The muddy but massively enjoyable Richmond Folk Festival (The ninth iteration since it landed here as the National Folk Festival, sixth since VentureRichmond and partners took the reins) came to a splendid conclusion on a gray, damp evening yesterday.
The Mighty Sam McClain, still bringing the soul-stirring R&B at age 70 and backed by a group playing, he joked, “New Hampshire funk,” concluded the event from the Altria Stage.
Dancing around in the mud, I realized that we all looked like insects strapped on a Pest Strip. But nobody cared.
Considering the averages, the Folk Festival’s fortune with weather is better than the State Fair’s. Since it started, we’ve had weekends of unusual heat, chilly breezes and, yes, wind-driven drizzle, but the worst in terms of conditions was the first almost a decade ago. Thus, the attendance numbers may be down from previous years, which affects the bottom line as the festival relies on donations from its Orange Bucket Brigade. The Folk Feast, held a few days before the big event, may have eased that deficit a little.
The inclement situation may have kept away the Fair Weather Festers, but, as for us, we came, we listened and we shook our cabooses.
I was profoundly moved by Nathalie Pires’ interpretation of the Portugese “fado” — the blues of Lisbon’s alleys and back-street cabarets. She sounded like Edith Piaf, resembled a Picasso drawing, and her sense of operatic drama made every song — most of them fairly short — an epic of emotion. Her backup band wasn’t bad either.
Maggie Ingram and the Ingramettes on Sunday afternoon just wrenched the living daylights out of their ecstatic audience. The legendary gospel group yanked audience members onto the stage as though pulling them up into a lifeboat from a tempest-tossed sea. And I suppose that’s part of the point.
Pires’ fado and the Gospel According to Maggie are quite different approaches. Pires describes her music as speaking (alliteratively) of “living, loss, loving and lamenting.” She sang one song of intense affection followed by a break-up tune that included something along the lines of, “I'd rather die not seeing you than see you and want to die." The Ingramettes brought love that passes understanding, as well as redemption, hope and sweat.
Between the two sets, I went weak in the knees. It was astounding. Then I was treated to the Whitetop Mountain Band, an Appalachian string band and family group. Back in 2009, Martha Spencer was a cute youngster wth a big voice. Now she’s a woman who reminds me of June Carter Cash. Her voice can soar and pluck the heart, too. While enjoyable, these songs are about real people and their lives, and trouble is not always far away. Plus, that Southwest Virginia accent is blessedly unbesmirched by sounding like a television presenter.
We’d heard about the planned No BS! flashmob via Facebook. It involved synchronized dance moves that I didn’t think I’d be able to learn on short notice. But I was pleased to be on hand to watch those who committed.
The overnight sensation takes six to 10 years, according to singer-songwriter Joshua Scott Jones, half of the country duet Steel Magnolia. He gives a somewhat weary chuckle. I caught up to him while he was running errands around Nashville, Tenn., before he and partner Meghan Linsey head off for Bridgetown, N.J., then Short Pump Town Center in our very own Glen Allen, thence way out to the Seven Cherokee Casino and Hotel in West Siloam Springs, Okla., and other points where the blue highways run. Steel Magnolia plays Short Pump, from 2 to 3:30 p.m. on Sunday (Oct. 13), in the Main Plaza. Their appearance is part of the mall’s 10th anniversary.
When you get those emphatic and impressive words “national recording artists” attached to the description of your band, that means you travel all over the country, many days out of the year and under almost every imaginable condition. But that only happens after a great deal of work. Jones says, “When I met Meghan in 2006, we were unknown to each other and unknown to the world.” As a team, they somewhat reluctantly got into one of those sing-off shows called Can You Duet. And they won by doing things like presenting their own work and re-entering old classics through their own approach.
Steel Magnolia took time during a 2011 Grand Ole Opry appearance to send a message to fans while surrounded by photographs of Johnny and June Carter Cash, Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty, George Jones and Tammy Wynette. This is the status to which they aspire. But there are more contemporary partnerings that have done well, too: David Rawlings and Gillian Welch, Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi — and then there are those that falter. Case in point is the recent mid-tour split of The Civil Wars’ John Paul White and Joy Willams.
Jones recalls, “It’s funny. I remember when John Paul White came over to our apartment before the Civil Wars [formed]. They’d just started making music together. He was all excited — 'I’m starting a duo. Me and this girl Joy, she’s great,’ ” Jones chuckles. “I’m thinking, ‘Oh, well. We’re already the duo, man.' "
Jones and Linsey write together, around the kitchen table, or while hanging out at a party. They live and breathe their music making. The band’s own online press describes their on-and-off stage relationship as turbulent. — “Yeah. That’s about right,” Jones says. ”We protect each other like brother and sister — and fight like cats and dogs. Tension makes good music, pressure makes islands.” Linsey grew up in and around New Orleans. The family lived in Ponchatoula, just north of Lake Pontchartrain. Still a teenager, she demonstrated her dynamism and management skills by organizing a band that comprised much older musicians who’d played in the French Quarter for decades. She sang soul classics, contemporary blues and old-school Tanya Tucker country.
Jones is the son of a preacher man, and with his minister father attended small Baptist churches in southern Illinois. And this included visiting African American congregations. “These were really small churches, I'm talking 10 or 12 people, and they’re about as out of tune singing as was the piano. The first black church we went to — my Dad knew one of the deacons — was a completely different experience that influenced my approach to music.”
Jones’ first band, named Urb, came together when he was about 18 He describes it as a jam band that played Phish, the Allman Brothers, and Widespread Panic. Then followed the journeyman life of an aspiring musician, knocking about in the big city of Chicago, hitching a ride on a big truck heading for L.A. and working as a sales rep for radio stations. To supplement his income in Nashville, he worked as a warehouse furniture mover. Linsey had followed her aspirations there while studying music at Belmont University. Then one fateful night, Jones walked into Miss Kelli’s in Printers Alley, where he saw Linsey singing karaoke. And that convinced him that he wanted to make music with her. A semi-fictionalized account is told in their “Keep On Lovin’ You.”
“I didn’t expect to be in a duo,” he says. “I had a dream of being a big star, and that’s kind of what 'The Edge of the Good-bye,' which is kind of ironic, is about. So that’s what kicked everything off.” The show landed them with Big Machine planning their debut album with the renowned Dan Huff.
Even before the release of their debut album, Jones and Linsey earned nominations in nine major industry awards, including: Vocal Duo of the Year and Top New Vocal Duo of the Year by the Academy of Country Music in both 2010 and 2011, Top Vocal Duo by the The Country Music Association in 2010, Best Country Music Video By A New Duo by Country Music Television and a 2012 ACM Award for Vocal Duo of the Year. Their second single, “Just By Being You (Halo and Wings),” became their second Top 30 hit. Their third single, “Last Night Again,” reached No. 24 on the country charts. Their self-titled album was released in January 2011 and it debuted in the Top 10 of the pop and country album charts, entering the charts at No. 7 and No. 3, respectively.
They’ve been on Jimmy Kimmel and David Letterman, toured with Reba McEntire and Blake Shelton. Steel Magnolia's Letterman appearance coincided on the 40th anniversary of the Beatles on that stage when it was the Ed Sullivan Show. Jones says, “Being a kid I wanted to get on Letterman. I used to play this silly song as a kid I knew would get me there. Well, I did, just thankfully with a different song, and a great partner.”
Several rich strains of Americana music come through the duo that merge into their own sound. They’re labeled country, but, as Jones says, there are blurred lines about what today’s country music is. “I think actually we’re way more country than the stuff you hear on the radio,” he says. “Our traditional influences are a lot farther back than a lot of the people are doing. But, you can’t have some old-timey country band — that’s not gonna sell records and not what the industry wants. I had a progressive rock background and she has this soulful thing, and, well. Here we are.” You can check them out yourself at Short Pump on Sunday.
The Dia de los Muertos Family Festival will be held Saturday Oct. 26, from noon to 4 p.m.
“We’ve held the festival for ten years but this will be the the third time we’ve performed the dance,” Latin Ballet director Ana Inéz King says. She atributes the popularity of the performance not only to presence of more Hispanics in the population, but also to schools emphasizing the traditions of other countries.
The “Day of the Dead” is a Mexican ritual going back to the days of the indigenous Aztecs, according to King. The Spanish attempted to eradicate the event but instead turned it into their version of All Saints Day.
Photo by Arthur Stephens, courtesy Latin Ballet of Virginia
Richmond dance icon Frances Wessells, now 93, is reprising her role in the pageant that explains the origin of the Day of the Dead, playing the important grandmother figure who brings the marigold flower. Wessells taught at Virignia Commonwealth University when King went there and was open to Latin American dance. “She puts on a Carmen Miranda headdress and dances the mambo,” King says. “She’s a trip, she can do that, and she loves it.”
Joining the Latin Ballet of Virginia in the dance performance will be international artists and choreographers Catherine Marie Davalos and Rogelio Lopez. “They are Chicanos, that is, Mexicans who have come to the United States, and they know the history of this ritual," King says. "They came last year from San Francisco, loved it, and I’m so glad they’re coming back. They want to come every year.”
Performances: Friday, Oct. 25 at 10:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 26 at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 27 at 3:00 p.m.
Tickets: $20 adults, $15 children, student, military and seniors. $10 for groups of 10 or more. To order tickets call the Latin Ballet of Virginia at (804) 356-3876 or online here.
Some years ago, I vividly remember going into what was Coffee & Co. (now Capitol Coffee in Carytown) and seeing a woman in exasperated fashion rip through the pages of Style Weekly. She exclaimed to her tablemate, “isn’t there anything going on in this town? Bass-A-Rama? Bobbing For Bass? Anything?”
Welll, I don’t think we have a Bass-A-Rama anymore but we have plenty other events going on.
Full disclosure: This exhibition is curated by my own partner-in-art, but I can't help it. This is a show about objects and time, how things are changed, or altered, through the forces of nature and age and how forms are re-used by history. Across the street at the Richmond Public Library, 6 to 9 pm., is "Herald 1", for which curator David R. White brought together 12 strong artists. That we can have such a vivid exhibition is testament to the wealth of arts in Richmond. Among them are Anne C. Savedge's collage works, painter Diego Sanchez's surreal abstractions, Andras Bality’s deceptively calm landscapes, Brad Birchett's bold acrylics, and Kathleen Markowitz's four mixed-media pieces that include personal photographs and drawings.
Also tonight, at the Michaux House at Birch and Franklin streets, Triple Stamp Records holds the release of Jonathan Vassar’s new album of older material, Mercy For The Undeserving. I saw him perform some of this work a couple of months ago and it’s worth seeing. It’s spare, raw, tough, lyrical work. The music of Elzabeth Whitmire and Chris Kasper open for him at 7:45 p.m. It's free.
A great deal more amusing are the improv specialists of the Richmond Comedy Coalition who are creating their own “Made Up Movie” tonight at their downtown theater, 8-10 p.m., $7. The big Keep Virginia Beautiful 60th Anniversary Gala at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts KVB is undeway. Confirmed honored guests will include all 10 of the living first ladies of Virginia. The $120 evening includes music, dining, and fine art until 11 p.m. There'll be recognition of those who have done so much to Keep Virginia Beautiful, and celebrating with music, heavy hors d’oeuvres, beverages and more than 100 fabulous auction items. There's not likely to be fire-eating or illuminated hula-hooping as you'll find across town in Jackson Ward, as Gallery 5 cranks up its seventh annual Carnival of Five Fires. It's described as "quirky, kooky, creative, sexy and sometimes bizarre."
The Edgar Allan Poe Museum is off kilter. Seven inches, to be exact. That was the measurement taken by Preservation Virginia when surveying for an historic easement under the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.
The oh-so-slight difference is appropriate for a house associated with a clever poet/cipher-maker/poor-joke-teller/absurdist. But after Saturday, the size — of the discrepancy — won’t matter. At 1 p.m., Preservation Virginia will transfer ownership and hand over the keys so to speak, of the Old Stone House to the museum within it. The public is invited to attend.
Probably just about everybody, including the intelligent and informed readers of this blog, have assumed that the museum owned its own building. “Yes, turns out we’ve been occupying somebody else’s house,” museum director Chris Semtner drily observes. “We’ve been working on the transfer since about 2005 — spent years going over paperwork, dotting 'I’s crossing 'T’s, and did surveys. Preservation Virginia owns [the house and] the gardens straight back from the house, and the foundation has the rest. Turns out the house is cock-eyed, one corner encroaches on the Poe Foundation property. So both organizations had go to our boards and make sure everybody is OK with the 7 inches.”
The historic easement protects the place from craziness such as installing a giant animated sign with an arrow pointing to the Poe Museum. Or going condo. Louis Malon, the director of preservation services at Preservation Virginia, says the transfer of title is part of an ongoing process to relinquish control of properties that are now in safe hands. In recent months, the 124-year-old nonprofit organization has signed over to successor stewards the Mary Washington House, the Rising Sun Tavern, and the Hugh Mercer Apothecary Shop, all in Fredericksburg; the old Isle of Wight Courthouse in Smithfield, and the Walter Reed birthplace in Gloucester to the Gloucester Preservation Foundation. “We’re doing this so we can focus on our core properties,” such as, for example, Jamestown, where it all started.
The 7 inches, though, are of some importance. Malon says, “That the house is 7 inches off the grid may mean it ‘s older than the grid.”
The Old Stone House has beeen a Richmond tourist attracation, at least since the early 19th century and is mentioned in a guide book to the city from the 1840s. The house was built by German immigrant Jacob Ege, a barrel maker, and six generations of his descendants remarkably (and providentially) retained the house, though in later years as a rental property, until 1913.
The Stone House’s colorful cast of characters resembles that of a rich 19th-century novel, although the residents, and tourbook writers, embroidered the story even more. Around 1881, the house was rented to R.L. Potter, “The Wheelbarrow Man,” who used it to exhibit an assortment of unusual objects he had collected while pushing a wheelbarrow from New York to California and back. Potter walked 4,100 miles in 160 days.
A former occupant, R.L. Potter, pushed a wheelbarrow from New York to California and back.
“When he got to California, some of the big newspaper editors decided to turn it into a race. They got this Frenchman to push a wheelbarrow back to New York, but they put a hundred-pound weight in each wheelbarrow, you know, as a challenge.” Wouldn’t you know it? The Frenchman won.
In addition to his other curiosities (Potter collected 1,600 items to stuff in the Old Stone House and charged people money to see them), he refused to cut his beard until President U.S. Grant was out office. One account says he even displayed a live bear in one of the rooms.
In 1894, the house was known as Washington’s Headquarters Antiquarium and Relic Museum, which published its “guide book.” Semtner says, “The book said that Chief Powhatan built the house, that it was Patrick Henry’s law offices and he planted the mulberry tree out back on an Indian grave, that it was both Washington and Lafayette’s headquarters during the Revolution.”
None of that was true.
Washington never made it to Richmond during the Revolution. The Marquis de Lafayette visited there in 1824 during his farewell tour. Poe, at 15, was in his accompanying honor guard when he visited the Stone House for lemonade and cakes.
Granville Valentine purchased the building to save it from destruction. Valentine then donated it to the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities (APVA, now Preservation Virginia) which tried to find someone to rent it.
Then Archer Jones, owner of the Duplex Envelope Co., approached the APVA with the idea of using the house as a museum of Colonial history. Jones and his wife somehow met Poe collector James Whitty, who wanted to reconstruct the recently demolished office of the Southern Literary Messenger in the junkyard behind the house.
The idea evolved by 1921 into using the Messenger bricks and granite to make a Poe memorial garden in the yard and using the locks, lumber, and hinges from the Messenger building to restore the Old Stone House. The House was then furnished with items from Richmond buildings in which Poe lived or worked. In the early years, the APVA charged the Poe Foundation rent for the property, but it eventually allowed the museum to use the house rent-free. The Poe Museum contains more artifacts and Poe-ana than any other institution.
The Saturday event will be convened by Poe Museum president, professor Harry Lee Poe, a descendant of Edgar’s cousin William. He is the Charles Colson Professor of Faith & Culture at Union University and has written about Poe’s spirituality and his version of cosmology. Evermore: Edgar Allan Poe and the Mystery of the Universe uses as its starting point Poe’s attempt to explain Life, The Universe and Everything, which he called a “pose poem” titled "Eureka." If you want to get glimpse of how Poe may have appeared in person, well, Dr. Poe has his forehead and eyes. “One of the requirements of the historic easement is that we not put any plaques on the house,” Semtner observes. “We have one already — the old APVA put it on. So, we’ll keep that.”
In other news, the Poe Museum is starting a Kickstarter campaign (bit.ly/jcarling) to raise $60,000 to publish a coffee-table-style book of James Carling's illustrations of the poem "The Raven" and to preserve the illustrations. These were included in the 2013 list of Virginia's Top 10 Endangered Artifacts, recently announced by the Virginia Association of Museums. The illustrations are in such a fragile state that they can no longer be displayed. The campaign runs through Nov. 15. Here's more on the campaign and Carling's illustrations: