Friday, June 7, 2019

I Got the Night on My Side

Just call me a curiosity. Strangers do.

With every day that passes, I become more of a person of interest when I let slide that I don't have a cell phone. Scoring a single chair between two tables under the big canopy at the Valentine to await the start of Music in the Garden, a woman nearby says to no one in particular, "Oh! We all need to turn off our cell phones before the music starts."

Well, unless you don't have a cell phone, I say. When she immediately assumes I left mine in the car, I regret to inform her I simply don't have one. Never had one. She is dumbstruck. "But how do you live?" she wonders.

So it's going to be one of those conversations.

To her, it's inconceivable that I am not able to immediately Google anything that piques my interest. "How do you get directions?" she asks, incredulous that I have enough foresight to get them before leaving home. "But what if you see something interesting and want to look it up?" she wonders. Um, I delay gratification and remember to look it up later?

For the rest of the evening, she would periodically look over at me and shake her head, like she was viewing a two-headed giraffe at the zoo or something. It helped when an older couple asked if they could join her table, providing a distraction from my weirdness.

Bill Martin, the Valentine's director, came out to start the show, pointing out that there are so few opportunities to hear free music anymore, making this series all the more unique. I know I appreciate it for that reason.

Then he introduced Deau Eyes, aka Ali Thibodeau, mentioning that tomorrow is her birthday.

Wearing a short red skirt and cowboy boots, you know, like an indie singer songwriter does for a June garden show, Ali slung her guitar strap over her shoulder and got down to business singing "Some Do." Then she called up Justin Golden, the evening's second act, to sing harmony with her on the next song before launching into the very appropriate-for-a-summer-evening "Lightening Bugs."

It was still a tad early for them, but another couple hours and they'd be putting on their mating show.

I've been to Music in the Garden events where the heat and humidity settled over the garden unpleasantly, but tonight's weather was fine. A light breeze wafted down the scent of the magnolia blossoms in the old garden and the large cast iron fountain in the center of the tent provided a lovely burbling accompaniment to the music.

Next came a story about going to Barnes & Noble with her niece, who proceeded to begin directing a play, telling people where to stand and what to do, even that no photographs were allowed. When someone tried to taker her picture, she admonished them that she wasn't being cute and she was serious about what she was doing. "That feeling resonated with me," Ali explained. "So I wrote this song, 'Paper Stickers.'"

For one song, Ali entreated the crowd to do a singalong, which was as simple as saying "Shhh!" at the end of certain lines in the chorus. Even we non-singing types could manage that.

I got a dose of my youth when she decided to do a cover, which she introduced by saying, "I recently went roller skating and it's the most under-rate adult activity. It's great! You get a workout and no one's up in your business." I couldn't have been more surprised when she launched into Melanie's 1971 hit, "Brand New Key" about getting a new pair of roller skates (back when they had keys, for that matter).

After taking a long pull on her water bottle and reminding everyone to hydrate, she closed with "Autonomy," noting that all of us are trying to make it on our own. Truth.

During the break, I chatted with the older gentleman at the next table who was on date, asking why he'd come. Turns out he's as music-obsessed as I am and a regular at Music at Maymont and the concerts at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. He humble-bragged that he'd seen the Punch Brothers twice in the past year. My kind of guy.

You just can't tell by someone's age who's willing to make the effort to see live music. I probably don't look like the type, either.

After asking a woman to save my seat, I went into the Valentine to see "Developing Richmond: Photographs from the Cook Studio," a look back at post-Civil War Richmond. Granted, I'm a photography geek, but what a fabulous exhibit it was.

From 1912, there were construction workers sitting stop the uppermost girders of the First National Bank building at 8th and Main, high up in the sky. A shot of flower vendors at the Sixth Street Market - a place I walk by regularly on Marshall Street - was taken in the early 20th century and showed how vibrant the market had been.

One of the Richmond Dairy from 1914 didn't look all that different than the building looks today and I should know since it's three blocks from my apartment (not to mention where my grandfather worked his entire career).

Probably my favorite was the photograph of the Hotel Richmond Rooftop Restaurant from 1904, partly because my walk to the river takes me past that building (which is now state offices) daily, but also because I hadn't known that Richmond had a rooftop restaurant before the current crop of rooftop bars. It looked wonderfully sophisticated, especially for the turn of the century.

The most startling image in terms of change had to be the photo of the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart seen from Monroe Park which was obliterated completely by trees. Not so much as a bench or path visible. Another of the Executive Mansion was notable for the men on tall bikes tooling around in front of the governor's digs.

Eventually I made it back outside to reclaim my seat to hear Justin Golden's easy listening neo-blues (he credits the Black Keys and John Mayer as influences) and guitar playing, a nice way to close out the evening. I was amazed to see that the woman who'd been reading a book when I'd first arrived was still reading her book, as if live music wasn't happening a few feet from her table.

And people think I'm strange? Why would you not watch two singers give it their all since you're there anyway?

Before the night was over, I ran into a favorite couple who were arriving late. She wanted to know if the fried chicken at Maple Bourbon was truly as life-changing as I'd said it was in my review, here, and I assured her it was. I like to think I know a little about fried chicken. I barely got two steps before running into the former dean and his wife, who scored major points by telling me they read everything I write and sharing their favorite places in Spain.

Truth be told, I didn't bother saying goodbye to the woman who'd been gobsmacked by my lack of technology, figuring it would only get her agitated again.

I thought it wise not to mention my lack of TV, much less my choice not to use air-conditioning. Two heads seemed to be about all she could handle.

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