Saturday, February 7, 2015

Doing Up a Decade

When you don't want to stand out in a crowd, there's WRIR's party for the rest of us.

The annual fundraiser, this one celebrating ten years on the air, always delivers a dizzying array of music, plenty of familiar faces and cake. That it takes place six blocks from my apartment is, well, icing on it.

Because I'd met a favorite couple for dinner first, it was an hour into the festivities before I arrived, left my coat in the unmanned black hole that is the coat closet and made my way to see the Dave Watkins Big Band.

I was far from the only one. I'd overheard the guy in the ticket line behind me say he'd come specifically for them and en route to the room, I picked up a girlfriend also intent on witnessing this musical event.

We all had good reason. Dave alone is unparalleled in what he does and Dumb Waiter and Navi are natural complementary sonic soul mates.

Spotting two empty chairs in the front of the room, we claimed them as the bands were setting up. I heard my name called and spotted my former Floyd Avenue neighbor, the long-time WRIR supporter.

Setting up the abundance of cords and pedal boards these bands required gave me a chance to hear about my friend's ongoing battle with her tonsils (I lobbied for removal since mine hadn't come out until I was an adult) while admiring her perfect skin.

A photographer friend arrived without his cute wife but with birthday cake in hand, so we quickly claimed ours, too, before it was all gone (this isn't my first WRIR rodeo). My slice was dark chocolate with white icing, my favorite combination.

Tonight's inaugural performance of this super group found namesake Dave Watkins all the way in the back (hardly surprising given his self-effacing demeanor), except for a few times when he stepped forward to point at the other musicians in succession to play. Guitar, sax, guitar, bass, dulcitar, each appointed musician grinning in delight when it was his brief turn.

Their opus was a free-ranging improvisation that also included two drummers for a total of seven musicians weaving together a sonic tapestry that occasionally dipped into pure effects (knob twirling, chains on drums) before finding the thread again. It was amazing.

Since I'd been all the way in the front for their set, I had no clue until I got up to leave how packed the room was behind me.

Making my way out through the party to the big stage, I ran into the ukulele player, more DJs than you could shake a stick at, the beer maker without his beloved and the J-Ward neighbors. Honestly, I'm always more surprised at who I don't see at this party than who I do.

Over in the ballroom, I said hello to the birthday boy and fell into a discussion of electronica, a kind of music we both adore despite the dearth of it in Richmond. Like me, he was totally stoked that Ki: Theory was the next band to play so we moved to the front for a better view.

"They're huge in Europe, huge in Japan, huge all over the country except Richmond," he said. "Their music has been used in all kinds of movies, TV shows and video games but no one here knows them." He was preaching to the choir. While I have seen them in Richmond, I've also seen them out of town open for other bands, so I already knew how much I liked the sound.

"Our show will be a lot cooler if you turn off these chandeliers," singer Joel said from under his black hoodie (which eventually he removed once sweat was streaming down his face after so much guitar/synth playing, singing and moving across stage) as the drummer began playing. They didn't, a shame since Ki: Theory's strobe light show deserved a darker room.

I know electronica isn't everyone's thing (I'm guessing they weren't dancing in clubs as much as I was in the '80s) so some in the crowd stayed for a while and then left for greener pastures, but there were plenty of people like me who couldn't stand still for the dance-worthy set the two-man band delivered.

The birthday boy and I agreed that they need to play out more around here until people start to appreciate them as much as the rest of the world.

Then it was back out into the party room which was like one big traffic jam of humanity as long lines at the bar and knots of people chatting made it tough going even to cross from one side to the other.

From the filmmaker, I learned that the documentary about D.C.'s hardcore scene, "Salad Days," will screen here next month. A friend shared his theory that eventually we'll have the technology that'll allow a drummer to program his style into his drum kit so others can play like him or her. I heard that a D.C. shoegaze band is coming to town for the filmmakers' forum.

The gallerist spotted me and gestured to his friend. "She's a writer, he's a farmer," he said by way of introduction. Turns out the farmer, a Richmond native, moved to Maryland to grow organic vegetables right about the time I moved to Richmond, meaning no possible overlap in lives or friends. Instead we talked CSAs and Maryland types.

From the jewelry maker, I heard about his soon-to-open studio in Church Hill near Sub Rosa. If only I wore jewelry. The musician whose band I'd gone to see last night came over to give me a hug and say hello. WRIR's volunteer of the year Richard was awarded a plaque for his efforts and we all applauded his hard work.

The urban planner was entranced when I told him about the new exhibit "Reprogramming the City" at the Virginia Center for Architecture, adding it to his plans for tomorrow, right after a visit to Early Bird Biscuit (I raved about that, too). He was so grateful to hear about the show, he high-fived me. Twice.

My final band of the night was Bermuda Triangles because there is no better way to end a musical party than with their tribal drumming, a sound too big to be contained in the room in which they were playing. You'd think all those bodies in the audience would deaden the sound, but no. Their thundering beats bellowed out into the party room drowning out the mindless and even tipsy chatter of party-goers.

Walking home afterwards, there were people on the street post-artwalk and spilling out of restaurants. A group of guys in front of me made fun of every store window they passed ("You call that art? Who'd pay for that?"). Behind me, a couple talked about how they'd seen more bands tonight than they'd seen in months. A guy on a bike rode down the sidewalk, dodging us all.

I was just the innocuous Jackson Ward dweller headed home after supporting the best little radio station in Richmond. The rest of us had a ball at the birthday party.

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