WEEKEND PICKS: Afro-Zen All Stars at Hardywood, “Plunky” Branch at Dogwood Dell, and Over the James Fest on Brown’s Island feat. Avail and more

UPDATE: The Friday shows have been rescheduled due to bad weather.

UPDATE, Friday, Aug. 5 at 6:30 p.m. Due to the nasty storms out there, two of our weekend picks have been rescheduled: Tonight’s show at Hardywood Park Craft Brewery by Afro-Zen Allstars has been pushed back to Wednesday, Sept. 7. Also the Plunky Branch show at Dogwood Dell will now take place on Sunday, Aug. 14.

Richmond summers are famous for two things: high humidity and dueling concerts scheduled on the same night.

This Friday, Afro-jazz icon James “Plunky” Branch, playing Dogwood Dell with his band, faces off against the Afro-Zen Allstars at Hardywood Park Craft Brewery.

The concert from the 75-year-old Branch is a continuation of a tradition more than 40 years old. A founder of the Richmond jazz society and longtime stalwart of the local scene, Branch’s pioneering early output has been receiving long-overdue international appreciation in recent years. While his appearances have been anything but rare in recent years –during the COVID era he played inspiring, upbeat concerts nightly for his locked-down neighbors (see below) –it’s always a treat to see him with his full band on a conventional stage.

Where Branch has deep connections to music with mostly West African roots, Afro-Zen’s foundation is the Ethiopian popular music born in mid-20th century Addis Ababa. The emphasis is on sinuous, hypnotic melodies in a minor/pentatonic mode; it’s danceable music that is at once familiar and exotic. Of special note: This Hardywood appearance marks the 100th show for the group. Leader George M. Lowe tells Style the band is still in “celebrating-the-new-CD mode” (that would be “The Buzz and the Bells”).

Of course, there is no wrong decision here. The choice likely depends on whether you prefer the soulful, charismatic playing and vocals of Branch and company or the tight, ensemble modal jams of the Afro-Zen Allstars, factoring in weather and your fondness for craft beer consumption. [Maybe you can even manage to see some of both with the right parking luck.]

The Afro-Zen AllStars play Hardywood Park Craft Brewery’s Richmond Taproom on Friday, Aug. 5 from 6:30-9:30 p.m. James “Plunky” Branch and company play at the Dogwood Dell on Friday, Aug. 5 starting at 8 p.m. Both events are free.

Looking for an outdoor rager in the sweltering heat?

Well, it won’t get much better than this massive Saturday fest at Brown’s Island, when the Over the James festival brings hordes of punk rock fans to be baptized by the riverside.

On the stacked bill: Richmond punk legends Avail headline, along with Quicksand (NYC), Cave In (Mass.), Ceremony (Ca.), Screaming Females (Jersey), and relatively new RVA punk band, Terminal Bliss, featuring members of local faves City of Caterpillar and Pg. 99.

Avail is widely known as one of the most beloved punk bands of the ‘90s, but local shows are rare these days, so this one will be sure to bring out the hometown faithful for their favorite blue collar anthems led by hard-working frontman Tim Barry, profiled over a decade ago by Style Weekly. The name of the festival, Over the James, is a reference to one of the band’s most beloved albums. This one will get sweaty, no doubt about it. Drink yo’ wah-wah.

The Over the James Festival takes place Saturday, Aug. 6 at Brown’s Island with doors at 3:30 p.m. Tickets cost $34.99 to $44.99. Show is rain or shine. Draft beer and canned cocktails available.


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