the decks for him for the main part of my evening.

It took no time at all to convince him to join me in Brazilian food and Portuguese wine.

He also jumped right into the five-way chatter, weighing in on every topic bandied about and coming up with a few of his own.

He's good that way.

A restaurateur from Virginia Beach replaced a couple of the out-of-towners when they had to return to their hotels to get some shut-eye before another big day in the business world.

Soon after her came her beloved, celebrating his birthday and eager to talk about what a pain it had been getting into Richmond from Maryland tonight.

I quickly shifted the conversation to music and everyone's first show (the newcomer's had been Bachman-Turner Overdrive, oh my!) and things got looser.

Holmes and I knocked back a chocolate mousse (causing me to feel a bit guilty when his girlfriend called from her sick bed and he told her what he was doing) before I had to go.

I invited Holmes to join me for music at Strange Matter, but  he was too tired from the past two weeks of work hell to manage it.

I thanked him for his sparkling company and headed west to Strange Matter, arriving just in time for Australia-via-London quartet, Splashh.

After a terrific meal sucking bones and savoring collards, nothing could have suited me better than the sunny, garage pop of these four guys.

Turns out this is their first time in the U.S., so Richmond got to show them what American audiences are like.

They were apparently already enjoying our whiskey.

With the band spewing out infectious, boppy songs that made it impossible to stand still, I have to hope they saw us unable to resist their effects-laden guitars and aura of major fun, AKA, a great, music-loving audience.

I could easily see them headlining before long.

The main event was Generationals, a band from New Orleans, and the reason I'd worn my "Rebuild New Orleans" shirt to the show.

Their sound check took forever it seemed, but that gave the late-coming crowd time to arrive and grab a beer and fill up the space in front of the stage.

"Have you heard our record, Heza?" they asked of the crowd, who clapped and yelled to say they had. "We really appreciate you being here on a Tuesday. There's a lot of stuff you could be doing instead. Like Netflix and stuff."

Please, don't remind them.

The band's breezy guitar pop lacked the sass of Splashh, but the songs were strong, the execution good and they seemed genuinely happy to be playing for us.

They mixed it up, doing songs from "Heza" as well as what they called "oldies, but goodies," meaning stuff off their 2009 and 2011 albums.

Wow, that is old.

Clearly they knew they were dealing with a young audience, as when they asked, "You guys remember the '90s? Some of you were probably born in the '90s!"

And while I was old-school enough to just stand back and enjoy their hooky, little songs, some of those '90s babies had other ideas.

Between songs, a girl handed one of the guitarists her phone, squealing, "I'm face-timing Olivia at William and Mary!"

To their credit, the band took the phone and talked at it, presumably to a dumbstruck Olivia who, despite repeated entreaties, never said a word back.

"I'm pretty sure this could never have happened at another time," the guitarist said, passing the phone on to the other guitarist before returning it to its owner.

Personally, I had no use for Olivia or her friend too busy face-timing to just enjoy a good show on a Tuesday night.

Must be a generational thing.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Boys and Girls in America

As book titles go, it was pretty catchy.

"Death by Petticoat," with the subtitle "American History Myths Debunked," was the subject of author Mary Theobald's book and talk today at the Library of Virginia,

She began by talking about how people are wedded to myths, perpetuating them long after facts have proven them wrong.

Taking examples from her book, she shared some long-held myths and the research that had taken them from "fact" to full-on myth.

Like how quilts were made to show secret codes to help slaves escape...except most of the supposed escape quilt patterns were created long after the Civil War.

Like how during colonial times, the number one cause of death for women was their petticoats catching on fire hearthside...except the number one cause of death was really disease, followed by childbirth.

Like how the position of the horse's feet in an equestrienne statue told whether the rider was wounded or died in war...except it didn't.

Theobald pointed out that many of these myths were perpetuated by guides of walking tours, ghost tours, carriage tours and the like.

In other words, tours focusing more on entertainment than education.

One of the most interesting factoids I leaned was about the term "hoe cake," which had been believed to have arisen from slaves cooking corn cakes on their hoes while working out in the field.

And while they may have done that, too, the fact is that hoe is an obsolete word for griddle.

We know that because Martha Washington said so in the cookbook she wrote.

And if you can't trust Martha Washington, who can you trust?

During the Q & A, a woman asked about separate stairs for girls and boys at an old schoolhouse she'd visited, saying the guide had claimed it was so boys wouldn't look up girls' skirts.

Even Theobald had to admit that that was probably no myth.

Plenty of things change over time and others not so much.

An Evening Not Rued

Remember a time when everyone had a favorite poem?

Yea, neither do I.

My Monday night began at Rowland where, when I pulled up, I saw Chef Virginia picking herbs from her many herb beds outside the restaurant. Does a person good to see a chef picking fresh sage and rosemary. She followed me inside with her handful of herbs, asking what I'd like to drink, even suggesting something organic.

I'm as groovy as the next person, so I said yes to the Musaragno organic Pinot Grigio, a lovely crisp yet rich white, ideal for this beach-like weather day.

To go with it, I ordered lamb meatballs in a spicy tomato sauce over cous cous, one of the happy hour specials where you get way more flavor than you should for the price. I had to scarf them down in order to go pick up one of my favorite literati for the James River Film Festival.

We took seats behind a row of what looked like students, a surprise since I expected to find the audience full of poetry lovers of (ahem) a certain age. And there were some of those, too, for  "Robert Frost: A Lover's Quarrel with the World," an Academy Award-winning documentary from 1963.

The title comes from what he wanted written on his tombstone, "I had a lover's quarrel with the world." Now that's seriously poetic.

The beautiful black and white film showed Frost on his Vermont farm during the year before he died, along with several clips of readings and events he attended. First of all, my mental image of Frost was that of the man who Kennedy had asked to read at his inauguration (something no president had ever done).

In other words, old.

So I was completely unprepared to see pictures of him as a young, handsome man. I mean seriously handsome. My girlfriend and I were both shocked to learn that he'd been born in 1874, since we'd both thought of him as a twentieth-century man.

There were many scenes of a reading Frost was doing at Sarah Lawrence College, with him surrounded by scads of young female college students, none of whom wore a lick of makeup. As the camera panned the girls watching and reacting to Frost, it was obvious how engaged they were in every word the man uttered.

Their eyes never left his face, they laughed at every witticism he uttered and not a one seemed the least bit bored. I couldn't help but wonder if it'd be the same if a poet read at a college today. In another scene, people were asked their favorite poem and many of them cited Frost's "Birches."

Again, I posit that if you stopped 100 people on the street and asked them their favorite poem, most would be unable to name one. And, yet, in 1963, poetry still mattered enough that random people could name their favorite.

There were several shots with JKF, not surprising since Frost was an early advocate of the candidate.
"I was born and raised and stayed a Democrat, but, oh my, I've been worried since 1896," he said.

Watching him putter around his rustic house and surrounding farmland at 88-years old was impressive for how self-sufficient he was, but also fascinating because of his solitude at a ripe old age. But it was clear how much he enjoyed the talks he gave ("Hell is a half-filled auditorium") and how sharp he still was when students questioned him or challenged him.

One poem, "Dust of Snow" he not only read but then recited, the better to make his point that sometimes a poem is just a poem.

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of the day I rued

Forget black birds and hemlock, it's just a poem about the beauty of the random.

By the end of the documentary, I was totally charmed by the man, as no doubt people had been for years before me. "You work on your poetry and your life," he says. "And love for a season."

Sigh, the man couldn't open his mouth without sounding poetic. No wonder those girls were enthralled. I'm with them.

Meanwhile, of the three students sitting in front of us, one was sleeping, one was texting the entire film and the third looked bored out of his mind as he kept twisting in his seat.

Try asking them what their favorite poem is.

My only hope is that eventually they'll rue the day they had a chance to see a giant of a poet filmed while he was still alive in a beautifully-shot film. I know it gave my heart a change of mood - an appreciation for a time when poetry still mattered.

Or as Frost said, "A poem begins in delight and ends in wisdom." My evening began in delight and moved right through to wisdom.

I'm just working on my life.