Arts & Culture

Best sign of relief

Casino proposal shot down for the second time

For the second time, Richmond voted down a proposed casino within city limits. What a relief. Proponents, including Mayor Levar Stoney, argued that the casino would bring tax revenue and jobs to a part of Richmond that desperately needed them. Opponents worried that the introduction of casinos could lead to a rise in addiction, crime and bankruptcy for Richmonders. While the first casino vote in 2021 saw 51% of Richmonders vote against the proposal, last fall’s referendum decision was much more decisive; 61.9% of voters said no. This February, state lawmakers unanimously voted to permanently remove Richmond from a list of cities that are eligible to host a casino. If proposed legislation is signed into law, Petersburg will vote on whether the city will host its own casino in November. —R.G

Most anticipated new concert venue

Riverfront Amphitheater
South 2nd Street between Tredegar and a portion of Kanawha Canal

Since the big, brown Richmond Coliseum has lay dormant, the city has needed a new large concert venue downtown. Charlottesville’s Coran Capshaw of Red Light Management (Dave Matthews Band, Phish) is one of the biggest music moguls on the East Coast and if anyone can pull it off, he can. Now officially under construction, on the Tredegar hillside, the 7,500-seat venue will be operated by Live Nation and plans to start hosting concerts from “top touring acts” in the summer of 2025, with up to 35 large events a year. While it should be a major driver of business to downtown restaurants and hotels – organizers suggest 300 new jobs and nearly $31 million in economic impact – we’re hoping it gives a boost to the local music scene as well, in addition to big local festivals like Richmond Folk Fest and Iron Blossom; and that residents’ concerns around historic land preservation, noise and parking are not ignored. —B.B.

Best music reissue

Lenis Guess presents “UnBroken Melodies: Various artists out of Norfolk, Virginia” (Plut Records)

Well worth the wait, this was the best local archival reissue of the year, featuring rare and unissued soul recordings from the 1970s by various Norfolk performers. Beyond a regional compilation – the title comes from a track recorded at Richmond’s Alpha Audio – “UnBroken Melodies” tells the story of singer, writer and producer Lenis Guess and his homespun LGA Records, which is connected by varying degrees of separation to all of the songs on this sweet, soul time-capsule at the ready.—T.A.

Best local band you heard about from an out-of-towner

Dazy

This Richmond band’s first blip on my radar came by recommendation from a power-pop connoisseur friend living in Kansas; no shade to Kansas, Toto, but it’s circuitous if nothing else. Then I spotted Dazy getting press in the pages of Creem magazine (viva la print media!) Finally, only after cross-country endorsements and national press, Dazy surfaced closer to home on a flier posted outside of 821 Cafe for a show at Richmond’s premiere Tex-Mex sports bar: Bandito’s Diablo Room. It’s easy to hear how the band has found such a far-reaching audience; it deals in a variety of early-‘90s nostalgia-fueled earworms, once ubiquitous on FM radio, and now finding renewed listenership as every indie subgenre of the era seems to be seeing a revival. Just look at their upcoming tour dates which include support slots for the Folk Implosion, Mary Timony and Guided by Voices (oh my!) —T.A.

Best New Screen

Studio Two Three’s CinemaNiche
109 W. 15th St.

Studio Two Three is turning into the place to go for a different kind of movie watching. Thanks to an upgraded projection and sound system – courtesy of a film collective called CinemaNiche, which hosts regular screenings of music documentaries – it now regularly features special movie premieres and documentary films in its former school auditorium space. In March, the arts co-op hosted the Wild and Scenic Film Festival, and partnered with the James River Park System on a doc about invasive species. It also showcased a CinemaNiche offering on International Women’s Day, “Sisters With Transistors,” about female electronic music pioneers, and provided a screen for James River Film Festival events. “We’re accepting ideas from the public on what else to screen here,” says Kate Fowler, Studio Two-Three’s director of partnerships and development. —D.H.

Best music e-newsletter for discovering new sounds

Turntable Report by Tracy Wilson

More than an e-newsletter per se, this lives up to its namesake for curated reportage that exceeds your average feed in scope and scrupulous detail. Piloted by Richmond musician Tracy Wilson (most recently with the band Outer World), it’s an occasion when these reports hit your inbox. Accompanied by links to Wilson’s latest “Courtesy Desk” radio show and record distro, she’s created an opportunity for adventurous listeners to read about, hear and buy otherwise niche, often imported, album releases from her one-stop shop corner of the internet. —T.A.

Style: When did you start the project?

Tracy Wilson: I started Turntable Report in January of 2020. Our band Positive No was coming to an end and I would have a bit more free time to direct my energy towards something new. I have written professionally about music on and off for decades. I have also been obsessively tracking new independent music for my own pleasure for just as long, and a newsletter focused on just that seemed like a nice way to share my music discoveries with others. The pandemic rolled in a few months later and my music community felt more important than ever. I thought I was creating it for friends, but much to my surprise, readership really took off.

How do you frame Turntable Report within the larger context of Courtesy Desk?

This is more like a cause-and-effect situation. I was writing about semi-obscure music and readers kept asking me where they could buy these records, especially music from overseas. One year after starting the newsletter, I created Courtesy Desk which is a highly curated online shop that mostly reflects what I write about, and more recently, what I play on my digital radio show.

What’s your current goal?

I honestly never dreamed it would grow into a multi-tentacled thing with a shop, a radio show, and events. I also wasn’t expecting to start a new band during the pandemic, no less have that snowball into an active, touring project (Outer World) and signed to a record label (HHBTM). My 2024 goal is to try to keep it all going and stay sane. I also work a day job so the moment I wake up, I dive into music stuff and then work a full day and return back to music again; listening to at least 50 plus new independent releases/songs daily, buying for the shop, putting together a radio show, writing, and making music of my own until I go to bed. As big as the community I am connected to is, it is also mostly a solitary effort. I spend probably too much time alone at a computer or turntable, so maybe my other goal should be to get outside more with my husband. I do miss DJing out, and lord knows it is mostly a boys’ club, so perhaps trying to get back to DJing out a bit more would be nice. Our city needs more lady DJs!

Best theater space overhaul

Virginia Rep Center for Arts and Education
4204 Hermitage Rd.

It’s been just over a year and half since Virginia Rep plunked down $3.5 million for the former Scottish Rite Temple in Northside with plans to turn it into a comprehensive performing arts center called the Virginia Rep Center for Arts and Education. With their “Spring into the Arts” open house in April, the theater company put the renovations it made to the facility on full display. New flooring, lighting, furniture and an updated HVAC system add a comfy gloss to the 45,000-square-foot building’s already impressive architectural features. The improvements have allowed the company to start offering the center’s 450-seat banquet hall and its library space as rentals for events. The building’s main attraction remains the large Jessica M. Bogese Theatre with its broad stage and quirky side choral pit. Determined to make the facility “Richmond’s Kennedy Center,” Virginia Rep has taken tangible and impressive steps toward realizing that goal. —D.T.

Best comics zine

“Bubbles” by Brian Baynes
bubbleszine.com

Richmond has long been a hotbed for comics – creators, shops, conventions – so maybe it shouldn’t surprise that arguably the best comics zine in the country, “Bubbles,” is published here. The xeroxed brainchild of Brian Baynes, who works by day at VCU’s Institute for Contemporary Arts, “Bubbles” is an exhaustive guide to the paneled arts, crammed with interviews, reviews and essays that explore both thriving contemporary artists (Barbara Brandon-Croft, Richmond’s Dash Shaw) and pioneers (Charles Schultz, Ernie Bushmiller), not to mention normally unsung writers, inkers, letterers and retailers. A recent edition saw the publisher visiting a slew of comic stores across the country, giving readers a pulse check on how the industry is doing, post-COVID. “There was a boom there for a little bit,” he says. Back home, in May, Baynes, who also reissues out-of-print manga works like “Bat Kid,” sponsored the very first Bubbles Con, an all-day series of comic-related roundtable discussions and seminars, at the Richmond Public Library. “Back when conventions started, in the ‘70s, they were all about the talks and the discussions, not just the buying and selling,” he says. “I want to bring that back.” —D.H.

Best Richmond art mystery

Who has an epic art deco sculpture by Virginia artist Oskar J.W. Hansen in their living room? 

The sculptor Hansen’s expansive, seven-foot “Wings” has been an iconic cornerstone of the Rand Tower in Minneapolis since the building was constructed in 1929. The bronze statue is one of the Norwegian expatriate artist’s most famous works.  Others include his 1957 recasting of the Liberty statue in Yorktown, and numerous large-scale art deco pieces surrounding the Hoover Dam in New York, including the epic angel sculpture, “Wings of the Republic.” What’s less known, his biographer Aaron Street writes, is that Hansen made another “Wings,” a silver version of the Rand Tower statue which is known as “Wings II.” For years, this sleek bird creature was on full display atop Hansen’s studio roof on Pantops Mountain near Charlottesville, serving as a lightning rod.

When the sculptor died in 1971, after going through bankruptcy, the striking creature ended up on loan and on display in one of the large bay windows at Richmond’s Byrd Airport, renamed Richmond International Airport in 1984. When Hansen’s widow died, the piece became the property of Sovran Bank – today’s Bank of America – and nearly repossessed until an anonymous donor paid off the note and allowed the sculpture to remain at the airport. “I tracked down the Sovran Bank banker in charge of the collections effort 40 years ago,” Street writes on his blog devoted to Hansen’s art (at oskarjwhansen.org). “And he said that the donor was so careful about making the payment anonymously that he never even learned who it was.”

When the airport was rebuilt in 2005, the statue was given to the donor, Street says. “Six years later, in 2011, the anonymous collector contacted a blogger, Chris Miller, who had been writing about Hansen. He told the blogger about how he had obtained ‘Wings II’ from the airport, including a few photos of the statue in his Richmond living room.” In a note that accompanied the photos, the mystery collector wrote: “I have been frustrated by the fact that, in my opinion, a relatively important 20th century artist is so unrecognized and under-appreciated in the fine art circles.”

Fourteen years later, where is “Wings II”? “It’s been over a decade since the current owner shared his living room photos,” says Street. “I’m hopeful someone with connections to the Richmond art collecting world will be able to help identify who the donor was and help locate ‘Wings II’ again.” —D.H.

Second best art mystery 

Don’t ask us, we haven’t been able to get a straight answer yet about what might be replacing the old Confederate statues or when. As for mysteries, this may not even qualify. It certainly seems like a sticky political issue that’s going to take some time to play out. While we don’t envy anyone trying to come to a consensus on public art in today’s bitterly divided climate, we hope these decisions play out in a transparent, open and honest way that seeks a diverse variety of public input. And we hope there are some fresh and creative ideas that show Richmond is not stuck in the past. —B.B

Readers’ Choice

Best outdoor festival

Richmond Folk Festival
Venture Richmond
200 S. 3rd St.
venturerichmond.com

Best movie theater

Byrd Theatre
2908 W. Cary St.
byrdtheatre.com

Best film festival

James River Film Festival
(Various locations)
jamesriverfilm.org

Best filmmaker

Jim Stramel
@jim.stramel

Best theater company

The Firehouse Theatre
1609 W. Broad St.
firehousetheatre.org

Best actor

Elizabeth Byland
elizabethbyland.com

Best author

Patricia Cornwell
patriciacornwell.com

Best comedy club

Funny Bone
11800 W. Broad St. (Short Pump Town Center)
richmond.funnybone.com

Best dance company

Richmond Ballet
407 E. Canal St.
richmondballet.com

Best concert series

Friday Cheers at Brown’s Island
Venture Richmond
200 S. 3rd St.
venturerichmond.com

Best music venue

The National
708 E. Broad St.
thenationalva.com

Best place to listen to live music

The Camel
1621 W. Broad St.
thecamel.org

Best punk artist or group

Avail
availrichmond.com

Best R&B/soul artist or group

Ms. Jaylin Brown
msjaylinbrown.com

Best reggae artist or group

Mighty Joshua
mightyjoshua.com

Best metal or thrash band

Gwar
gwar.net

Best singer-songwriter

Deau Eyes
deaueyes.com

Best jazz artist or group

Desirée Roots

Best hip-hop artist or group

Ant the Symbol
antthesymbol.com

Best jam band

Suggesting Rhythm
suggestingrhythm.com

Best country/folk/or bluegrass group

The Jangling Reinharts
(Sam Hill Entertainment)
samhillbands.com

Best rock band

The Jangling Reinharts

Best independent art gallery

Crossroads Art Center
2016 Staples Mill Rd.
crossroadsartcenter.com

Best museum

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA)
200 N. Arthur Ashe Blvd.
vmfa.museum

Best public art

VMFA
200 N. Arthur Ashe Blvd.
vmfa.museum

Best poet

Hope Whitby
hopewhitby.com

Best radio show

The John Reid Show
(AM 1140 WRVA)

Best podcast

“Two Guys Into Fridays”
tgifcast.podbean.com

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