It was the toughest year for Richmond’s legendary shock metal act, Gwar. There’s no other way to put it when you lose the likes of the singular David Murray Brockie, aka Oderus Urungus, the 50-year-old founder and visionary leader of this boundary-pushing art collective.
The creative and always quotable Brockie died from a heroin overdose in his home, making international news overnight. The band carried on as only it could: Former Beefcake the Mighty, Michael Bishop, returned as new lead singer Blothar. The band held a glorious, flaming Viking funeral sendoff at Hadad’s Lake for fans, and then — in true Gwar fashion, it hit the road, adding a cheeky female singer, Vulvatron, who spews geysers of blood from her breasts.
Never one to let a promotional opportunity pass by too quickly, the band launched a series of ventures, as wide-ranging as a documentary film and a museum to its most anticipated venture, the new GwarBar in Jackson Ward, slated to open this January.
Most recently, the band won the Onion humor website’s vaunted “undercover” cover song series for the second year with a touching cover of the Pet Shop Boys “West End Girls” into Jim Carroll’s “People Who Died.” Nobody expected these bloody scum dogs to go gently into any good night. It’s clear, with so many members having grown up in the band, Gwar will spew on. If only for the children.
A nomadic, Richmond-based ensemble of young actors, directors and playwrights found a quirky new home. TheatreLab settled into a cavelike, 3,300-square-foot space beneath an East Broad Street storefront. It’s dark and windowless with exposed brick walls and, well, character. After moving in, the group promptly impressed audiences with a physically exhausting and sold-out production of the popular rock musical, “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” starring Matt Shofner as the stage-stalking tour de force.
Over at what older Richmonders still refer to as the Mosque — the Altria Theater — the glamour of the 1920s was reclaimed through a meticulous restoration of long-forgotten public rooms. There are double the restrooms, 3,800 refurbished seats, a restored Egyptian revival ballroom, and an improved sound system — not to mention some glaringly bright digital marquees outside. Broadway in Richmond fans got to savor the new renovations when “Book of Mormon” ran for a week in November, setting box-office records.
The Firehouse Theatre Project also made news for the hiring of Joel Bassin, its new producing artistic director. The former theater department chairman at Hunter College in New York should bring new Big Apple energy and connections to a flourishing scene.
It started out as a lark. Some local guys who worked in advertising really wanted to see a concert by their favorite big-time rock band, the Foo Fighters, who hadn’t played Richmond in 16 years.
In March, freelance copywriter Andrew Goldin told Style he was launching a “social media experiment” to crowd fund $70,000 for booking the band locally. Tickets first, show later. We promptly called the band’s managers to alert them, but they didn’t deem it worthy of a reply.
That all changed when the money started coming in. Finding some local sponsorship dollars from the likes of Sugar Shack Donuts and Brown’s Volkswagen helped the momentum. The fundraising goal was reached, sufficiently impressing the leader of the Foos, Dave Grohl, who took to Twitter to announce the band indeed would return to Richmond. Later in a South African radio interview, he went so far as to call the fundraising effort a “game-changer” for the concert industry. Who knows about that, but the Richmond effort spawned a number of international imitators.
The concert went off Sept. 17 at the National, receiving big media attention, with some people calling it the first instance of a major crowd-funded rock concert. The band played to a packed house of 1,500 screaming fans, ripping through a long set of material from its entire career. Grohl’s mother sat beaming in the balcony, as her son called it one of the most fun shows the band’s ever played.
Our favorite part came when Grohl told a story about seeing Gwar for the first time while stoned at Shafer Court, and later, how lead singer Dave Brockie mercilessly mocked him for his Grammy wins. Grohl was one of the most visible entertainers in the world in 2014, and Richmond played a big role as one of his personal highlights of the year.
Postscript: A month later, the National and its sister venue, the Norva in Norfolk, were purchased by massive Los Angeles entertainment conglomerate AEG Live.
At the end of October, City Council voted to give $1.75 million to the parent group of Richmond CenterStage to pay its real estate taxes. Representatives of the Richmond Performing Arts Center said they didn’t know they’d be responsible for the tax, and city officials suggested the bill was the result of a change in the assessor’s office.
The whole thing stank to high heaven — especially considering the half a million dollars that the city continues to provide annually to cover operating costs at CenterStage and the millions of dollars it’s given to renovate the main theaters where the group operates. Let’s not forget that restaurants and diners are still being hit by the meals tax that was collected for CenterStage, a performing arts center that was supposed to be an affordable venue for local arts organizations.
Speaking of, those same resident companies had to band together in September to offer their services free for a fundraiser to help ease the rise in rental rates that they said were two to three times higher than other locations.
To make appearances worse for city officials, right after the city forgave the real estate tax debt of CenterStage, it went after a similar outstanding bill of $50,000 from Hardywood Park Craft Brewery. The business, touted by the city as a success story, had been told by the city to not collect a meals tax on beer. The sense of unfairness was palpable and could be heard for weeks in angry reader comments and local editorials.
Local talent reigned supreme in a big, old-fashioned, “we’re going to Disneyland” romp at Super Bowl XLVIII.
A lot of locals recall quarterback Russell Wilson’s early days at Collegiate School. He was a small but talented player, maybe figured to be a college force. Few would’ve guessed just how far and fast his star would rise, or that after playing at North Carolina State and Wisconsin he would make the jump to the NFL as a starting quarterback in his rookie year after being picked in the third round of the draft.
Jaws continued to drop in his second season, when Wilson led the Seattle Seahawks to a dominant 2014 Super Bowl victory over the Denver Broncos. His meteoric rise made him a savior in Seattle and a national household name. To his credit, Wilson carried it all beautifully, racking up the endorsement money and applause.
Amazingly, the Super Bowl also featured another local player making a connection with Wilson, albeit at the opposite end of his career. Former Varina High standout Michael Robinson caught a touchdown pass for the Seahawks in the same game, which wound up being the final game of his professional career.
This season, Wilson continues to rack up the most wins of any quarterback in the last three years — and Seattle is poised to make another playoff run. But if you were a fan of Richmond high-school football, the 2014 Super Bowl was one for the ages.