Between the high of No BS! Brass Band’s record release show on Friday and the low of the Toots & The Maytals incident on Saturday, I spent a fair amount of time this week talking about the Richmond music community. I still consider myself somewhat new to that community, and I definitely don’t make it out to as many shows as I’d like, but the musicians who call Richmond home have come to mean a great deal to me, as have the bloggers who work hard to shine a light on the city’s amazing pool of musical talent. This coming Wednesday, May 29, at The Camel, we’ll have an opportunity pause and say thank you and happy third blog birthday (Blirthday? Yeah? No?) to a blogger who truly understands the meaning of the word “community” — Andrew Cothern of RVA Playlist.
I snapped the picture above a little after 10:00 p.m. on Saturday night. A light rain was falling on Brown’s Island and Toots & The Maytals were a few minutes from performing their rendition of John Denver’s “Country Roads,” having already made their way through “Pressure Drop,” “Reggae Got Soul” and a handful of other classics. About 15 minutes later, when “Country Roads” was winding down, someone in the audience threw an empty liquor bottle at the stage, striking frontman Frederick “Toots” Hibbert in the forehead. He was immediately taken to the hospital, and guitarist Carl Harvey announced that the show was over. A few paralyzed minutes later, Mrs. YHT and I started a long and quiet walk back to our car.
There were so many things that I wanted to say then, and there are so many things I want to say now.
Early Friday evening, Mrs. YHT and I met up with Bandmate 4eva Doug, his wife and guest poster Gormie outside the Squirrely Gates of The Diamond and headed inside to watch the Richmond Flying Squirrels do battle with the Altoona Curve.
For three of us, it was our first game of the year. But for Doug and his wife, who recently moved back to Richmond after a few years away, this was their first time seeing the Squirrels (and their spectacular marketing team) in action. I was practically giddy. OK, whatever, I was giddy. I get a huge kick out of showing newcomers the clever branding, squirrel puns and general silliness. Some of that has to do with being fond of bad jokes, some with the fact that my day job is in marketing, but mostly it’s because I derive a sense of pride from what baseball in Richmond has become. I like being able to say to people, essentially, “Look at what we have here! Isn’t this great?!?” It’s a flattering (I think) reflection of what our city looks like at its most creative and enthused, and I can’t help feeling lucky and proud.
I feel the exact same way about No BS! Brass Band.
I spend a fair number of keystrokes chatting you fine people up about the virtues of vinyl, but I spent last Saturday night having a fling with a different physical medium — the ol’ Digital Video Disc (or “Digital Versatile Disc,” depending on who you ask). A coworker who has a great taste in/encyclopedic knowledge of music lent me a DVD of what is considered one of the greatest soul concerts of all time — Stax/Volt Revue: Live in Norway 1967. I managed to dig up YouTube clips of some of the Oslo show’s high points, and I thought I’d share a few thoughts, starting with the night’s first act, Booker T. & the M.G.’s.
I want to talk to you about value.
(No, this is not a first time home buyers’ seminar, and I’m sorry to say that there’s no free timeshare waiting for you at the end of this post.)
I want to talk to you about value because Golden Rules for Golden People, the fantastic new album from Boston-based mad pop scientists Pretty & Nice, strikes me as one of the most valuable albums I’ve ever heard.
So what makes a band’s work valuable? It is, of course, an intentionally broad question, and you could answer it in a zillion different ways. A song that reminds you of the day your son or daughter was born would have emotional value. (I’m told Aaron Copland’s Billy The Kid was playing on the radio when I popped out, which is a tad bit creepy when you consider that my father’s name was Bill.) That first pressing of Meet The Beatles your parents never let you touch has some serious historical/monetary value, while the EDM you blast to keep yourself awake while driving long stretches at night has a very specific, practical value. We could keep going, but you get the point. Circumstances, time, our needs… all these things turn a piece of music into something more than just notes and words.
That said, Golden Rules has me thinking about a totally different kind of value. Something more objective and less ascribed. Something inherent in the recording itself.
Things “Mother And Child Reunion” was inspired by, according to Wikipedia:
- Paul Simon’s dog dying
- A chicken and egg dish Paul Simon saw on the menu at a Chinese restaurant
Things with which “Mother And Child Reunion” would appear to have no relationship whatsoever:
- Mother’s Day
Compelling reasons not to post this funky 8-bit cover of “Mother And Child Reunion” I just found:
If you’re a mom, happy Mother’s Day! If you’re not, call your mom, tell her you love her, and then walk outside and high five the first lady with a baby you see!
I try to avoid comparing bands to other bands, especially in writing, but I will share that in the days leading up to last week’s Friday Cheers, when I was trying to get people at work jazzed up about going, I told of handful of them that Shovels & Rope reminded me of The White Stripes. The two groups sound nothing alike, which makes me feel a little less guilty about broadcasting the comparison here, but they really do have a great deal in common, and I’m not just talking about their even gender distributions and intra-band romantic entanglements. I was mainly thinking about how they stage their songs.
Both bands are (I’m staying in the present tense because I’m unwilling to come to terms with The White Stripes not existing anymore) comprised of just two people, meaning that arrangements are sparse, usually just drums and guitar, both players have to be “on” around 100% of the time, and there’s seldom a bass line gluing songs together. Forgive me for extending the adhesive metaphor, but I actually went around telling people (with performance videos that I’d seen online in the back of my mind) that Shovels & Rope felt duct-taped together in amazing way, and that this was the group’s strength, not a weakness. I’ve overhyped bands before (cue “you can say that again” eye roll), but I really, really wanted my analogy to stick, for the sake of the folks I recommended the band to, sure, but mostly for me.
I tend to fall in love with bands as ideas, and this is a particularly touching one. I love that two married people — Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst — “made something out of nothing from a scratch and a hope,” pulling each other out of that frustrated emotional space creative types inhabit before their talents are sufficiently recognized. And I love the notion that two people can be so effective at the craft of writing and performing songs that they can travel around the country and share their music without a backing band in tow. That’s why, more than most concerts, this one felt like a test. A high-stakes showdown between expectations and reality. Could this couple shoulder the burden that, fairly or unfairly, I’d placed on their shoulders?
Yes they could, and yes they did.
Twice a year, when NASCAR comes to Richmond International Raceway, I get really excited and my Twitter feed gets really pissy.
Judging by the tweets I see on race days, a sizable portion of the people whose interests usually align with mine wouldn’t go near the track if you paid them. Phrases like “worst day in Richmond” get thrown around left and right, and blanket accusations of racism are routinely levied against the 90,000 strong who flock to RIR for the day-long tailgate and ensuing 400-lap race.
In fairness, NASCAR’s far from perfect. As an organization, they’ve lagged behind Formula One and Indy in taking steps to reduce carbon emissions. Certainly not ideal. There’s also the consumer culture it fosters. Large, sometimes predatory corporations set up elaborate hospitality tents just outside the track, offering swag and samples in exchange for contact information, and racing teams line up dozens of brightly colored trailers in rows, hawking the overpriced, driver-branded merchandise that a staggering percentage of the crowd buys and wears, yours truly very much included. Because of all this, attending isn’t exactly a guilt-free exercise. But racism? Of the dozen-ish Saturdays I’ve spent at the raceway complex, racism played a significant role in exactly zero of them. Are there racists at RIR? I’m sure there are, just as I’m sure you could find them at Richmond Flying Squirrels games, Innsbrook After Hours concerts, the Greek Festival, Shamrock The Block, or any other situation in which a large number of people is assembled in one place. But calling a stadium full of people racist without meeting or talking to them is blatantly prejudicial, and it does nothing to advance racial sensitivity in our community.
I see it as a classic baby-bathwater situation. Sure, you can decide to never, ever go to a NASCAR race and write off the whole thing as a herd of drunk rednecks watching a few dozen sober rednecks drive around in a circle. But you’d be missing out on some of the beautiful — yes, beautiful — things I saw two Saturdays ago. The middle aged couple seated near where I was, so in love that it seemed like they spent more time smiling at one another and giving each other pecks on the cheek than they did watching the race. The family just in front of them, three generations all in one place, together, enjoying the same crisp and cloudless spring night. (The decked-out dogs at the top of the post aren’t so bad, either.) That’s heartwarming, soul-replenishing stuff. If you’re willing to look past people’s tattoos and t-shirts, you can find these scenes of excitement and bonding everywhere.
There’s a hidden depth to the tailgate scene as well, especially when it comes to music. You’d expect to find a bunch of pickup trucks with their windows rolled down playing Kenny Chesney and Skynyrd (OK, so I may have played a little Skynyrd — it was the Drive-By Truckers version of “Gimme Three Steps” if that makes it any better), but once again, when you dig a little deeper, there’s so much more going on. I decided to take a few videos as my F-150 owning friend Keith and I walked around the lot so you fine folks could get a sample of the all the non-country than can be found at one of these shindigs…
According to the number of dangling inchworms I’ve been unsuccessfully dodging recently, spring has sprung in my neck of the woods, and I’m hoping that warmer temperatures thaw the horrendous live music freeze-out I’ve been experiencing over the past few months. I’ve let opportunity after opportunity pass me by, but I’m ready to get back in the game, and the night before last, with about an hour to go before The Trillions showed The Camel why they remain one of the most explosive acts in town, Bandmate 4eva Doug and I took in a fantastic opening set by a Bethlehem, PA-based surf rock group called The Great White Caps.
I know we’re not all the way to true beach weather yet, and I know that decent wave-riding in Richmond is at least a few decades’ worth of global warming away, but on Wednesday night, with the first Friday Cheers looming large and the hopefulness of spring coating the city like a fresh dusting of pollen, the Caps offered a frenetic and reverb-soaked performance that was every bit as invigorating as it would have been to hop in my temporarily yellow Honda Fit, drive to Virginia Beach and jump in a 58-degree, early-May Atlantic Ocean. Just as invigorating was the clarity of The Great White Caps’ approach, which I found myself thinking about for much of their set.