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Friday, October 20, 2017

Video: Watch the Rick Alverson-directed documentary on William Eggleston

Legendary 20th century photographer has a new album of synth music.

Posted By on Fri, Oct 20, 2017 at 12:30 PM

Acclaimed photographer William Eggleston has a new instrumental album made using an 88-key Korg synthesizer.
  • Acclaimed photographer William Eggleston has a new instrumental album made using an 88-key Korg synthesizer.

One of the great photographers of the 20th century, William Eggleston is just now, at 78, releasing his debut music album on Secretly Canadian.

"Musik" showcases the Memphis native's synthesizer playing ("a retro sound somewhere between Tomita and Tangerine Dream" according to NPR). Plus there's a new documentary which premiered today on NPR that was created by acclaimed Richmond filmmaker, Rick Alverson, who lives in Church Hill.

Watch below.

In more Alverson-related news, the director tells Style that he is currently in New York to begin shooting on his new feature, "The Mountain." A recent article in the Hollywood Reporter said that actor Jeff Goldblum ("The Fly") was attached.

“It reminds me in tone of P.T. Anderson’s There Will Be Blood or The Master, metaphorical critiques of the American psyche, in the vein of Death of a Salesman," says Goldblum in the article. "It’s not for everybody, but I really like it, I keep working on it, and I like him."

Stay tuned for an article next week on Alverson's new music project, Lean Year, who will be performing at Black Iris on Oct. 25.

Here's more from a press release about the Eggleston album:

It was during Eggleston’s Sumner, Mississippi childhood, where he discovered the piano in the parlor that ignited in him a lifelong passion for music. It was a passion he carried forth his entire life, playing quite adeptly when a piano was handy. In the 1980's, Eggleston, who disdained digital cameras and modernity in general, became surprisingly fascinated with a synthesizer, the Korg OW/1 FD Pro, which had 88 piano-like keys, and in addition to being able to emulate the sound of any instrument, also contained a four-track sequencer that allowed him to expand the palette of his music, letting him create improvised symphonic pieces, stored on 49 floppy discs, encompassing some 60 hours of music from which this 13 track recording was assembled.

The music, which he refers to as "Musik", adopting the German spelling of his hero, JS Bach, is highly emotional, whether he's improvising a Bach-like organ fanfare out of whole cloth, using a Korg patch titled "guitar feedback" to create a dirge, or playing Lerner and Lowe's "On The Street Where You Live" as a dramatic overture.

You can buy or stream the album here.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

ZZ Top Concert at Altria on Oct. 21 Postponed

Posted By on Tue, Oct 17, 2017 at 2:20 PM

The three sombreros of ZZ Top.
  • The three sombreros of ZZ Top.

This just in from the press release desk:

ZZ TOP TONNAGE TOUR CONCLUDES.

LEGENDARY GROUP PLANNING EXTENSIVE TOURING IN 2018:

Richmond, VA (Oct. 17)- Upcoming scheduled dates on ZZ Top’s current tour, including the October 21, 2017 date at Altria Theater, have been suspended and will be rescheduled. ZZ Top’s cornerstone bass guitarist, Dusty Hill, is addressing a stomach ailment and is following medical directive to lay low for the next few weeks.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Interview: Tim Timberlake Talks About This Year's Banjo Competition at Richmond Folk Fest

Posted By on Fri, Oct 13, 2017 at 2:30 PM

A photo of the young finalists from last year's Scott Street Five String banjo competition at the Richmond Folk Fest.
  • A photo of the young finalists from last year's Scott Street Five String banjo competition at the Richmond Folk Fest.

Banjo fans and talent scouts: It's the third annual competition known as the Scott Street Five String Finals this Saturday, Oct. 14 at 4 p.m. at the CarMax Family Stage during the Richmond Folk Festival.

This is a banjo competition co-presented by JAMinc and the Virginia Folklife Program for musicians 18 and under which will be judged by legendary Virginia banjoist Sammy Shelor. There are two playing style categories, bluegrass and clawhammer, and the winners in each division get a $1,000 cash prize plus a demo session at In Your Ear Studios.

This year organizers were pleased to receive more than twice the number of applicants they had last year. The kids submit YouTube videos in the application process which are selected by the judges, so all of the finalists will be worth seeing live onstage.

"We worked a lot harder and got the word out a lot more extensively for contestants," says Tim Timberlake, noting there were articles in Bluegrass Unlimited and other national outlets. "Plus we were able to contact all the youth contestants from Galax [Fiddlers Convention], 19 of them. So we got 21 entries and the talent level is amazing."

Timberlake says that there are six finalists, some who are coming from as far away as Arkansas and Ohio. The runners up will also take home some money so that everyone walks away a winner.

The prize money is due to the family of former attorney and banjo player, Scott Street, as well as some beautiful crystal trophies that were provided.

"Lead judge Sammy Shelor is iconic, he's won the IBMA Bluegrass banjo player of the year five times. He's also won the Steve Martin prize [$50,000], a very distinguished award," Timberlake explains. "Another amazing judge is a kid from Galax, Victor Furtado, who could've been eligible himself but he would've probably walked away with it. He's great."

Timberlake hopes that the competition continues to grow and notes that there are not many like it around the country.

"There are a lot of talented kids out there and now that we've got their attention we feel like word of mouth will kind of sustain it," Timberlake adds. "It's great to remember Scott Street in this way. He was passionate about the banjo and a distinguished attorney, head of the state bar, who did a heck of a lot of pro bono work for musicians all over the country. His family are very happy that his name is on something he would really be pleased with."

Here are your contestants this weekend:

Bluegrass

Taylor Parks (13) Bloxom, VA

G Rockwell (15) Bridgeport, CT

Johnny White (15) Glen Allen, VA

Clawhammer

Alanna Brewer (17) Mountain View, AK

Henry Coatney (13) Boone, NC

Christiana Joneikis (16) Shreve, OH

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Preview: Virginia Jazz: the Early Years at the Valentine

Also at Capital Ale House on Oct. 10, drummer Al Foster's Heads of State band.

Posted By on Tue, Oct 10, 2017 at 3:45 PM

Roy Johnson’s Happy Pals Orchestra at the Savoy Ballroom in New York – 1929. (L to R): Harold “Pops” Griffin (clarinet/sax), Emmitt “Lic” Johnson (clarinet/sax), Nathaniel “Buster” McPherson (clarinet/sax), Roy F. Johnson (drums, leader), Edward “Pickles” Humes (trumpet), Leroy “Fess” Wyche (piano), Percy Trent (trumpet), Fleming “Beans” Edwards (trombone), William “Mama” Allen (bass, tuba), Edward “Skinny” Trent (banjo)
  • Roy Johnson’s Happy Pals Orchestra at the Savoy Ballroom in New York – 1929. (L to R): Harold “Pops” Griffin (clarinet/sax), Emmitt “Lic” Johnson (clarinet/sax), Nathaniel “Buster” McPherson (clarinet/sax), Roy F. Johnson (drums, leader), Edward “Pickles” Humes (trumpet), Leroy “Fess” Wyche (piano), Percy Trent (trumpet), Fleming “Beans” Edwards (trombone), William “Mama” Allen (bass, tuba), Edward “Skinny” Trent (banjo)

Virginia Jazz: the Early Years celebrates the key role this state played in the first century of America’s classical music.

Famous artists like Richmond-born Bill "Bojangles" Robinson and Newport News native Ella Fitzgerald share the bill with lesser known but still pivotal artists whose contributions have faded into the lo-fi mists of old 78 rpm recordings. It’s a rich legacy that has been dusted off and mounted with loving care by the Richmond Jazz Society in a downstairs hall at the Valentine museum.

There could be no better guide than Jazz Society Executive Director and event curator B.J. Brown, whose enthusiasm and depth of knowledge illuminate the interconnected lives sketched out in the exhibits.

It starts at a time when a traffic light to provide safe crossing to the black students at Armstrong High School needed to be purchased by funds donated by Robinson. The Bojangles statue at Adams and Leigh streets now marks the site. Brown says the famous star tap-danced backwards down Leigh street at the dedication.

Then there is the bandleader whose early Dixieland compositions were stolen by his self-promoting pianist, Jelly Roll Morton, with credit restored many decades later. Or the Richmond orchestra that bested Duke Ellington in a Harlem battle of the bands but chose returning home over hitting the road with Cab Calloway. Or the great Ruth Brown, whose soulful singing built Atlantic Records, a label she had to fight to get the credit and money it tried to deny her. There are stories of artist after artist, saints, sinners, expatriates and local heroes like the late Joe Kennedy Jr., known to jazz aficionados worldwide as a premier violinist, and to local students as a gentle, supportive teacher.

There are related events over the course of the exhibit. Mercedes Ellington, Duke’s granddaughter on Oct. 15. Cecelia Calloway, Cab’s daughter on Nov. 7 at Capital Ale House. Ellington biographer John Edward Hasse presents “Ella Fitzgerald at 100” on Nov. 19 . Virginia Commonwealth University jazz program founder Doug Richards pays tribute to the Richmond-born Dean of Jazz Critics, Martin Williams, on March 18. And finally, B.J. Brown moderates Family Day at the museum April 22.

And for those who want to see a great Richmond-born jazzman in his prime, who is featured in modern addendum to the exhibit, drummer Al Foster appears with fellow stellar veterans Gary Bartz, Larry Wills and David Williams for two shows in the all-star Heads of State band at the Richmond Jazz Society October Guest Educator event at Capital Ale House tonight: Oct. 10.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Event Pick: Tom Petty Tribute Band Playing For Puerto Rico Oct. 6 at the Broadberry

Posted By on Tue, Oct 3, 2017 at 1:45 PM

Prabir Mehta rocking out in Full Moon Fever while performing the music of one of his favorite pop songwriters, Tom Petty, who passed this week.
  • Prabir Mehta rocking out in Full Moon Fever while performing the music of one of his favorite pop songwriters, Tom Petty, who passed this week.

So Monday sucked.

We all woke up to the worst mass shooting in modern American history in Las Vegas, then had to watch all the predictable responses which will do nothing to slow down the next record-breaker.

Then freaking Tom Petty dies from a heart attack. Or is brain dead all day. Then dies.

In the interest of finding some good news in at least one of these sad events: Local singer and songwriter Prabir Mehta let me know that his excellent Tom Petty tribute band, Full Moon Fever, will be performing at the Broadberry this Friday, Oct. 6 from 9 p.m. to midnight. The concert is being staged not only to celebrate Petty's music but also to raise money for the victims of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. Tickets are $10 to $12 (at door) and the money will go to United for Puerto Rico.

Mehta talked about what Petty's music meant to him:

"For me, as an immigrant kid, Tom Petty was kind of an ambassador to all things America. I was able to dial right into his music and somehow get context to rock and roll, California, road trips, cars, and so on," he says. "While growing up everyone had their guitar heroes. Mine was always Tom Petty. He never tore it up on lead guitar, but he was always cool and delivered incredibly meaningful lyrics in the simplest, most direct way possible. I honestly think his music had more impact on my learning to communicate than anything else."

As Mehta grew up and started playing with more serious musicians, he says he would lean back on Petty for awesome tricks of the trade in songwriting, "little things you could do to make three chords sound amazing for four minutes at a time."

"The simplicity, the sincerity, and the ability to get right to the point have always set him apart in my book," he adds.

Here is the Facebook event page, let 'em know you're coming.

Now a few videos to get you in the mood.

This is some rough footage from my own personal favorite Petty moment, when I saw him play Neil Young's Bridge School Benefit in Northern California back in October of 2000. Great little acoustic set that closed with this memorable version of "Breakdown."

And here's Richmond's own Full Moon Fever doing "Running Down a Dream."

Full Moon Fever - Runnin' Down the Dream from Todd Raviotta on Vimeo.

Finally, here's the last two songs Tom Petty ever performed live a few weeks ago at the Hollywood Bowl. Fittingly, it all ended with one of his best efforts, the nearly perfect pop song, "American Girl." Sniff. We'll miss that sun-kissed, not-from-concentrate, Florida-raised voice.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Video Premiere: Tavishi's "Cancer"

Experimental artists feature cancer cells and big pharma scandals in new work.

Posted By on Fri, Sep 29, 2017 at 10:55 AM

Sarmistha Talukdar of Tavishi.
  • Sarmistha Talukdar of Tavishi.

In experimental music news:

Sarmistha Talukdar, the visual and sound artist who also works as a local scientist (we featured her on the cover of our last annual music issue) has a new video out from her solo project Tavishi.

For those who don't know, Tavishi uses such diverse elements as Indian music, western noise, scientific research data, ambient and industrial elements, to create multi-layered and complex atmospheric compositions.

Recently, she let us know about her new project and video for "Cancer," which you can watch below.

I started collaborating with Mintzu Chen. Chen is an experimental artist, musician, and poet, who graduated from the same institute in which I am currently working, Virginia Commonwealth University. We found that we both share a passion to use art/music to highlight social issues.

We present "Cancer" as an example of our collaborative efforts. In this video, the sound was generated from catalog of the somatic mutations of cancer via data sonification, and mixed with thought provoking excerpts. The morbidity associated with cancer was expressed by the medium of atonal noise, and visual noise.

"Cancer" was created to reflect on the scientific and social aspect of the disease itself. The sonic and visual elements in this very abstract video are symbolically linked to each other on multiple levels.The video was generated using time-lapse imaging of cancer proliferation, abstracted video, online news sources, and agriculture-based media.

Additionally, the color palette mirrors the colors observed in in vitro cancer cell culture. The growth, spread, and decay of capitalism is represented through petri-dish culture, and footage on big pharma scandals are positioned accordingly. We compiled a video narrative that depicts cancer cell proliferation, the pendulum of decay and growth, and controversies which involve capitalistic industries that benefit from cancer.

We hope that the video will leave the audience pondering on the reality of who really benefits off of the work of scientific researchers? Is it majority of the people or the 1%? What are the true motives of the industries involved?

Cancer from Mochelle Chen on Vimeo.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Several Benefits for Puerto Rico Aid This Weekend

Update: First Lady of Virginia Also Holding Benefit Sept. 29 at Stone Brewing.

Posted By on Wed, Sep 27, 2017 at 1:45 PM

The great, former Richmond-based singer for Bio Ritmo, Jorge Negron, lives in Puerto Rico. Three days ago, he was able to let friends and family know that he is okay, though off grid and using his cell sparingly.
  • The great, former Richmond-based singer for Bio Ritmo, Jorge Negron, lives in Puerto Rico. Three days ago, he was able to let friends and family know that he is okay, though off grid and using his cell sparingly.

The territory of Puerto Rico is in trouble.

Millions are suffering the after-effects of Hurricane Maria, and the humanitarian crisis is worsening without power, water or fuel. The country's electrical grid is "virtually gone." People are starting to die.

Our government's aid response has been weak at best, so people are taking to social media to call for individual Americans to provide aid and assistance.

This Sunday, Oct. 1 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. you can bring any of the items listed below to donate at Chino Star Barbershop at 6838 Midlothian Turnpike. Organizers there will send it to Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Association (PRFAA).

Update: Also, First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe will headline a benefit for victims of Hurricane Maria and Hurricane Irma in Puerto Rico on Friday, Sept. 29 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Stone Brewing Richmond at 4300 Williamsburg Ave.

The event, United for Puerto Rico, will be organized by local Puerto Ricans, some of whom have not been able to contact their families, according to a press release. One hundred percent of donations will go the families of Puerto Rico.

List of Items for donation at Chino Star

• Water

• Canned food

• Powdered milk or drinks in individual containers

• A flashlight and extra batteries

• Portable Battery Lanterns

• Candles

• Matches and lighters

• Radio or battery television

• Battery alarm clock

• Manual can opener

• Disposable kitchen utensils, plates and cups

• First aid kit

• Battery Operated Fans

• toiletries items

• Feminine Hygiene Products

• Medicines

• Mosquito repellent

• Bleach (chlorine)

• Tablets to purify the water

• Disposable diapers and individual baby wipes

• Formula milk, baby food, and medicine

• Pedialyte

• Cleaning products

• Garbage bags

• Generators

• MRE's (Ready to Eat Meals) military food

For pets: Canned or dry food

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Thirtieth Annual Virginia Film Festival Announces Line-Up

Special guests include William H. Macy, Spike Lee, Ezra Edelman, Margot Lee Shetterly.

Posted By on Tue, Sep 26, 2017 at 4:55 PM

The opening night film this year will be the latest dramedy by Alexander Payne, "Downsizing," starring Matt Damon. Producer and VFF board chairman Mark Johnson will be featured in a conversation after the screening.
  • The opening night film this year will be the latest dramedy by Alexander Payne, "Downsizing," starring Matt Damon. Producer and VFF board chairman Mark Johnson will be featured in a conversation after the screening.

The largest film festival in the state, the Virginia Film Festival in Charlottesville, has announced the program for its 30th anniversary.

Among the many films it will feature guests including actor William H. Macy, filmmaker Spike Lee, filmmaker Ezra Edelman ["OJ: Made in America]" and writer Margot Lee Shetterly. Race will be one of the explicit themes this year, not surprising after Charlottesville's recent history.

The festival is slated for Nov. 9 through 12 at various venues in Charlottesville. The opening night film will be Alexander Payne's "Downsizing" starring Matt Damon, Kristen Wiig and Christoph Waltz.

Below is more from the press release:

In an announcement held today at The Jefferson Theater in Charlottesville, VFF Director and UVA Vice Provost for the Arts Jody Kielbasa announced the first wave of programming and special guests for the 2017 Festival. “We are incredibly excited to share this first announcement regarding our 2017 program,” Kielbasa said, “which we believe captures the things that set us apart, and that contribute to our rising profile on the national and international festival scene. Once again, our audiences will be able to choose from a program of extraordinary depth and breadth, including some of the hottest titles on the current festival circuit, fascinating documentaries that address and comment on the most important topics of our time, the latest work from some of the newest and most exciting voices on the filmmaking scene, and the best of filmmaking from around the world and right here in the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

This year’s special guests will include the previously-announced Spike Lee, who will be on hand in Charlottesville as part of “Race in America,” a special series presented by the VFF in partnership with James Madison’s Montpelier and its recent exhibition, “The Mere Distinction of Colour.” Mr. Lee will present his Oscar-nominated documentary 4 Little Girls, about one of America’s most despicable hate crimes - the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Church in Birmingham, Alabama that took the lives of four African American girls, Denise McNair, Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robinson, and Cynthia Wesley. He will also present I Can’t Breathe, a short video piece that combines footage of the chokehold death of Eric

Garner at the hands of the New York City Police Department with footage of the similar death of the Radio Raheem character in Lee’s iconic 1989 film Do The Right Thing.“We are honored to welcome Spike Lee back to Charlottesville and to the University of Virginia,” Kielbasa said. “His remarkable body of work and tireless pursuit of social justice make him an important presence for us any time but we are particularly pleased to bring him here in the wake of recent events that have impacted us all so deeply and that continue to fuel a national conversation about issues that deeply divide us as a nation.”

William H. Macy comes to the Virginia Film Festival for the first time to present his new film Krystal. The film, which Macy directed and stars in, is about a young man who, despite having never had a drink in his life, joins Alcoholics Anonymous in an attempt to woo the woman of his dreams, an ex-stripper who is dealing with alcoholism and drug addiction, played by Rosario Dawson. “William H. Macy is quite simply one of the finest actors working today,” Kielbasa said. “He has such a unique ability to breathe life into characters in a way that makes them truly unforgettable, and we could not be more excited to bring him to the VFF.”

Ezra Edelman’s landmark five-part documentary O.J.: Made in America, took the television and film worlds by storm with its powerful look at the case of O.J. Simpson against the context of the powder keg of racial tension that helped vault this story from a celebrity-based murder case to a watershed moment in America’s ongoing struggle with race. The Festival will present the series in its entirety, with a conversation with Edelman following the final episode.

“Particularly in this year,” Kielbasa said “when we are partnering with Montpelier on the ‘Race in America’ series and when issues of race are sadly, but rightfully in the forefront of our national conversation, Ezra Edelman is a tremendously important voice to share with our audiences, and we are proud to have him here to present and discuss a project that is groundbreaking in so many ways.”

The 2017 VFF guest list will include over 100 filmmakers in all, representing a diverse program illustrating the broad spectrum of cinema.

Opening Night Film

The 2017 Virginia Film Festival will open with Alexander Payne’s Downsizing, a science fiction flavored dramedy about a group of people exploring the possibility of dramatically reducing their footprints on the world through miniaturization. The film stars Matt Damon, Kristen Wiig, Christoph Waltz, and Hong Chau in a breakout role that is already garnering her significant Oscar buzz. “This is the third time we have opened the Festival with a film by Alexander Payne, following up on Nebraska in 2013 and The Descendants in 2011,” Kielbasa said. “Downsizing was one of the highlights of my recent Telluride Film Festival experience, and embraces so many themes that are central to all of our lives today, including acceptance and environmental awareness.” The screening will be followed by a conversation with the film’s Academy Award-winning producer and Virginia Film Festival Board Chairman Mark Johnson.

Centerpiece Film - Hostiles (Featuring Director Scott Cooper)

In 1892, Army Captain Joseph J. Blocker (Christian Bale) is ordered to escort an ailing long-time prisoner, Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi), and his family across hostile territory back to his Cheyenne homeland to die in this gritty and powerful new Western from director Scott Cooper (Black Mass) that also stars Rosamund Pike, Ben Foster and Jesse Plemons. Fresh from a triumphant world premiere at the Telluride Film Festival, the film is a powerful meditation on hatred, and on the common bonds that can bring together even the staunchest of foes. Scott Cooper, a Virginia native and Independent Spirit Award winner for his highly-acclaimed film Crazy Heart, will be on hand for a discussion of the film on the Paramount Theater stage.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Review: Nancy Murphy Spicer, Page Bond Gallery

Posted By on Sun, Sep 24, 2017 at 3:10 PM

Nancy Murphy Spicer's "You Always Overdo It"  (2016) Acrylic on canvas 72 x 60 inches.
  • Nancy Murphy Spicer's "You Always Overdo It" (2016) Acrylic on canvas 72 x 60 inches.

"Hiding in Plain Sight" is a group of seven paintings by Nancy Murphy Spicer that confront visitors with tongue-in-cheek statements, including “Why” or “Luck,” written in large handwritten print.

Each painting is made by layering thin washes of paint and all include a statement, with the exception of the diptych, “Untitled (green with loops),” and the smallest work, “Scrambled Head” (both 2017). While some words in the paintings are legible, others are obscured by large swaths of organic forms, thereby forcing visitors to look at the title for the full statement.

There is a pleasantness to the color palette, comprised of mostly warm and vibrant colors, that belies the confrontational air of some statements like “You always overdo it.” While “I have no idea” seems offhanded and flippant, “These are not just words” brings with it a sense of gravitas that summons broader undertones of language and its implications. Yet simultaneously, because of their quick gestural paint stroke and garish color combinations, the works have a cartoonish quality. Spicer makes clear asides to graffiti and Abstract Expressionist painting as evidenced by the drips, gestural paint strokes, and sense of action.

If the words are, as the title describes, “hiding in plain sight” then is there another meaning or context concealed beneath the surface of the thin layers of paint? While the statements are straightforward and direct, the paintings offer only further questions.

Nancy Murphy Spicer's "Hiding in Plain Sight" is at Page Bond Gallery through Sept. 30.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Preview: The Breakfast Cabaret Celebrates 100th Show at Crossroads Coffee and Tea

Posted By on Tue, Sep 19, 2017 at 10:45 AM

Barry Bless and Twila Sikorski's Breakfast Cabaret "is as close a recreation of a idealized Rive Gauche Parisienne café as a Forrest Hills coffee and ice cream shop is likely to come."
  • Barry Bless and Twila Sikorski's Breakfast Cabaret "is as close a recreation of a idealized Rive Gauche Parisienne café as a Forrest Hills coffee and ice cream shop is likely to come."

At 9 a.m., the band is still coalescing, but there is a healthy crowd at Crossroads Coffee and Ice Cream.

There are still a few good seats, if you don’t mind sitting with strangers. They won’t be strangers long, which is sort of the point. Breakfast Cabaret ringleader Barry Bless describes the South Side neighborhood as Richmond’s Left Bank. The atmosphere is friendly, multiethnic, and as gently leftist as a Bernie sticker on a Mac laptop.

With his accordion, waxed mustache and pointed beard, and a black top hat adorned with a red carnation, paisley shirt and black-on-black striped pants, Bless looks like he just stepped out of an Henri Toulouse-Lautrec poster. Singer and dancer Twila Sikorski is wearing a short, flowered dress, a layered, pleated pink apron with a cupcake motif and calf-high, brown cowboy boots. It is at once eclectic and down-home.

When the music kicks off into a rousing “Bella Ciao,” a 1940s anti-fascist, Italian partisan anthem, accompanied by violin, mandolin, bass and Cajun box drum, the evocation of an idealized bohemian cafe is complete. There is nothing else like it in Richmond.

On Friday, Sept. 22, the group celebrates its 100th performance. Coincidentally, it is also the 15th anniversary of Crossroads. That’s enough shows to be a local institution, albeit one that is more the result of quirky organic contingency than long-term planning.

“Twila and I have been working together on multiple projects for seven years,” Bless says. "We’re like an old married couple. We are both morning people, and both have children in school, so we rehearsed early in the day. Since that was when we were at the top of our game, we decided to move our rehearsals down to Crossroads.”

They started in September 2013 as a duo, Professor Bless and the Dancing Madwoman. There were no expectations, just shows once a month. Then twice. Then other players asked to join in and the audience grew. Ultimately, Crossroads owner Will Herring asked them to make it a weekly event.

“Over 30 performers have been part of the show,” Bless says. “Our motto is ‘Breakfast Cabaret, ruining the reputations of Richmond’s finest musicians.”

On this day, for 90 minutes on a perfect morning, the band capably navigates songs about love, about coffee and about trains. It will play a Kurt Weill song about the murderous fantasies of a waitress. There is a Russian song with a Led Zeppelin-like intro, and a surreal birthday song, originally performed by a cartoon crocodile, that Bless says has become the Russian equivalent of “Happy Birthday to You.”

The performance is interspersed with jokes, audience interaction, and intimate surprises, such as the news that the violinist has just learned she is pregnant. People come and go on the covered patio. A cheerfully racy song about going to a Chinese go-go is followed by Herring’s dramatic reading of an astoundingly bleak Yiddish tale about a death-haunted orphan selling small goods in a cold rain. Visible up the hill, at Patrick Henry School of Science and the Arts, children at recess play on sunlit swings.

It ends with a selection from the Cowgirl Suite, a long-gestating soundtrack for an imaginary black-and-white TV show “The Adventures of Twila Jane.” For a cowboy song, the melody has some sharp turns and a decidedly Eastern modality. But it’s pretty, and it explains, at long last, Sikorski’s pointed-toe, stitch-patterned boots.

It’s all charming, and with a steady audience and an ever-growing repertoire of more than a hundred songs, it is no surprise that the gig has prospered. But it is so laid back, it is hard to imagine how anyone kept count.

“I just count the posters,” Bless says. “I do one every week, while I am relaxing on Saturday night or Sunday afternoon. I try to include all the members, maybe the whole group, maybe just the rhythm section. A lot of artists stop by. Sometimes I use a sketch or photo from the audience.”

The continuum between performer and audience is essential to a place like Crossroads.

“Their product isn’t coffee,” Bless says, "it’s conversation. The coffee house tradition goes back centuries. There were plays, arguments, pamphleteers. It is a real community space, and it wouldn’t work unless somebody like Will was the proprietor. In a lot of coffee shops everyone is hiding behind their screens. At Crossroads, people look up.”

Bless has deep roots in the neighborhood. He’s lived in a house around the corner since he was 19 and raised a family here. Friday’s performances are not just a gig, but a calling.

“When I am [at Crossroads] I am doing what I am meant to be doing, at this place and time, in this particular community. Even when we are slam-packed, the audience isn’t a distraction. I want this to be something that people come to see when they come into town. See the river. Go to a movie at the Byrd Theatre, and come to the Breakfast Cabaret.”

It’s cheaper than a trip to Paris, and it is as close a re-creation of a idealized Rive Gauche Parisienne cafe as a Forest Hill coffee and ice cream shop is likely to come.

Which is, surprisingly, refreshingly close.

Breakfeast Cabaret celebrates 100 shows this Friday, Sept. 22, from 9 to 10:30 a.m. at Crossroads Coffee and Tea, 3600 Forest Hill Ave. Free.

  • Re: Several Benefits for Puerto Rico Aid This Weekend

    • The correct address for Stone Brewing is 4300 Williamsburg AVENUE in Richmond. If you put…

    • on September 28, 2017
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