January 01, 1980 News & Features » Cover Story


Field Study 

Six Local music insiders reveal their takes on Richmond's music scene.

Alyssa Holtgrewe,

DJ at New Rock 102.1-FM — "The X" — on air weekdays 2-6 p.m.

Best concert experience: Locally, going to see an Avail show about a year and a half ago, and seeing a drumstick fly from the stage and hit three different people, including my friends. It was cool for me because I first saw Avail in Lincoln, Nebraska, when I was in high school, at the Elk's Lodge. When I eventually wound up in Richmond three years ago, it was so cool to realize, wow, this is the town Avail is from.

What should people go see?

Right now, the band Red Anthem. In terms of their sound, I would compare them to something like Radiohead, an indie band with very big melodies. I first saw them last summer for their CD release party at Alley Katz. They're always getting more people to the shows; they're working their tails off and always working on self-promotion; and it's paying off.

What's thriving?

The metal scene. Having a band like Lamb of God using their national connections to help out so many bands, that's a key thing. So many bands look to them for inspiration. Also, some of the stuff that is going on at Café Diem, this clique of bands doing interesting things, Red Anthem, Aircraft, You Guys Are Girls.

What would you like to see change?

Bands can be too competitive with each other. [When] a Richmond band plays with another Richmond band at the same venue, they don't hang out and talk as much as they should.

What's evolved, good or bad?

Bands are getting better at networking. Band members are breaking out of their Richmond bands and are going out and doing dates or tours with bands that have national recording deals, then they're coming back, and there is a new connection.

What does it take to thrive in the music scene?

Foremost, a lot of patience. Staying with it long enough to allow opportunities to come along. Don't give up if you're going for a while without getting noticed. Red Anthem, Aircraft, The Gaskets — all these bands have the patience and dedication to make it.

Lance Koehler,


Recording engineer and studio owner, Minimum Wage Recording; drummer for Hotel X and The NoBS Brass Band.

Best concert experience

Seeing [jazz drummer] Elvin Jones in Santa Barbara in a tiny room called Soho, probably around 1995 or so. With the place being so small, I was basically sitting over the top of his kit. I could smell him playing. I got sweat on.

What should people go see?

Anything involving the Patchwork Collective … generally revolving around the Broad Street gallery scene. They're about arranging collaborations and getting different kinds of artists to work together.

What's thriving?

The Patchwork Collective is what's thriving right now, in my mind. The stuff in Gallery5, with the nudes that raised a ruckus, Patchwork Collective were part of that, doing the music downstairs. They're doing what is needed in Richmond. Richmond can be really cliquey, and this group is about bringing people together.

What would you like to see change?

Stereotypical rock 'n' roll. Richmond is such a huge rock 'n' roll town, but there are so many clones. Like, Avail did their thing and now there are 20,000 bands trying to sound like them. To me, the energy of Richmond is so raw and free, for everyone to jump on this cookie-cutter stuff is no good.

What's evolved, good or bad?

VCU is completely out of control, without limits and boundaries. This impacts the music scene, because it encourages bands to cater to college kids who think of Richmond as temporary. It encourages them to play something quick and easy to get fans, something that has already been done, something that is proven or tested.

What does it take to thrive in the music scene?

There's got to be fresh material. People in bands always need to be writing new and exciting stuff, and introduce that at every show. So many bands in Richmond revolve around the same live set. Someone who keeps it fresh and continues to thrive is [drummer and bandleader] Brian Jones. He's writing new stuff all the time and he has all these different projects.

Paige Harbert,

Promoted and booked shows at Nanci Raygun and through Hit/Play promotions, which she helped start in 2004.

Best concert experience:

Seeing Fugazi in Knoxville, Tennessee, when I was growing up. I was still in high school, and at that point, you're like a sponge, soaking up everything about the experience. Locally, my favorite show was seeing [hip-hop artist] Atmosphere in March 2005 at the Raygun. He had played pretty sizable venues in other places, and here he was in a 300-person club. The vibe inside was incredible.

What should people go see?

This is a weird time in Richmond, sort of a transitional time, when a lot of key bands that have been big for years are breaking up or disappearing. Pink Razors and Smoke or Fire are both really good. They're definitely on the verge of serious national exposure. Right now they're on tour with Avail.

What's thriving?

Punk rock is always very solid in Richmond. There's so much punk history here, [and] we're close to D.C., which also has so much [punk] history. When I was booking shows at Nancy Raygun, it was always easiest to get people out for punk shows.

What would you like to see change?

Fewer people that are just spectators; getting more people involved in making the scene happen.

What's evolved, good or bad?

To me, it's very cyclical. There are definitely better shows now than there were five years ago. More bands are coming to Richmond.

What does it take to thrive in the music scene?

The biggest thing is organization. There are so many aspects to having a music event work, and all the details can overwhelm you.

Josh Bearman,

Member of Special Ed and the Shortbus bluegrass band; instructor at Guitarworks; DJ of "Edge of Americana" airing Tuesdays 7-9 p.m., WRIR-FM 97.3.

Best concert experience:

[Quirky rock band] Mr. Bungle in Providence, R.I., in 1999.

What should people go see?

I think people need to take more chances on smaller, out-of-town acts. Richmond shows a lot of love for local acts, but we need to spread it around a little more. I've been to a good amount of great shows in essentially empty rooms. The Richmond-area bands I'm currently most excited about would be the Patchwork Collective and the Vulgar Bulgars. High energy klezmer music — what could be better?

What would you like to see change?

I've seen many a person cover over other bands' posters for shows that haven't yet happened, which is a supremely mean-spirited and petty act. Also, some (not all) clubs in this town could stand to learn about respect for musicians. If you want a band to play all night, at least give them some free drinks and food. If you're taking a cut of the door, at least provide a decent sound system and someone to work it properly.

What's evolved, good or bad?

Well, new bands keep emerging, which can only be good. I'm very excited about the new club downtown — Richmond deserves more national acts. I think also that WRIR has allowed for many sides of Richmond's music landscape to come together with excellent consequences.

What does it take to thrive in the music scene?

I think that bands who have regular gigs in town can do well in building a good home fan-base. Richmond's a fickle town. If you can draw people here on a regular basis, you're doing well. Having a thick skin is also essential. Richmond crowds can be cruel when they want to be, either passively or actively. It's good to be able to take it without hysterics.

Michael Wynn,


Music industry consultant for 10 years.

Best concert experience:

The Fresh Fest tour in 1987 featuring Run-D.M.C. and Whodini.

What should people go see?

Tuesday night Tropical Soul Talent Showcase featuring bands, hip hop, R&B and spoken word. Wednesday night Hyper Link Café Talent Showcase featuring local, regional and national acts; Thursday nights at The Nanci Raygun for hip-hop featuring local, regional and national rap acts, beat and DJ battles.

What's thriving?

Central Virginia is currently nationally known for its hip-hop and R&B talent ... Trey Songz and Tyra, Chris Brown, Skillz, Big Sty, Danga Mouth, Street Ratt, and let's not forget D'Angelo. The night club scene is thriving, lots of hip-hop, R&B and reggae dance clubs: Cotton Club, Club 234, Matrix, 321, Hyperlink and Reflections. I would like to see more live music venues, right now it's all dance.

What would you like to see change?

More published LP and singles released by labels and artists. More radio airplay for local artists (at least after midnight). More print media reviews and articles and local labels and artists. More live music venues featuring hip-hop and R&B. A decent venue to bring national acts. More local CD sales for local artists.

What evolved, Good or Bad

Hip-hop music went corporate and that allowed it to go mainstream. As a result it is enjoyed by every one: white, black, Asian, etc. This can be seen on Thursday nights at the Nanci Raygun. It's a beautiful thing. What's bad? The music and culture is stereotyped as violent, and that is simply not true.

What does it take to thrive in the music scene?

Support from the following: radio, venues, retail, media, fans.

Jay Leavitt,


Manager at Plan 9 Music.

Best concert experience: (Three-way tie) Led Zeppelin, May 10, 1973, in Tuscaloosa, Ala.; Bruce Springsteen at the Grand Ole Opry on the "Born To Run" tour in 1976; and Bob Marley in a small club in Birmingham in 1979.

What should people go see?

Ipanema [Café] on the last Sunday of the month usually has a DJ spinning different stuff; old soul Afrobeat, reggae. That's something they just started back up.

What's thriving?

I don't know about thriving, but here at Plan 9, vinyl records are experiencing resurgence. More and more young people are into vinyl. This past Saturday we did as much in vinyl sales as we did in used CDs. Records will be around until the earth crumbles.

What would you like to see change?

Many people in this town have the attitude that Richmond cannot support a live music scene. I'd like to see that change. If Richmond had professionally run clubs, consistent booking and promoting, the music scene in this town could be on par with what's happening in Charlottesville. Why not here? Whether they're traveling north or south, every touring act has to pass through Richmond on I-95.

What's evolved, good or bad?

WRIR continues to expand its listenership and influence on the local music scene. The news that Richmond may have two new venues opening gives me great hope for the future. I like seeing Friday Cheers bring in national acts this year. Innsbrook has also done a better job of bringing in some more contemporary acts this summer. ... The dinosaur acts that haven't put out viable albums in 30 years need to go!

What does it take to thrive in the music scene?

It obviously takes talent, creativity and originality. To build an audience, you then have to get out and bust your tails every time you play. They aren't local, but a perfect example of this is the Drive-By Truckers. After 10 years as the Truckers, they're beginning to make a halfway decent living as musicians. Add perseverance to the first sentence. It hasn't been an easy road for them. S

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