Sunday, June 29, 2014

Kiss on My List

What a vacation send-off!

A wine rep friend's annual Rose party is always a stellar afternoon/evening devoted to the three dozen or so pink wines and a feast of monumental proportions. Fried chicken, cured meats, ribs, cheese, too many salads and dips to name, spiced shrimp, savory shortbread, caprese and who knows what else.

The party couldn't have begun better because I arrived and deposited my food and wine and went to find my hostess, who looked at me as if she'd never seen me before.

"Your hair!" she exclaimed, staring at me. "You look like a rock star! It looks great!" Any party that begins with someone complimenting my hair - especially while it's growing out - is off to a fine start.

It didn't hurt that the weather was ideal - low humidity, breezy and on the shady side of her house- where in addition to a wagon full of pink wines they had plenty of chairs, cornhole (yes, I played, pathetically, but it's just a game) and surprise, surprise, some Jackson Ward neighbors.

In a perfect world, I would catalog all the impressive pinks I drank, but that's not going to happen, so I'll settle for saying that the variety ranged from Sancerre Rose to Gruet Brut Rose to what tasted and smelled like strawberry the best possible way.

I talked to a friend about switching from an Outer Banks vacation to Topsail, to another about the distinct pleasures of an outdoor shower (the polar vortex being the only fly in that ointment) and another about how lucky the neighborhood is to have Lucy's.

With Hall & Oates playing in the background, a bottle of pink bubbly got sabered, but I was too busy talking to a friend about the first chef she ever worked with to see the demonstration, although we caught the cheers afterward.

At a party like this, you just can't do it all, though god knows I tried.

All of a sudden I looked up and four hours had passed and I had places to be.

Today is a friend's birthday and we were meeting at the Broadberry to hear Boston's Debo Band, whom I'd last seen at Balliceaux back in Fall of 2010, do their take on Ethiopian funk music.

The wait for the band to start gave us time to chat about all kinds of things- strange men putting their arm around me, the records she'd bought today, a funny ex story - while I sipped Hornitos and admired the birthday girl's cute outfit.

Another friend showed up and joined the party, bringing with her a clutch of friends, all eager to hear the band.

Finally the Debo Band took the stage and we moved up to the front to enjoy them. Playing a lot of new material off their upcoming record, they had the small crowd dancing in no time.

With guitar, bass, five horns including sousaphone, violin, drums and an African singer, they would slip into a groove and just ride it. Sometimes it was as unique as Duke Ellington meets North African folk music, while other times, it got downright funky, even a bit psychedelic when you listened to the guitar.

What that meant was that the birthday girl, our friend and I wasted no time in letting the music move our hips and feet, even while we didn't understand a word of the language the songs were sung in.

Didn't need to. Music is the universal language and whether it was a birthday celebration or pre-vacation revelry, tonight was a night to just go with it.

And tomorrow at this time, as someone at the party pointed out, I'll be doing the same thing (drinking pink) except it'll be with a view of the ocean. Can. Not. Wait.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

People Got a Lotta Nerve

Two weeks in a row for me at Friday Cheers. It may be a signal of the coming apocalypse.

Actually, I'd bought my ticket for tonight's Neko Case show months ago, thrilled at a chance to see her for only ten bucks.

J-Ward friends invited me to walk down to Brown's Island with them, but we couldn't align our schedules so I went alone.

Once on the island, I gravitated to a group of familiar faces, WRIR DJs mostly, but within moments, my neighbors appeared and I got to hear about her escapades last week as part of the James River Batteau Festival.

Let's just say now I know how those women pee off the sides of the boats.

We were in the middle of a discussion about the musical "Hair," which I'd seen last night and knew they'd love when I felt a shadow across me and there stood one of my favorite people, a guitarist and terrific conversationalist I hadn't seen in ages.

I accompanied him to get a beer bracelet and beer while we caught up with each other's lives.

By then Laura Viers had begun playing, sans band, so we parted ways and I found a spot under a tree with plenty of shade to watch her.

After a drummer joined her onstage, she brought up a discussion they'd had about the early modern English phrase "believe you me," which she didn't understand, nor did he. Come on, you two, it's verb-subject-object, as any language geek knows.

She did the lovely "Sun Song" and "July Flame," appropriate given how imminent July is.

July flame
ashes of a secret heart
falling in my lemonade
Unslakable thirsting in the back yard
Can I call you mine?

How does a woman who uses the word "unslakable" not get "believe you me"?

Kelly Hogan, Neko case's back-up singer, came out to join Laura, bringing her a cloth to wipe her sweat ("She's a true southern woman," Laura said) and they did a fabulous job on Daniel Johnston's "True Love Will Find You in the End."

I'm counting on it.

During the break, a 20-something guy sitting next to me struck up a conversation, asking me about my musical taste and sharing that he'd driven in from Lynchburg for the show.

A musician, he didn't have much good to say about Lynchburg's scene, meaning he often hit the road for musical reasons.

When he got up to go buy Laura Veirs' record, I made my way to the stage for Neko's set. Not long after it began, he showed up, record in hand to stand nearby.

Neko came out looking fabulous, as always, her red hair recognizable from 100 paces. But it's that distinctively beautiful voice that kills me.

It was during "This Tornado Loves You" that I noticed a guy up on the 7th Street bridge, taking pictures and watching everything from above.

A couple of songs in, she said, "I just want to thank Comfort for not making their cornbread too sweet or putting jalapenos in it. It was so good and now my belly is full," and here she gestured at her flat stomach, "of cornbread with a rice pudding hat on top. I'm like a python who just ate."

Before long she picked up her guitar to play it, the better, she said, to camouflage her "python."

Tonight's weather couldn't have been more different than last week's, the sun hidden behind clouds once she came on and a light breeze blowing over the packed crowd. "Look at that sexy river!" she called out.

"How are you doing, Richmond?" Neko asked. "I'm hot, sweaty and grody!" I was right there with her, especially after having sat on dirt and now sweating in the crowd.

Like the other times I've seen her perform, she'd put her hair up and soon let it down again, catnip to guys in the crowd.

And how's this for odd? I was standing there watching her when all of a sudden, Lynchburg guy puts his arm around my shoulder.

For a minute, I thought it was another friend - I'd seen the Hat, the neighbor, the drummer - approaching me from behind, but when I saw it was him, I whipped around and gave him the have-you-lost-your-mind look.

"I hope she does "People Got a Lotta Nerve," he said in all seriousness. "That song just gets inside my head."

Just keep your head and your hand to yourself, please.

I never tire of hearing "That Teenage Feeling" or the song about her first boyfriend "The Pharaohs" ("Still the best boyfriend I ever had," she said) and the band rocked out hard to "I'm a Man."

It was during that song that a train approached on the overhead track while people waved and the conductor blew the horn.

My high point was probably "Hold On," but at the end of their set, Neko said, "Thank you, Richmond and thank you, railroad train for honking. That may be the best moment of my life!"

I'm not sure about that, but tonight was the sixth time I've seen her in the past decade and easily the most fitting setting for the wild child that is Neko Case. Even she commented on the beauty of the setting multiple times.

After she sent us out into the night, I continued my evening at Holmes' abode for a dinner party, already in full swing when I arrived.

A good guest offers to help and my job was frying corn and tomatoes in rendered bacon fat, an easy enough job to do while sipping Prosecco.

Others manned the grill, steamed shrimp, set the table and changed the music, all with flutes in hand.

Our soundtrack varied from Dylan to a CD of music from the Kennedy White House - "Camelot," Chubby Checkers, Aaron Copland- eventually landing on a CD of the BeeGees number one hits before the night was over, the latter not to everyone's taste.

"None of these songs are in my top five BeeGees songs," Holmes grumbled to no one in particular.

Dinner was a veritable feast: steak, barbecued chicken, fresh North Carolina shrimp, the aforementioned bacon/corn/tomato medley, Asian marinated cucumber salad, two kinds of rice, the ripest sliced tomatoes with balsamic glaze and garlic cheese sticks.

There were toasts to friendship, a tale of private eyes on the divorce trail and stories of boyfriends taking sexy pictures of girlfriends. Dessert was Haagen Daz vanilla with fresh sliced peaches and caramel sauce, the nail in the coffin of the evening for those who'd been up since the crack of dawn today.

I was fine, but we're not talking about me.

Even the usual surefire method of opening a bottle of Graham Beck Brut Rose failed to entice those in a food coma.

And when pink bubbles fail to reignite this group, you'd better believe the apocalypse is nigh.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Early Morning Singing Song

"You're the best date ever!" my girlfriend said when I dropped her at her car.

It had been a pretty terrific evening, if I do say so myself.

Our first stop was at Metzger Bar & Butchery in Church Hill where, despite the early hour, almost every seat was taken. And this is only their second night in business.

Looking at the heavily Austrian and German wine list, my eye went right to Anton Bauer Rose Zweitgelt, as did my mouth after being poured a glass of the crisp, pale pink wine. Pru followed suit despite no familiarity with the grape.

She's a trusting one.

Being book nerds, we couldn't help but try to discern the titles of the books stacked on shelves behind the bar - "The Germans," "Berlin" and, best of all, "The Complete Works of Kafka" while another shelf held more utilitarian subjects such as meat and fish.

I felt a tap on my shoulder and it was a former co-worker, actually two of them, asking for cocktail recommendations. I demurred to the bartender but enjoyed a bit of chit-chat with them anyway.

It was warm in Metzger, probably partly because of the crowd but also because its windows face westward and the late afternoon sun was doing its thing.

Eventually, one of the servers closed the window shades, but that still left the glass door radiating its greenhouse effect, so he taped butcher paper (appropriate, huh?) over the door and scrawled "We are open" on the outside of it.

The music was lost to the din, but the bustling staff kept us hydrated while we chose a few things from the kitchen.

Carrot salad, a standout of whole baby carrots, parsnips, frisee and caraway in a parsnip puree was so good Pru observed, "If someone served that to me every day, I would eat it."

True story.

Like the couple next to us, we ordered the smoked trout rillettes (because they'd already run out of head cheese, an amazing and encouraging thing for Richmond) colorfully adorned with pickled onion and parsley.

When I asked why they'd come in, they said it had been to get a chicken. "Now, four drinks later and two appetizers, we're going to get that chicken and get out of here." When I heard how close they live, I told them I foresaw danger with Metzger for them.

When the former co-worker friend went to leave, he stopped by momentarily. "Stay gorgeous, stay articulate and keep writing!" he said by way of farewell.

Always my goal, friend.

I saw several Church Hill residents come in and have to wait for tables, and while we felt their pain, we just ordered more wine and dessert.

First come, first served is a cliche for a reason.

In our defense, we wasted no time gobbling up small pieces of chocolate doppelbock cake (because you know it had to be chocolate) resting on salted caramel (be still, my heart) aside buttermilk ice cream with pretzel crumb for textural contrast scattered around.

Yes, it was as fabulous as it sounds.

As we went to leave, I saw another former co-worker (what is this, RTD old home night?) waiting for a table and stopped to catch up with her. Pru amused herself by chatting with a couple she didn't know after she heard the woman ask for Chardonnay.

By the time I turned to fetch her, the woman was happily sipping a glass of Anton Bauer Rose Zweitgelt and Pru, who an hour and a half earlier had no knowledge of this wine, was now clucking with satisfaction at having made a fan of this stranger.

Leaving the hungry masses to an able kitchen (and knowing we'll be back soon), we were westbound to the Firehouse Theater to see the tribal love-rock musical, "Hair."

That's right, it's the dawning of the age of Aquarius and Pru and I had been beyond excited to see this play, me especially because I'd never seen even the film.

For that matter, I'd never seen the Firehouse without a raised stage, but tonight it was just assorted rugs on the floor and pieces of fabric in door openings. Very atmospherically groovy.

Director Jase Smith came out, explaining that he hadn't yet been born in 1967 when "Hair" debuted. Luckily, his parents had been hippie types, so he had a frame of reference. "Are you ready to rock?" he roared and we answered affirmatively.

I'll be honest, I'm a big fan of Nick Aliff's and he did a superb job in the role of Berger the free spirit, his big, beautiful voice singing to the rafters and his playful personality - he dances with abandon, something I love to see -pervading the group.

Plus he took off his pants after the first song and it's hard to argue with a man's partial nudity right off the bat.

One thing I would argue with was that some (not all, some were spot on) of the costumes were wrong, just wrong. As in, they looked like the misconception of someone who wasn't around in the '60s re-imagining the '60s, maybe from bad movies or TV. The belts, for example, some of the women wore were just ridiculous looking.

But patched jeans? Absolutely realistic. Referring to it as pot and not weed? Right on. The Afro on one of the black guys? You bet.

But the story of a tribe of kids trying to figure out life, love, the sexual revolution and Vietnam was fascinating for how many cultural buttons the play's writers made sure to push, like the friendly musical competition of "Black Boys" and then "White Boys."

And maybe it's my age, but the songs held up. "Aquarius/Let the Sun Shine In," "Hair," "Easy to Be Hard" and my personal favorite, "Good Morning, Starshine," were thoroughly enjoyable to hear reinterpreted in the 21st century.

The play even ended with a be-in, and the cast inviting members of the audience to join them onstage to dance.

Tonight was preview night, so the cast was looking for audience reaction to help them develop the production. My wish (besides attention to those few awful and incorrect costumes) would be for the cast to project better, as many lyrics were lost to anyone beyond the front row.

I'd love to go back in a couple weeks and see how the young cast settles into their characters and the era. You gotta believe that the earth says hello.

When we left the love fest of "Hair," it was only to head down the block to the Camel, where I immediately ran into a favorite songbird for the second time in four days. "Are you here to see the Hi-Steps?" she asked eagerly.

You bet, I am, sweetheart. What could be better after a rock musical about the '60s than some vintage '60s soul music?

There wasn't much time left in their set, but any time listening to the Hi-Steps is well worth it (see: Curtis Mayfield's "Movin' on Up"). Even Pru, a first-timer, had to marvel at their polished sound and soulful male and female vocalists.

When the band began the slow burn of "Try a Little Tenderness," she didn't even look at me, she just murmured, "Ooh, good song!," smiling all the while.

But they're all good songs and with a three-piece horn section blasting and the bass line thumping, it was a fitting way to end our eventful hot date.

Never let it be said that I don't know how to show a date a good time.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Confederate History with Breasts

Imagine a woman choosing writing over domesticity and it being a big deal.

I didn't have to imagine because today's Banner lecture at the Virginia Historical Society was "Winnie Davis: Daughter of the Lost Cause," addressing just that.

The last open seat in my favorite row was handed to me when the woman next to it (Style Weekly in hand) offered it up because her friend hadn't shown up.

She looked like the cultured type and once we got to talking, I learned that her husband had been Leslie Cheek's assistant. Yes, that Leslie Cheek who was director of the VMFA and for whom the theater is named.

We enjoyed conversation about the VMFA's "Posing Beauty" exhibit right up until author Heath Hardage Lee took the stage to tell us about her new book about Winnie Davis, Jefferson and Varina's daughter.

Lee was a lively speaker who'd brought some wonderful old photographs, many culled from the collection of the Museum of the Confederacy.

The cover of her book is John P. Walker's exquisite portrait of Winnie done posthumously ("I hope I look that good when I'm dead," Lee cracked) and presenting her in a fitted white dress, the better to represent her as the vestal virgin of the Confederacy.

She told us about Jefferson Davis' first wife, Sarah, who died three months after their marriage thus becoming the ideal wife since, because, according to Lee, "Not enough time to nag him yet."

Davis made the grievous faux pas of idolizing her, even making his second bride, Varina, visit her grave on their honeymoon (hello, red flag?!).

No surprise, there were epic battles for dominance in that marriage and Varina always lost. They lost son Samuel to measles and son Joe fell off the balcony and died while Varina was pregnant with Winnie.

What that meant was that Winnie's role immediately became the all-important replacement child and the all-encompassing focus of Varina's world. Not healthy - think stage mother.

At 12, they sent her off to a German boarding school, ostensibly for her protection (death threats to Jefferson), but also because Varina had had a nervous breakdown and because they were hoping the strict, spartan school would cure the teenager of her stubbornness.

Instead, she became one of the most educated women in the South, fluent in German and French, widely versed in European history and almost completely ignorant of American history and the Civil War.

Didn't matter, she tagged along as her father's secretary (bored out of her educated mind) on an 1886 train trip to dedicate Confederate monuments, even filling in when he got sick. It didn't hurt that she was terribly pretty, too.

Dubbed "the daughter of the Confederacy," they used pictures of her to hawk everything from candy to liver oil.

Lee said it was on a trip north that she met Alfred Wilkinson, not only a northerner but the grandson of an abolitionist, and it was love at first sight. Both were smitten.

Despite the times, they somehow managed a trip to Italy with Joseph Pulitzer (nearly blind) and his wife (embroiled in an affair with one of her husband's employees) acting as chaperones. "I wish they'd chaperoned my beach week in 1988!" Lee joked.

Of course there was an uproar when Winnie's engagement to a Yankee was announced and in the ultimate controlling mother move, Varina broke off the engagement while Winnie was sick in bed upstairs.

Talk about setting up irreversible mother issues.

"I'm not going to tell you about her tragic demise," Lee warned, insisting we could find out by reading her book.

She did share that once Winnie moved to NYC, Pulitzer gave her a job at his "New York World News" and she went on to live in the theater district, write two novels and ride a bike around the city like the modern woman she was.

Lee's hypothesis was that Winnie always wanted to be a writer anyway, that marriage and domesticity were never appealing to her. In other words, she ended up exactly where she wanted to be.

Isn't it lovely when that happens to a modern woman?

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

I Know Which Day

At Saison Market watching a little soccer if you're in the 'hood!

That was the 17-syllable message that popped up minutes after I got home from a trip to an oyster hatchery on the Northern Neck's Coan River.

I cared less about seeing France play Ecuador than I did about seeing my friend, so I showered to remove my road trip funk and joined him at the market.

I might just point out with not a little pride that it was my second soccer game this week and I haven't watched two soccer games total in the last decade.

The big news is that he's bought a house, so I heard all the details as well as his plans to renovate it beginning with the kitchen (he's a good cook and already talking about his first party).

He's at that stage where he's dreaming big about every possible renovation he could make, fully realizing that he'll have to scale back to match his budget.

Yea, reality bites.

Once the scoreless game ended, I invited him to join me and my hired mouth for dinner, even taking a spin by his soon-to-be home on the way back from the restaurant.

It's a mighty handsome house and I only hope he follows through on his intention to turn the converted screened-in porch back into an outdoor room. If you ask me, it's a sin to enclose a perfectly good screened-in porch.

After our drive-by, I invited him to join me for Hand to Hand Haiku at Balliceaux, but he'd thrown out his back (which explained why he was sipping beer and not working during the afternoon game), so I dropped him at home.

The crowd for haiku was small tonight, no doubt because it's summer, but I also heard that they'd had a record crowd last month. Haiku ebbs and flows, you know.

Waiting for the crowd to grow, host Raven Mack came over and asked me if I'd be a judge.

Color me surprised because although tonight was my third Hand to Hand Haiku, I never expected to be asked to hold the flags and weigh in.

But why not? I've got an opinion on practically everything and how difficult could it be deciding which haiku I liked better?

Raven Mack began with a series of sonnets, each about a different direction, concluding with him placing a sheet with the direction - north, south, east and west-  in the appropriate part of the room.

My favorite began with "Sonnet of the South, land of big, bouncing asses" and he finished with a sonnet to the center, placing the rock and paper just behind where I was sitting.

"So now we got our space set!" Raven proclaimed. He went on to hold aloft the pink gamecock trophy up for grabs tonight to the best haiku writer.

Lindsay and Rebecca faced off first, each well prepared with haikus to choose from, and tailoring their choices to what their competitor read.

At one of the back tables, a bunch of people applauded after each haiku, so Raven called them the clapping party.

Rebecca won the match with gems like this one:

Man on the drums, I bet 
I can rock my hips faster
than you can play

Winning meant that now she went up against Chris, who'd stored her haikus in her phone, an unworthy place for poetry if ever there was one.

Raven reminded us, "If someone reads a haiku that they've read before, even if it was two months ago, boo the shit out of them!" Will do.

Chris kept it topical with one about workplace productivity falling due to the World Cup while Rebecca got more personal.

Late exploration
our first time, we kept it sexy
we kept it safe

That said, Chris won, in part because of haikus like this one.

You never know which
day separates your life
before and after

Isn't that the truth?

As a judge, there were many times where it was truly difficult to choose a winner, often because both were strong haikus, just very different. It's impossible to compare a deep, thoughtful haiku with a risque, cleverly worded one. It's apples and oranges.

Hand to Hand Haiku always ends the evening with a death match where some hapless soul takes on haiku king Raven Mack to try to de-throne him.

Tonight it was Ryan, the DJ also known as Revolt of the Apes, and while I'd heard him spin records, I had no idea all his tweets were done in haiku form, nor that most of them ended with the word "dude."

I"m guessing that means that many of the haikus we heard tonight had been born as Twitter feeds.

Some people may not believe
I met Nell Carter
at a Slayer show

Funny stuff, even more so when read by a deadpan man in sunglasses. But Raven is the master for a reason and he countered with:

White people talking 
condescendingly of
white people is so white

Their death match ended with Raven prevailing 13-7 and saying, "I''d like to present this trophy to myself."

Just when we thought all the night's fun was over, Rebecca challenged Raven and a double death match was born on the spot.

It was a close match and Raven trailed for a while but ultimately won, saying, "I want to say thanks to Rebecca and I'll keep my damn trophy!"

And I'll keep my 17-syllable nights, both the public and private ones.

Make It Up as We Go Along

If the measure of a good end to an evening is a sweaty dress, I scored big time.

After a particularly complimentary date invitation, we wound up at Acacia, which was nearly empty, not necessarily a bad thing after my last couple of exceedingly crowded nights there.

Beginning light and bright (Hollerer Gruner Veltliner), the evening unfolded with shared stories while men in business attire clustered awkwardly at the bar to drink before retiring to tables.

The music playing was interesting enough to catch my ear - Fly Golden Eagle was a major highlight - an unexpected plus at a place known for middle eastern trance music.

Eventually bowing to our server's pressure, we decided to go prix fixe, which for me meant a well-executed salad of roasted beets, goat cheese, mixed lettuces and balsamic vinaigrette followed by two tempura-fried softshell crabs over cheddar grits and sauteed kale in a lemon  butter sauce while my date went with a buttery petite filet.

In no hurry to rush the evening, we moved on to Mas de la Dame Rose about the same time another couple at the bar did (copycats!) and called them out on it. They took the criticism, smiled and drank the pink wine nonetheless.

My dessert was chocolate cake (which came across more like a brownie, so perhaps it was a cake brownie) with brown sugar ice cream and chocolate almond streusel but I had no compunction about tasting my date's molasses cake with sweet carrot mousse, cream cheese ice cream and candied pecans, a delicious alternative to chocolate, although not quite as wonderful as gingerbread.

After discussion of dive bars on Collington Road, the weather forecast and heads too big to get out of restaurant doors, we finished up with bubbles before ending a mighty fine date.

But I knew that after a stellar 9 1/2 hours of sleep last night, sleep was not forthcoming so I headed to Cary Street Cafe for some cover bands. Judging by the crowd, I wasn't the only one with that idea.

It was my first time hearing Diamond Heist, a Neil Diamond cover band and it didn't take long to make me sorry I'd missed part of their set.

Luckily, I got to hear "I'm a Believer," "Coming to America" and, most importantly, "Sweet Caroline," a song that had the crowd shouting along in unison.

Good times never seemed so good
I feel inclined 
to believe they never could

When they came offstage, I told the singer how much I'd enjoyed their set and he responded by saying, "You're Karen from the Times Dispatch, right?"

Wow, that was another lifetime ago, but yes, that would be me.

We talked about Neil Diamond and I was amazed to learn that he hadn't known the songs before the band began. Clearly, he's not as chronologically challenged as me.

People poured in before Fear of Music, a Talking Heads cover band, took the stage. I've seen them before, so I knew to expect hits and deep cuts, all note perfect and that's what they delivered.

I saw lots of familiar faces - the editor, the DJ, the National employee, the man about town- but also lots of people too young to have been alive when this music came out. Surely it was the songs that had sucked them in.

"Life in Wartime," "Take Me to the River, "(Nothing But) Flowers," they nailed song after song and it took no time at all before I was one of the people dancing to every note.

Before long, I marched up to the man about town and told him he needed to join me for dancing and he was agreeable enough to accommodate, bringing his beer to my space in front of the band.

From there, it was a free for all, with wild dancing going on to "Burning Down the House, "Road to Nowhere" and "Wild, Wild Life." There's no other way to react to that music.

Of course, my favorite is "This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)" and you better believe I sang and danced to every word.

I can't tell one from the other
Did I find you or you find me?
There was a time before we were born
If someone asks, this is where I'll be, where I'll be

During the break between sets, the man about town got me water and explained that he could only stay for one or two more songs.

Six songs later, I reminded him of his words and we left not long before their last song.

My dress was as sweaty as his shirt and we agreed that everything on our bodies needed to make a direct line to the washing machine.

Cover up and say good night. Good night.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Stay Outdoors and Spoon

Technically, it was work. But it didn't feel much like work.

A drive to Westmoreland County on a pitch perfect summer day to do an interview yielded the expected (music blaring, scenic views, an interesting subject) but also the funny (Plunk Farm Road?) and surprising.

While I expected his house to be on the water - he is an oyster gardener after all - I couldn't have imagined the splendor of the view stretching seven miles across the Potomac all the way to the green shores of Maryland.

Nor would I have been so presumptuous as to anticipate being offered oysters once I finished interviewing him.

Saying he'd pulled them from the river a few hours before, he excused himself to shuck them while I was left to languish on the screened porch watching birds diving for fish and waves rippling the shore.

He served them with locally made hot sauce in a Mason jar, a simple accompaniment to oysters so creamy and buttery they really needed nothing at all.

I'm only mildly embarrassed to admit I ate way more than he did.

After a leisurely drive back to the city, I took care of some e-mails before setting out for food.

I was hoping Supper was finally open, but alas, no, not that I wasn't perfectly happy at Lunch instead.

The place was jam packed with a large group celebrating a birthday - so singing and raucous laughter were involved - but fortunately there was a lone bar stool free and I nabbed it.

Next to me turned out to be an art educator visiting Richmond for a class and out of his element because his wife wasn't with him.

As it turned out, he lived on Grace Street from 1977 to 1980, having transferred from ODU to VCU and leaving with a degree in painting and printmaking.

"I didn't know then that you couldn't get a real job with that degree," he said chuckling, so he went back to become an art teacher. I think they warn the kids about that now.

Of course, he was thrilled with his food (although confused about the assemblage of chicken, pulled pork, bacon and cheddar, but that's just how Lunch rolls) as was I with my luncheonette salad with two fat, spicy crab cakes atop it.

A couple came in and sat down at the bar seconds after the stools were vacated and were soon drowning in far more food than they could ever eat. Rookie mistake, I told them.

I could have warned them ahead of time, I probably should have, but there's no shame in leftovers. In fact, if they knew me, they'd thank me tomorrow.

Replete with oysters and crab (and, sadly, not enough room for hummingbird cake), it was time for music, namely NYC's Jessy Carolina and the Hot Mess (whom I'd been wowed by back in April) at Balliceaux.

Part Dixieland, part Tin Pan Alley and part bluegrass, their secret weapon is Jessy's voice, part little girl, part crooner and always full-bodied.

It was a small crowd, no doubt Monday related, but it meant I had no trouble getting a good table and gradually more people arrived to help fill up the room. Not many familiar faces except songbird Allison and one of the many DJs I know.

Like last time, there was Jessy, the leader, who played washboard, cymbals and sang in a beautifully powerful voice, while three talented guys provided accompaniment: an upright bass player, a guitarist and a guy who played trombone and trumpet.

I remembered their cover of "Shine On, Harvest Moon" sung in her lovely, languid voice from last time and it was every bit the knockout it had been then.

This is the kind of band that brings out a dancing crowd and before long, a couple were showing off their moves to a Mills Brothers' song and the crowd's delight...and Jessy's.

"Feel free to move around and talk," she'd instructed us. "We want you to fun. We want you to have fun!"

A couple of women got up and danced together, matching each other's intricate steps like a mirror image and a lot of attention swept from the band to their fluid moves because they were so good.

Having been out dancing three times in the last ten days, I kept to my seat, but partially because there's a lot to be said for just watching someone so talented belt and play washboard.

After all, we'd been told to fun. I was just following instructions for a change.

Monday, June 23, 2014

With High Hopes and Brush in Hand

I go looking for an arty hotel and stumble on an artist.

After reading this morning about plans for Quirk Gallery to open a boutique hotel in the Arts District, I naturally decided to incorporate seeing the building into my morning walk.

An arts-infused hotel with rooftop bar and deck mere blocks from home? Oh, yes, I wanted to see where that'll be.

And here's my hope. Given that Quirk is "extending its brand," one of those dreadful marketing-speak terms, I am wishing, hoping and praying (to the extent that a heathen prays) that all the art in the hotel comes from Richmond, or at the very least, Virginia artists.

I can't imagine anything cooler than a hotel in the Arts District that actually shows and supports local artists, can you?

Maybe each individual room could be hung with all one artist's work, you know, an Ed Trask room, a Josh George room, a Chris Milk room, an Adam Juresko room.

And in the lobby and public areas, an ever-changing gallery of local artists' work for sale. Stay for the weekend and take home a piece of Richmond!

Bottom line, I'm excited for a hotel in the neighborhood and hope they manage to get it open before the big bike race next year. It would be terrific to have a bunch of tourists staying in the neighborhood.

I kept on down Broad Street and I was almost ready to cut around to Marshall when, in front of City hall, I saw an artist with an easel set up.

Immediately, I knew I'd stumbled on one of the Plein Air Richmond artists, so I walked up to him and asked if he was part of that.

Looking surprised as hell that I knew about the one week extravaganza of artists painting outside all around the city, he smiled and introduced himself as Russell Jewell as I looked at his sketch.

It was a view of Broad Street looking east, with the magnificent Old City Hall dominating the skyline and the bustle of cars and a pedestrian and dog cutting through the foreground on a diagonal.

Asking how long the sketch had taken him, he said around 45 minutes and I couldn't help but point out that he had a beautiful morning - 77 degrees - to be out on the street.

His plan was to spend the next couple of hours painting over the sketch while my plan was to drive to the northern neck to spend the afternoon with an oyster gardener, so we parted ways with me wishing I could walk back by in a few hours to see his finished painting.

Ah, well, it was enough to catch him in the act of outdoor creation, a tradition that came to full flower in the mid 19th century, producing some of the most light-filled works ever done, but one too infrequently seen, even in the Arts District.

Wouldn't it be lovely if the courtyard of the new Quirk Hotel became a haven for artists to paint en plein air?

A girl from the 'hood can hope, can't she?

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Just Do It Again

There's a good reason I can't have a dog.

Four years after my beloved beagle died, people still ask me when I'm getting another dog.

Recently, my aunt sent me an e-mail telling me she knew of a beautiful dog ("very much your kind of dog") for me, a six-year old male springer spaniel (brown and white) named Scout.

"He is housebroken and has a wonderful disposition - would love to accompany you on your morning walk," she wrote using her most convincing words.

I told her what I tell everyone who asks me why I haven't gotten another dog: my lifestyle isn't conducive to being a dog owner anymore. I leave my house and never know when I might be back.

Case in point: today.

I walked out of here around 3:30 to walk three blocks to Steady Sounds to hear live music. The in-store performance was scheduled from 3-5 p.m. so already I knew I was late.

Walking in, I found I'd missed the first musician but Brandon Seabrook was setting up, so I began perusing the bins and chatting with the two people I knew.

The ukulele player did his best to make a case for me getting on Twitter, saying he'd looked for me and couldn't find me and insisting that my pithy writing would garner me scads of followers. Somehow, he wove in Ted Nugent and his millions of followers, but I didn't quite see the connection.

Then the DJ and I discussed the upcoming Neko Case show and debated whether Frday Cheers could ever be sold out. Can you sell out an island?

But when Brandon Seabrook began playing (and making guitar faces of the highest order), there was nothing to do but focus on his incredible shredding - both guitar and banjo- which, while loud and crazy energetic, was also rhythmically melodic, not just noise, so you could hear the music in it.

The crowd wasn't large but it was mostly guys (and I'm guessing, many of them guitarists), all of them staring so intently at Brandon as if they could absorb his technique or intensity through osmosis.

After a disparaging comment about his home, NYC, he mused, "Maybe I should move here. Anyone need a roommate?" Bring it on, man, you'd be a great addition to the scene here.

Once he finished, I agreed to accompany a friend (who, incidentally, was wearing an empty gun holster at his hip and had a cat's tail pinned to his pants) to Tarrant's so he could get a slice of pizza before he passed out.

Paying for the two records I'd found, we walked the three blocks over, talking about how clueless both of us are about all things sports. He aspires to change that while I don't.

Clueless was putting it mildly because we soon found ourselves in the middle of mass red, white and blue hysteria. Tarrant's was barely a block from the street event showing the USA - Portugal soccer game on a giant screen outside and people were flooding the streets to get over there.

Ducking into the takeout back door, my friend ordered his slice of pineapple and mushroom pizza moments before the first clutch of fans burst through the door.

Once he'd procured his slice, we headed back to Steady Sounds with me giving him an earful about why pineapple doesn't belong on pizza. We were eager to leave the soccer world behind and make it back in time to see Wreckless Eric play. The word was he'd be there by 5:30.

He wasn't, so we set up camp on the bench outside at the bus stop and soon attracted a bunch of friends who'd shown up for the show. The running joke was that we were there to confuse bus drivers (who kept pulling over for us) when all we were really doing was loitering with intent (to see Eric).

After a while, a girl who lived over the record shop appeared saying she'd seen the crowd and was wondering what was going on.

When someone told her Wreckless Eric was coming, she doubled over, shrieking, "Get the f*ck out!" She stayed.

Our little crowd began to grow with more Eric fans and we wiled away the time dividing ourselves into two camps: those who can accept pineapple on pizza and those who cannot. We further subdivided on the subject of chicken on pizza (I'm also firmly in the anti-chicken camp).

Music talk revolved around lead singers who leave bands and then make records that sound identical  to the band's. What's the point?

Eventually, a big car with New York license plates pulled up and the man had arrived. A bunch of people rushed to help him unload his equipment while the rest of us headed inside.

Just this morning, I'd read a piece in today's Washington Post about Eric, who's playing the Black Cat tomorrow night in D.C., all about how he's been rediscovered by another generation, partially due to the reissue of some of his '80s and '90s albums. About damn time, kids.

With no fanfare, Eric took up his battered-looking green guitar and announced in his thick Sussex, England accent, "Okay, I'm ready to do this. I guess."

And do it he did, playing songs about fever, about leaving England and "School," about the perils of getting hit at grammar school (and boys warming the toilet seats for other boys).

Mid-set, a couple of guys went upstairs and came down with their bikes in hand, causing Eric to remark on what a haphazard thing that was. "I know what I'm doing. It just comes across as haphazard sometimes. F*ck it. Because we all need some haps in our hazard."

Talking about his current tour ("I get in my car and drive, get out and play while people stare at me and get back in my car"), he said he'd been through Tennessee and South Carolina and went off on what the food options are on the road, naming a bunch of chains. "People who go to Panera look like Elvis Costello fans," he observed to laughter.

"This is a song about driving around the country at night and it doesn't end properly because I couldn't be bothered," he said.

Sysco trucks are rolling through the night
Delivering the stuff that people like

That's the thing about Wreckless Eric: his songs are smart, cleverly written and almost always full of observations about life. Add in his vibrant guitar and outsider energy and it's easy to imagine what a misfit he must have been from the early days of punk on.

I was out of time
I was out of step...
Everyone says it's a fool's game...
I wouldn't do it differently
I'd just do it again

The crowd of 40 or so - young, old and in-between - stood reverently watching his every move, aware of the fact that we were in the presence of someone who mattered...then and now.

"You've got lives to live, so I won't detain you," he said before the last song, "(I'd Go the) Whole Wide World," his debut single from 1977 and still a damn fine song.

When I was a young boy
my Mama said to me
There's only one girl for you
and she probably lives in Tahiti
I'd go the whole wide world
I'd go the whole wide world just to find her

Granted, Wreckless Eric had arrived late but more than repaid the crowd with a stellar set and a lot of self-deprecating wit.

That said, by the time it ended, I was dizzy with hunger, so rather than head home, I strolled down the street to Saison, knowing it was fried chicken night.

In my musical delirium, I'd somehow forgotten about the soccer game going on, so when I walked into Saison, it was to screaming fans watching the game.

Asking one of them if the stool next to him was free, I sat down and ordered a quarter chicken, dark meat, and began rifling through a 1960s book on the art of photography (the guy next to me warned me that it was boring), finding it fascinating for its pictures of how to photograph a horse, how to shoot a crime scene and how to light a movie set.

Apparently I can't trust a soccer fan's opinion on photography.

When my chicken arrived with potato salad and a cauliflower and cheese medley, I put the book aside and tore into the food while soccer fans went berserk first over a USA goal and then moaned when Portugal scored and the game ended.

Once sated and the game over, I turned to the guy next to me to ask how he'd ended up at Saison tonight. Answer: sheer luck. Out of towners, he and his buddy had stumbled on to it.

The two - one from Albuquerque, the other from Portland) had been at a wedding in Suffolk and were staying the night in Richmond before flying out tomorrow.

Despite having only been in town for an afternoon, Albuquerque was already impressed with what he'd seen in Richmond and wanted me to tell him more.

Rookie mistake asking me to tell you more.

I felt like preconceived notions were being shattered when he expressed surprise that despite Virginia being an ABC state, Saison had such a terrific variety of booze on its back bar.

For all I know, he was surprised I wasn't wearing hoop skirts and calling him "suh."

Kidding. He was pleasant in every way, even raving about the multiple courses of food they'd had as well as the beauty of the city.

He has a second office in Austin but he said it's gotten so expensive there that he's thinking of eliminating it. His initial take on Richmond was that we had all the charm of Austin without the sheer numbers of people or higher cost of living. All true.

By the time we finished chatting, it occurred to me that I had no idea what time it was. Walking home, the sky said post-sunset and once home, the clock said I'd been gone for going on six hours.

And therein lies the problem. What if I'd left for Steady Sounds, expecting to be gone two hours, with plans to walk or feed the dog when I returned?

Given I'd been gone three times that long, I'd either have returned to find a hungry, cranky beagle or one with his legs crossed in agony for needing to pee. I just couldn't do that to him.

And it happens all the time. I leave thinking I'll be home shortly and life intervenes, someone suggests something, I decide to keep going, I run into someone or a thousand other unexpected things lure me away. Because they can.

And I like it that way. No responsibility, nobody needing my attention. Selfish? Lazy? Indulgent?

Now you know why I can't have nice things like dogs.

Summer Solstice Celebration

Best way to begin a girls' night out: at the champagne table (next to the restrooms) followed by dark pink Bieler Pere et Fils Rose at the bar.

Best bites after oysters on the half shell: deconstructed softshell crab with asparagus, pickled ramps, bibb lettuce, shaved radish, watercress, green goddess dressing and white bone marrow. Perfection.

Best random server comment: "I love your dress, but I wish I had those," pointing at my breasts. I wish I had her curly hair.

Best story from a father: climbing a fire escape, seeing someone cooking breakfast in the nude and going home to ask his mother why someone would do that.

Best reason for a delay in hitting the road: her cutest shoes were in the last box she looked. I occupied myself eating peanut M & Ms while she strapped them on.

Best price for tequila: $6 for 1800, albeit in the far west end. Do I want to close out that tab? Um, no.

Best way to break the ice: grabbing the girlfriend and dancing to "Pour Some Sugar on Me." Love is alike a bomb, baby.

Best t-shirt on a bass player: "It's all shits and giggles until someone giggles and shits," which is not quite as good as the last t-shirt I saw him in, "Nice story, babe. Now go make me a sandwich."

Best way to stop a come-on: "I'll dance with you, yes, but no, I'm not giving you my number. Ever." And then dancing.

Best way to do something that reminds you of who you are at your core: go to a club with a girlfriend and stay until last call. How long has it been?

Best end-of-night comment leaving the club: "You are a dancing fool!" And this is a bad thing why?

Welcome, summer.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Alive with Possibility

Oh, the streets were alive, that's for sure.

The second annual RVA Streets Alive! had decided to take over my neighborhood, so by the time I left for my walk at noon, it was in full swing.

I can always get behind the idea of closing streets to cars so people can walk, run, bike, skate or exercise in them and I always enjoy seeing so many people in Jackson Ward when it's not First Friday.

Tony, the gregarious sandwich maker at Nick's Market, stood just inside the glass door, and gave me a big smile and wave as I walked by, trying to lure me in but I was barely half an hour past breakfast.

A unicyclist wobbled down the street, Black Girls Run! had a table and a group of people were sparring, boxing gloves looking huge on their hands.

At Steady Sounds, guys were pawing through discounted record bins while I stopped to chat with Lauren, proprietor of Blue Bones Vintage, a pop-up shop for now but I was thrilled to hear she's looking for a spot in the Arts District to open a brick and mortar shop to sell her gently used flannel shirts and hippie togs.

There was a group spinning and lifting hand weights while a perky, pony-tailed woman led them through their paces.

Another group was going through a dance/exercise routine to a generic auto-tuned pop song that I'd thankfully never heard before while a gaggle of onlookers watched them.

The River City Rollergirls were weaving in and out of each other on the block between 1st and 2nd Streets, showing none of the aggression they do in a match, but demonstrating that skating takes good leg muscles.

Since I walk and work out every day, I wasn't inclined to stop and participate in any of the activities, although the booth giving chair massages held a lot of appeal, so the highlight for me was the triangle at Adams and Broad.

I'd spent four evenings back in February as part of a neighborhood group addressing "The Ephemeral Plan: Brook Road," a project to re-conceive the triangle as a more inviting public space.

Today I finally got to see some of the results of our month-long sessions. Large sculptural letters spelled out "LOVE" facing Broad Street. Public picnic tables lined Brook Road facing Max's and available for all. Pots of greenery and flowers sat ready to be planted around the platforms under the enormous tree that defines the space.

You know what brings the streets alive in my neighborhood? Seeing the fruits of our winter efforts changing the complexion and perception of Jackson Ward on a summer day.

So proud.

Doin' It Right

Ninety nine and a half won't do. As in, I had to have 100% of the hot, sweaty soul on Brown's Island.

I only had to hear "Call Me" once a few months back to start looking up St. Paul and the Broken Bones, immediately smitten with the septet's vintage Muscle Shoals sound. That they were playing Friday Cheers for five bones was an unexpected and exciting surprise.

Arriving early enough to find a shady spot and talk to strangers, it didn't take long to chat up a group of five people who stationed themselves near a boulder facing me.

When somebody's toddler on the loose began heading into the thicket beside the rock, one of the men in the group called out to him, "Don't go in there. The bogeyman will get you!" causing one of his female friends to look apoplectic and apologize to me by saying, "Don't worry, he's not a parent."

I told her I thought that was a good thing, but the ice had been broken and soon the non-parent was telling me that he'd come because a few months ago, he'd seen SP&TBB at a little bar in Ohio for $10 and been blown away.

Since he happened to be in Richmond visiting friends while they were playing, he'd dragged them along so they could have their socks knocked off as his had been.

Enjoyable as chatting with them was, the moment I heard the band being announced, I bolted from the shade to take my place with the crowd standing directly in front of the stage. I was three people back with a terrific view.

With a horn section (trumpet and trombone), guitar, bass, drums and keys, all of them wearing sunglasses and long-sleeved button down shirts (the drummer even had on a vest), the band kicked in with an instrumental piece to show off their chops.

They had us at the first note.

To cheering and applause, out strode bespectacled frontman Paul in a dark suit, blue and white striped shirt with French cuffs and white shoes, looking dapper and delighted to be there.

With his soulful voice and charismatic stage presence, he didn't get halfway through the song before pulling out his pocket square and waving it around.

Perhaps he was trying to dispel some of the cigar smoke hanging in the air, some of it from the two baby-faced guys standing right in front of me.

"I know it's hot, but I'm gonna need you to move!" he shouted at the large crowd with the sun on our backs. It wasn't long before the horn section removed their sunglasses between songs and wiped their entire heads dry with a towel.

Meanwhile, in front of me were three bald guys and sweat was running down their heads and necks in rivulets. "It's a hot one!" Paul called out. "I like it hot! If I ain't sweatin', I ain't doin' it right!"

Oh, he was doin' it right, all right.

By now the shirts of the horn players and guitarist were soaked through in large splotches and the audience was dancing in place to every song.

"Oh, we got you now!" Paul yelled, stating the obvious, before launching into "I'm Torn Up" and eliciting screams from women on certain heartfelt notes.

He said he was going to do Sam Cooke but Otis-Redding style and belted out "You Gotta Move," swinging the mic stand and dropping and catching the mic like a pro in between pushing his glasses up on his nose as he sweated through some serious shaking.

Not going to lie, I was having a ball, totally digging the retro sound and dance-worthy songs.

They did the title song off the new album, "Half the City," barely four months old and already sounding like classic stuff.

"Sometimes when you do this," Paul said, gesturing at his crack band, "You gotta do songs about heartbreak," a cue for him to croon "Broken Bones and Pocket Change" until our hearts were bleeding.

Reckless love has made me cold
worn down just like shoes
Ain't nobody, ain't nobody gonna love me
I'll just stand here all alone
Broken bones and pocket change
This heart is all she left me with

Maybe you had to be part of the crowd right in front of the stage, but the music was like a highly contagious fever that was sweeping through the masses, infecting everybody. Some people sang along to every word and others reacted with the marvel of first-time listeners.

I felt like I was in the center of the most soulful place in the world while they played.

Just to make sure we fully grasped their hold on us - the horns blasting the blues, the guitar worthy of the best southern rock and the rhythm section driving the bus, they reached back for their take on Wilson Pickett's "99 and a Half (Won't Do)."

I got to have all your love, night and day
Not just a little part, but all of your heart, sugar

Naturally when they did "Like a Mighty River," Paul couldn't help but gesture to the mighty James rushing by the edge of the island.

"I grew up in church in Alabama," Paul said. "So one time a night, we take you to church. Can I get an amen?" He got many amens, each round louder than the last before the song "Dixie Rothko" and its testifying began.

All at once, it was like Mother Nature had turned a switch, the sun lost behind a cloud as if the outdoor air conditioning was on just in time for "Call Me," the barn-burner that had Paul shuffling, doing his mincing dance steps, matching every note with a move until he just jumped off the stage and started performing on the grass between the stage and barricades.

This ain't the heart that I thought I knew
This ain't the party that I found with you
You got your limits, baby
I got mine

They had to follow that with a slow burner and it was only the lack of a partner that prevented me from slow dancing to it.

I wasn't the only one bummed when Paul announced it was their last song - many people screamed out, "no!" in protest- despite sweaty dancing in the bright summer sunshine for over an hour.

From the first low-key notes of Otis Redding's "Try a Little Tenderness," there was a great divide between those who recognized it immediately and those who were clueless.

Pretty much anyone under 30 had no idea what the song was while a guy next to me looked at me with an enormous grin and said, "Oh, hell, yes!" and every middle-aged person began gearing up for the song's killer release.

St. Paul and the Broken Bones left Richmond sweatier and with their souls stirred after a kick-ass performance worthy of a far cooler stage. We can only hope they'll bring their swampy Alabama sound back sooner rather than later.

Walking back across the bridge to 5th Street, I passed a guy who asked me how the band had been. After as succinct a rave as I could come up with on the spot, he moaned, "Damn, I shouldn't have gone out for $2 beers, I should have come straight here!"

You don't even know, mister.

Ready to eat after sweating to the new oldies, I found myself on a bar stool at Camden's next to a woman who'd recently moved here from Austin.

A new Manchester resident, she'd just discovered the neighborhood restaurant and was reveling in what she called the friendly vibe "It's like being in someone's house") while trying to decide what to eat. Me, I was diving into a stellar meat and cheese board with local Prosciutto, soft bleu cheese, pickled pear and grilled bread.

I couldn't resist asking her what she'd been up to since she moved here in April, but I also couldn't help but make a few suggestions when she mentioned how challenging it can be to find the good stuff when you're a newcomer.

What was cute was how she made notes on her phone about everything I shared.

The sunset series in Scuffletown Park went into her phone She made a note to like Hardywood on Facebook once I told he about their cultural events. The pipeline walkway and the buttermilk trail were duly noted.

And of course I had to make sure she knew about Friday Cheers and the fabulous band I'd just witnessed. Having grown up listening to her father's classic rock and vintage soul, her interest was piqued.

S-T-P-A-U-L-&-T-H-E-B-R-O-K-E-N-B-O-N-E-S, she painstakingly typed.

"I'm going to go right home and look them up," she said, smiling and gathering up her to-go order of grilled salmon. "Thank you so much for all the suggestions! I have really enjoyed talking to you. I hope I see you around."

Chances are good.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Under My Umbrella

Thank god a pragmatist invited me to dinner. You know the type - don't get your hopes up and you won't be disappointed.

Blah, blah, blah.

What I mean is, thank god on a 98-degree day that I was picked up in an air-conditioned car to be taken to an air conditioned restaurant for the evening. Not that I would have turned on the stove had I stayed at home, but you get my point.

The only problem was that we walked into Belmont Food Shop (home of the handsomest wooden walk-in in all of Richmond) five minutes after every seat except one in the entire (and tiny) place was occupied.

My conclusion? Weather wimps who'd all dashed out of their houses the same moment the earlier rainstorm had ended.

My date graciously allowed me to commandeer the lone empty bar stool while he stood (obediently? respectfully? graciously?) next to me, but saddled with a gaggle of tattooed, monosyllabic stylists from a nearby salon just over his shoulder.

As it turned out, they weren't much of a problem because they spent just as much time outside on the bench smoking and talking on their phones as they did at the bar saying "like" every third word.

Pulled fresh from the oven, two piping hot gougeres arrived like a greeting from the kitchen, an amuse bouche to tease us of what was to come.

With a full house, a recent rain and the stylists' inability to close the door on their frequent trips in and out (raised in a barn, as my grandmother used to say), the restaurant was a tad warm and the tinny '20s music a little tough to hear sometimes, but with a dry, white Bordeaux, we were in no hurry so we settled back to wait out the first wave.

But patience deserves reward, so we asked for the bluefish spread with frisee to tide us over, which, to my date's credit, he gallantly ate standing up while people around us discussed golf courses and child-rearing ad nauseum.

At long last, the stylists gathered up their cigarettes, phones and wallets to leave for greener pastures, leaving a row of empty stools behind. My date placed his backside in the one closest to me and our evening began in earnest.

After placing our dinner orders, we took some conversational tangents - the appeal of vacationing in Argentina wine country, the location of Indiana Avenue in D.C., Anne Bancroft's age when she made "The Graduate" - until our tuna tartare and roasted chicken arrived.

I was swooning over my tartare's caviar and lemon vinaigrette but even so, couldn't help but be wowed by the simplicity and beauty of perfectly roasted chicken, both light and dark meat, crispy-skinned and satisfyingly seasoned ("Salt and pepper and leave it alone," the chef later confided) when my date offered me a bite.

For amusement, the big front window provided a view to the street theater of Belmont Avenue, a ceaseless parade of people coming and going from Carytown, some with bags or kids in hand, others moving slowly as if in a food coma.

Once all but one table had cleared out, the chef came out to speak to each of the remaining groups of diners at the bar, saying how unexpectedly popular tonight's squash blossoms and short ribs had been. All I know is both had been 86'd before we got there.

But that's okay. When you go out with a pragmatist, you don't expect much, so every delicious bite, every silken sip, every witty bon mot is a nice surprise.

At least until I get hit by a bus...and won't that be heartbreaking?

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Mid-Afternoon Thrash

They pick up their conversation like it was the next day and not a full year since they last saw each other.

His drive down 95 from Washington lasts an excruciating three hours so lunch doesn't begin until 2:45, but fortuitously she has chosen Dinamo because they don't close between lunch and dinner.

The restaurant is cool with air conditioning, a welcome respite from her 90-degree apartment, and devoid of people except staff. Interestingly enough, the music is atypically thrash, not unwelcome but probably not what plays during dinner hour.

Eager to get busy talking, they scan the menu for cool, summery dishes to suit the sweltering day, deciding on the cold seafood salad (easily the best in Richmond), eggs in tuna sauce and after a heartfelt recommendation from the server, squash salad.

His pick for poison is a Negroni (still recalling with fondness the one Bobby K. made for him several summers ago here) while hers is a glass of Trebbiano and with chilled libations delivered, they dive into the conversational pool.

As the plates begin to arrive, he shares experiences -good, bad and ugly - from his recent trip to Africa as well as updates about the book he's currently writing and revising, an odyssey through art, family and choices.

The seafood salad, a wonder of olive oil, red onions and lemon juice over fresh seafood, is worthy of an Italian seaside cafe. The tuna sauce turns the soft-cooked  eggs into something obscenely rich and sensuous. And ho-hum squash transforms into the essence of summer as the centerpiece of a cold dish with tomato sauce and onions. A memorable cold meal.

They use his phone to look at intense, expressionistic paintings by Oskar Kokoschka, an Austrian artist she's never heard of until now but plans to do some research on. He tells her she should be reading Lucky Peach, which he is sure Chop Suey carries, and she makes a mental note to look for it.

When he inquires about coffee, the server tells him it's the best in town, a fact he doubts because it's Illy, not usually a favorite of his, but orders it anyway and is pleasantly surprised at how good it is. A non-coffee drinker, she takes his word for it.

Generously, he tells her she looks younger than the last time he saw her and compliments her longer hair, even the cut of it. When he notices the server's hair is similar, he makes a joke about it being all the rage in Richmond.

Lunch ends (with him marveling at the tab, so different than lunch prices in D.C.) because he has dinner plans shortly and needs to pick up a bottle of wine with which to gift his hostess, a three-named southern woman.

She directs him back to her neighborhood to Saison market where a small group is watching the World Cup, sipping happy hour beer and munching on bread and cured meat.

The visitor winds up with not just wine for the hostess, but a large cube ice tray and a set of vintage Italian coasters he considers under-priced, fearful if he doesn't buy them he will regret it later. Or so he tells himself.

Leaving the market, they see that the sky has darkened to the point of a storm announcement but since they are mere blocks from her house, they make it back before the heavens explode.

People are sitting on the porch next door watching and commenting on the lightening show when he drops her home and minutes later, the rain is pelting down in sheets.

Before he goes, he reminds her that it's her turn to come to Washington for dinner and she agrees, always happy to have a reason to see her birthplace.

Whether that dinner happens sooner or later, it's likely they will continue the conversation where they left off. Mid-paragraph.

You Say It's Your Birthday

Can't say which was better, the first part of the evening or the last.

I started at Amour Wine Bistro with a crowded dining room and Holmes and his lady love and a bottle of Chateau de Valcombe Rose.

Over tales of their weekend away, we plotted our way through the happy hour menu. Candied beets and braised turnips in wine bechamel and puff pastry thrilled the beet lovers (that would be me) while beef/bleu cheese with caramelized onions and Fourme d'Ambert gougere was rich and flavorful, a crowd pleaser.

Grilled asparagus with soy orange vinaigrette sealed the deal with its layers of flavor before moving on from the happy hour menu to the regular offerings.

With a second bottle of Valcombe, we tried the salade d'ete (strawberries, watercress, toasted pine nuts, Comte and honey balsamic vinaigrette...yum), the always classic  onion tart with Smithfield bacon and the half and half, a platter of meat and cheese that was perfect for nibbling while we sipped our Valcombe and discussed bigger issues.

Chicken liver mousse, Morbiere, Forme d'Ambert and Comte with Sausagecraft sausage of pork, beef and Gruyere, cured meats, dried fruit and gherkins rounded out the platter.

Dessert consisted of various housemade sorbets: the creamiest chocolate, plus vibrant blueberry, pineapple and grapefruit.

After Holmes and his honey bid me farewell, I stopped by the Viceroy to see what was happening with a friend's birthday celebration where DJ Michael Murphy was spinning vintage music.

She had originally planned to celebrate at Balliceaux until I'd heard Micheal would be spinning and suggested something different.

The party was in full swing when I arrived with lots of familiar faces: the shoegazer, the pop singer, the pianist, the handsome restaurateur. I hadn't expected to know so many of the celebrants.

Espolon in hand, I listened to the Commodores, Depeche Mode and Talking Heads before grabbing the birthday girl by the hand and establishing a dance floor with the birthday girl's very handsome date.

Someone had to do it.

Two guys at a nearby table were requisitioned and before long, they were our willing dance partners, nubile and eager to accommodate.

The birthday girl was ecstatic, finally able to cut loose on her celebratory night. Me, I was just the willing accomplice.

"You like to dance!" one of the guys observed, stating the obvious, as we tore it up to every song the DJ played, refusing to concede the floor.

Why not if the music's good (it was stellar) and I have a birthday girl eager to shake her groove thing with me?

To quote Sir Paul (because today also happens to be his birthday): We're gonna have a good time. I'm glad it's your birthday.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Readers' Rendezvous

Once upon a time in the south, we took heat naps. I still do.

When by late afternoon it felt like an effort to research and write in the sunny front room (even with the shades angled down), I gave up and took to my bed.

With both a ceiling fan and an oscillating fan blowing directly on me, I stretched out on freshly changed sheets for a a bit of shut eye to escape the heat and restore my energy.

Only problem was that after my late night tiki adventure, I ended up sleeping longer than I intended, making for limited time to eat before going out for music.

Walking in to Magpie, I found a practically full house and claimed one of two empty bar stools, the only free seats in the house.

New-to-me Le Chaz Rose got me started while I listened to an annoying-sounding woman discuss with her fiance how they might invest some of their wedding gift money and waited for an order of charred asparagus with sauteed wild mushrooms, spring onion cream and Manchego crumbs to come out.

Next to me, two women were having a lively conversation and when I glanced over, one of the women smiled at me.  A moment later, I heard her say, "I'm the problem," and I had to laugh at the sound of that statement and join in.

Leaning across her friend, the smiler said to me, "You are so lovely, I just had to tell you that." What can you say besides a heartfelt thank you when a random stranger says something so nice to you? Damned if I know.

But it was the start of a conversation with the two of them, who turned out to be librarians, well traveled and positively delightful to talk to. Before it was all over, we knew a surprisingly lot about each other despite the whole conversation lasting less than an hour.

One used to have a riverfront house on the Rappahannock until Hurricane Isabel had destroyed half of it. The other had lived all over the world and was amazed at how much there was to do in Richmond. Both loved to eat out and had been coming to Magpie since it first opened.

I got so caught up in our discussion that one of them finally had to remind me to eat my food before it got cold, but not before we discussed books and they suggested I join the library's summer reading club, something I haven't done since childhood.

When they got their check, one turned to me and said, "I can't tell you how much I've enjoyed talking with you," and asked how they could contact me for a future rendezvous.

It wasn't the first time I've given strangers my name and e-mail and it probably won't be the last. I couldn't help thanking them for providing such stellar company on a solo outing.

From there, I went to Scuffletown Park for the sunset concert series where I found a good-sized crowd gathering: kids in pajamas, pizza eaters, wine drinkers, a girl with lavender hair, two platinum blonds with pixie haircuts (one of whom I know) and several familiar faces including the musician whose band's first performance I'd recently seen.

With my fan in hand, I took a seat on a bench behind a trio munching on pizza sprawled out on a groovy-looking blanket.

Pedal Pops RVA was rapidly selling out, having already gone through avocado/lime and triple berry, but still offering strawberry, pineapple/mint and cherry chai. Given the heat, it was definitely Popsicle weather.

Organizer Patrick kicked things off by reminding us that the sunset series always begins 15 minutes before sunset, "So consult an almanac, go to your library or call City Hall to find out when sunset is and be here next Tuesday."

Playing tonight beside the Little Free Library box were the Trillions or at least half of them, including bandleader Charlie in shorts, something I don't think I've seen before.

With acoustic and electric guitars (and the smallest of amps), two voices and a catalog that took a lot of its cues from the Beatles (including the first song with its many "yea, yea, yeas"), the two members of the Trillions played and harmonized for our listening pleasure.

"There's usually more of us to make us louder, " Charlie explained to those new to the Trillions, although I don't know who in this town couldn't know about these masters of power pop.

As cicadas buzzed and fireflies flitted around, they played some new songs from their upcoming album and one about a sports bar with the line, "My friend are your friends, but your friends are bullshit," while Charlie danced around in the grass making it his own stage.

"What/When/Where" ("This song is kind of appropriate for this, kind of about Richmond") was vintage Trillions but I got even more excited when I heard the first few chords of the Beatles "Two of Us," but then they stopped. Fortunately, it was just a misfire and they went on to do a lovely rendition of the song as the night sky began giving way from blue to dusky black.

You and I have memories
longer than the road
that stretches out ahead

My evening ended with a nightcap of Le Petit Balthazar Rose at Lucy's and lazy hours of conversation with other bar sitters while Band of Horses, Ryan Adams and songs like the Sundays' cover of "Wild Horses" played.

This summer heat is all the permission I need to do whatever I want. Besides my summer reading list, of course.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Waikiki Silver and Gold

The rum flowed like a man-made waterfall at a cheesy Caribbean resort.

Arriving at Acacia for the second tiki takeover, Friend and I were greeted by a guy angry enough at his skateboard to pick it up, yell directly at it and then throw it on the ground in punishment.

"I arranged that just so people would see it and want to duck into the nearest bat," said tiki mastermind T, dressed festively in a flowered Hawaiian shirt and lei. You have to appreciate a man who not only slings a fine drink but has a sense of humor.

Having learned a few lessons from last year, we'd made sure to arrive right at 10:00 in hopes of beating the worst of the crush of humanity.

I'll concede that Acacia provided far more room for everyone overall, but the drink lines, at least initially, were just as long.

After being introduced to a chef recently returned from a decade in Italy, I joined one of the snake-like queues to procure a Scorpion Bowl for my date and me.

There were far more options on the tiki menu this year than last, although I missed how last year they had listed the year (or at least the decade) the drink had been created and become popular and in some cases, even where.

Let's face it, inquiring drinking minds want to know.

While in line, I ran into loads of people I knew, some curious how I knew the others (never underestimate the neighborhood connection). Make new friends, but keep the old.

Finally at the front, I watched as Danny (nattily dressed in a shirt with the sleeves torn off beach bum-style) combined Nicaraguan rum, brandy, orange lemon and orgeat in a hollowed out pineapple, topping it with fresh hibiscus, marigolds and miniature daisies.

And most importantly, a paper umbrella and two straws.

As I moved back through the crowd, person after person stopped me to find out what I had in my hot little hands.

Friend and I attacked the drink like Lady and the Tramp had their bowl of spaghetti, each doing our part to work it down as people stopped by to chat with us.

Like many people, I had shown up in tiki attire, which for me means a tropical blue Hawaiian-looking sundress and at one point, a girl grabbed my arm and began raving about my dress.

Let's be clear, this is a dress I ordered out of a catalog in 1995 and drag out every summer once or twice because it's still pretty, but not rave-worthy.

Next thing I know, she grabs her husband and pulls him in to check out my dress and tell me how much he likes it, too. For all I know they were crazy swingers looking for an entry point.

While quite a few in the crowd had donned tiki togs, I thought it a shame that Acacia was noticeably absent any of the decorative touches that made last year's tiki takeover so atmospheric. No blow up palm trees, no coconut heads, no fishing nets. No bubble machine, no crabs nor monkeys.

They were all missed, as was last year's DJ Puma spinning tiki-appropriate music.

Where Acacia excelled was in having made the tiki takeover a ticketed event with a tropical buffet included as part of the ticket.

Chef Dale Reitzer providing endless eats? Oh, hells yes.

The voodoo goat alone was worth the price of admission, long cooked, falling off the bone and redolent of allspice. The jerk chicken was tender, flavorful and addictive. More than one person told me they couldn't leave the fried plantains alone. A well-known chef was popping conch fritters and fried okra in his mouth like popcorn.

My second drink, hard won after an even longer wait than the first time, was the Ancient Mariner with aged Demerare and dark Jamaican rums blended with citrus and (again) allspice while my pal went with a Hurricane.

I moved around the room discussing the movie "Chef" with people who'd come from seeing it, got introduced to a Farmville bar manager who regaled me with anecdotes about sore privates and medicated cornstarch (and was positive I'd been in his bar drinking red wine) and hearing from a favorite server that she's moving to New Orleans in July (may as well jump head first into the heat and humidity, no?).

Before long it was clear that some people were going for the sprint and not the marathon, a rookie mistake if you ask me. A pro knows a four-hour tiki takeover requires pacing or you'll never make it to the end.

As people with spinning eyes and slurring speech began leaving, friend and I added glasses of water to our intake and kept moving around to let different people entertain us, like a guy in pink shorts so, um, fitted that my friend couldn't help but stare. He turned out to be friendly, sharing the source of the shorts and even showing us the elastic waistband under his stylish belt.

After another pass at the voodoo goat, we easily got our final drinks of the evening, mine a Painkiller of Navy rum, pineapple, orange and coconut (and touted as the drink of the British Virgin Islands) and hers an Ankle Breaker, a deep ruby beauty of three rums and cherry brandy.

It would have been at this point that we most missed a DJ since dancing would have been just the thing to expend some of that sugar energy we'd been consuming all night. But, alas, no.

Still, it had been a stellar evening out with a favorite girlfriend who doesn't get out much these days, and all the more unique because we'd spent it drinking cocktails, not our usual M.O.

But we also got our traditional late night gab session when I drove her home and we sat in the car for almost an hour talking about everyone, ourselves and life in general, windows down to the warm night air.

I especially loved it when she told me, "You're so good about grabbing the life that you want."

Fortunately, once a year that life comes with a little paper umbrella. And it is good, very good.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Turning Life into Words

As philosophical debates go, this one was right up my alley. Words or art, which matters more?

With a fellow art and word lover in tow, we sat down at the Criterion for "Words and Pictures," both a battle of that issue as well as a middle-aged romance.

Unfortunately for us, everyone else in the very small crowd was long past middle age, meaning they talked throughout the movie stating the obvious ("He's going to get drunk!") and generally moving around more than anyone needs to in 115 minutes.

But I digress.

At the heart of the film was a "war" between an arts honors class taught by the luminescent Juliette Binoche and an English honors class led by the handsome to a fault Clive Owen to prove which - words or pictures- was more capable of conveying something.

As a card-carrying art lover and one who makes her living with words (and often writing about art), I fell somewhere squarely in the middle of that debate.

But it got me thinking about something that has been mentioned to me time and time again. Why don't I ever put pictures on my blog? Wouldn't photos help my readers see the things I devote so many words to? Give us pictures, Karen!

My response is always the same. This blog is about words and my goal always to paint a picture with words and bring my reader along with me so he or she can feel like they experienced what I did.

Posting pictures holds no appeal, but of course I'm in the minority on that. Hell, that's why they came up with Tumblr so people could use pictures instead of words to blog.

But that's not what I want to do.

I want to share things I overhear people say. I want to tell you what I think of something and not just show you what it looks like. I want to paint a picture without ever picking up a paintbrush.

And as long as I'm at it, I'd like to be as beautiful as Juliette and have a wordy man like Clive say things to me such as, "I've been studying your ass for months."

And when he does, I will tell you, dear reader, in far too many words (because I can go on and on) what a thrill it gave me to hear him say that.

But there will be no picture of my ass.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Art of the Short Trip

You can learn a lot about a man by living in his house for the weekend. Especially when he's not there.

The only thing I knew about him was that he taught English at VCU and even if I didn't arrive with that tidbit of information, it wouldn't have been tough to glean.

Books were everywhere and not trashy novels or current fads, but titles such as "American Traditions in Literature," "Art of the Short Story" and more books on the subject of F. Scott Fitzgerald than I'd seen in one place. Robert Penn Warren. Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings.

Lots of Hemingway, too, including a fabulous coffee table book called "Picturing Hemingway," filled with a lifetime worth of pictures of Papa and his many wives. There was even a VCU connection with several of (professor of creative writing) Tom DeHaven's novels.

A lot of good reading was on those shelves.

And the house! Actually, it was more of a cottage, situated about 12' off Ivy Creek, and about as charming as it could be despite a completely non-descript exterior.

Lots of windows looking out on the water, a wide open floor plans encompassing kitchen, dining and living space. No telephone, no TV. Best of all, a wide front porch with a swing, a rocking chair and a couple of big wicker chairs surrounded by thick bushes for privacy.

Upstairs where I slept was a low-slung room as wide as the house with six windows, including one looking out over the creek, which I immediately opened. Low bookshelves, a couple of papasan chairs and tables, a bed on the floor and that was about it. No more was required.

Why, you wonder, was I in a strange man's house, albeit that of a man I probably would enjoy talking to?

My intent was to visit my parents on the Northern Neck, but after a massive sycamore fell on their house three weeks ago, puncturing roof and windows, they had to find temporary digs until the months of repairs are completed.

Their house is large - three stories set on multiple acres- and while it's on the river and they have a dock, it's set back from the water itself.

Not so this clean-lined little cottage, where a breeze off the creek blew constantly though the windows and the water shone in the afternoon sun just outside.

It was like being on a weekend getaway at the river, not at all like being in my parents' lovely but far more formal house.

Even my parents had fallen hard for the charm of the place, not to mention its accessibility.

Because here's the thing: ten days after the tree fell, my Mom had had knee replacement surgery, a major event for someone of her age, much less someone who'd just been displaced from home.

But they seemed to have adjusted nicely and I'd chosen Father's Day weekend to visit to help care for her and make my Dad feel at least a little special on his day.

Arriving Saturday, I expected to spend a good part of my day making meals, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that neighbors were bringing over dinner, one of those small town courtesies extended when someone is just out of the hospital.

That meant that after I made lunch, my Mom laid down to ice her knee and take a nap, I was free to entertain myself.

Rooting around in the linen closet, I found an old red coverlet with tiny white flowers on it and took it out to drape over the porch swing, adding a few cushions for lounging.

Voila! Instant reading swing.

With my copy of "The Goldfinch" in hand, I allowed a good chunk of the afternoon to pass me by lost in the story before the neighbors showed up with a roasted chicken, its cavity full of pearl onions and celery, homemade bread, roasted squash and zucchini and potato salad.

Oh, and a homemade strawberry pie. My parents and I savored a lovely dinner chatting about everything and nothing, my Mom saying that food always tastes better when someone else makes it for you. Amen to that.

She mentioned how one of my brothers-in-law had commented the day before about how quiet it is around there.

For a city person like me, the quiet is so loud it's jarring. The only sounds are birds, insects and the very occasional tires on the road as someone drives by (and inevitably waves).

After dinner, I went for a walk, first to see their house, which looked badly injured in places.

Then, eager to see the sun set from as many different angles of the point as possible, I set out to walk every side road as daylight waned and the air got a bit cooler. Small boats still skimmed over the river but most of the sound was frogs beginning to croak.

We spent the evening like we used to on family vacations back when they took their six daughters to the beach every summer. Playing Yahtzee. Trading off crossword puzzles so everyone took a shot at finishing them. Eating ice cream.

I was awakened this morning (at an ungodly 7:45) by my mother calling up from downstairs, "Wake up, Karen! Time to get up!"

Turns out they'd been awake for hours and wanted breakfast. Stat.

Quickly, I made a coffee cake and put it in the oven and began frying bacon and sausage, the breeze from the creek already wafting in and mixing with the aroma of frying pig and, eventually, eggs and English muffins.

Dad opened my Father's Day card, chuckled and thanked me and put it on a table with those from my five sisters.

After I got Mom settled, I set out for a walk, heading down toward Norwood Baptist church (empty today because the shared minister only preaches the 2nd and 4th Sundays of the month), past enormous drifts of blooming orange day lilies.

When I got back to the cottage, I suggested we all move the party to the front porch, sure Mom would enjoy a change of scenery.

A hummingbird flew up to the basket of purple petunias only to depart quickly when there was no feeder. By mid-afternoon, I'd gone to their house and retrieved one of their hummingbird feeders and affixed it to their temporary porch. My parents are inveterate bird watchers and I knew they'd missed the daily show of feathered visitors.

By mid-day, I rustled up a wicker table from the gazebo and with the one already on the porch, we had our lunch out there, watching a fat groundhog toddle around the yard across the road and a couple of bunnies taking their exercise.

Once it was Mom's rest time, I gravitated back to the swing and my book, occasionally looking up as a couple of tiny salt marsh sparrows industriously went about building a nest under the bush a few feet from where I sat.

After reading for nearly an hour, languor wrapped its warm arms around me and I set my book down and let myself sink into the pillows on the swing.

I recall waking up a time or two, always because of a bird song, but giving myself up to it and sliding back into sleep.

It worked out well, though, because when I went inside after finally waking up, Mom was just getting up, too. Perfect. No one would know just how indulgent I'd been.

We spent the rest of the afternoon talking, working more crossword puzzles and eating peaches before I made dinner and started gathering up my belongings to leave.

My parents don't even know when the repairs on their house will begin, much less how long they'll take, but it looks like they'll be in the English professor's house at least through summer.

I foresee a lot of book reading on a strange man's porch swing. Maybe even some of his books.

From what I've surmised about him so far, I don't think he'll mind a bit.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Man Made Fun

The food was terrific and the dancing was just as good.

Camden's was hosting a dinner with Steve Raichlen, host  of PBS's "Primal Grills" and author of "Man Made Meals," a book of recipes he thought every man should be able to prepare.

Never seen the show, never heard of the man but curious always about people who have "made" it.

If I had written the book, it would have included not only recipes but what music you should play to woo a woman, but he didn't ask for my input.

Arriving shortly after the spectacular thunderstorm that rained buckets on us, I found a room of familiar and unfamiliar faces, including the genial Steven who introduced himself to me.

Friends from my distant past occupied the closest bar stools (including "smitten Laura") and I fell into easy conversation with them, along with  a guy I knew I recognized but couldn't place (his guess was from dog-sitting, but that wasn't possible) whose first concert had been the Allman Brothers despite his youthful age of 30.

When talk turned to everyone's concert-going experiences, we discovered that three of us had been at the Paul MacCartney show at RFK that I'd attended in 1990, an unlikely convergence.

Tonight's music began with Bryan Ferry and meandered through the Cure, Psychedelic Furs and Bowie, so no complaints from me.

We began with blow torch salmon (because, Raichlen said, men love power tools, fire and things that can blow up) with pico de gallo and planked Camembert with housemade pear chutney, laid out on the counter for us to dive into. Repatedly and satisfyingly.

The star of the evening told us a few stories while we dug into Eisenhower trout (cooked in bacon fat and with bacon atop it) with a stellar farm stand salad of green beans, corn, grape tomato halves and greens, a superlative complement to the crispy fish.

Next came Stanley Tucci's pan-braised pork chop with spaetzle swimming in a creamy sauce worthy of rubbing every bite of pig in.

As a bonus, every course was served with a Trivento wine including the Chardonnay, Torrentes and Malbec to pair with the appropriate course.

With the seldom seen couple on my right and the former barbecue chef on my left, I had plenty of directions to turn for conversation. From the couple I heard their courting story and subsequent 25 year marriage success and from the lone wolf, the story of his 80-acre campsite and devotion to small town life in Urbanna.

In between courses Raichlen told many stories, including what he'd discovered today about what Virginia barbecue was and how his Richmond grandmother had been the daughter of the first owner of the Byrd theater.

I doubt he appreciated what that meant as much as those of us in the crowd did.

Our last course was stout brownies with salty housemade vanilla ice cream because Raichlen said the way to a man's heart was through his stomach and the way to a woman's heart was with chocolate, a point I couldn't dispute, nor could the chef.

As the crowd began to thin, our little group made a plan: it was time to move on to see '80s cover band extraordinaire Sweet Justice, requiring a drive to the east end to Cullen's Cove.

The band was on break but plenty of women were dancing to canned music and "smitten Laura" soon dragged me on to the dance floor. Another woman approached me invitingly and then buried her face in my breasts to demonstrate that she wanted me to dance with her. Twice.

They do things differently in the east end.

I may not have been a a fan of all the music I danced to tonight but I had the right people asking me to dance (even a slow dance to the Eagles...shhh, don't tell), so I just cut loose and let my dancing shoes take over.

I am, after all, a product of the '70s.

That said, the music was reliably '80s - Guns 'n Roses, Eagles, Van Halen, Duran Duran- and while sipping my tequila, I found myself bosom to face with the nuzzler again, much to the chagrin of my date.

Luckily, my girlfriend soon grabbed me for a dance and it didn't matter who was trying to score with me.

An outstanding meal followed by dancing to a classic '80s cover band in the east end, now that's a Friday night I can get behind.

Any way you want it, that's the way I like it. Too much fun.