Color Kitten Robert Barrow and the Summer Solstice Island Power Jam

by | Jun 18, 2010 | MUSIC

I think we would all be surprised by how few of the most obvious ideas actually come to fruition. For a second, imagine an all-acoustic music festival that takes place on Belle Isle. A venue that has usually been associated with Slaughterama could act as a new ground zero. With the Summer Solstice Island Power Jam, it asks questions about our preconceived notions regarding shows and their venues. It also can make one dream of the endless possibilities and ideas that could flourish in order to bring like-minded music fans together. On this June 19th, hopefully friends and strangers alike will find reason to rejoice the summer weather and acoustic jams.

I was lucky enough to talk with Organizer and Color Kitten Robert Barrow about the forthcoming event. We cover the early ideas that lead to its inception as well as why can’t we all create our own music scenes as opposed to adhering to what already exists.



I think we would all be surprised by how few of the most obvious ideas actually come to fruition. For a second, imagine an all-acoustic music festival that takes place on Belle Isle. A venue that has usually been associated with Slaughterama could act as a new ground zero. With the Summer Solstice Island Power Jam, it asks questions about our preconceived notions regarding shows and their venues. It also can make one dream of the endless possibilities and ideas that could flourish in order to bring like-minded music fans together. On this June 19th, hopefully friends and strangers alike will find reason to rejoice the summer weather and acoustic jams.

I was lucky enough to talk with Organizer and Color Kitten Robert Barrow about the forthcoming event. We cover the early ideas that lead to its inception as well as why can’t we all create our own music scenes as opposed to adhering to what already exists.

Shannon Cleary: What inspired the idea of having an event with musicians that tend to play electrified but in an acoustic environment? In particular, having the event outdoors?

Robert Barrow: The biggest thing that inspired this event was reading about how Beat Happening used to have shows in alleys when they couldn’t find places to play. There’s a bit about that in Our Band Could Be Your Life – highly recommended reading. Also, I’m pretty sure the Violent Femmes got their start playing outside to lines of people waiting in front of movie theaters and that sort of thing. I saw Brownbird Rudy Relic play at Gallery 5, and he’s able to do amazing stuff without any sort of microphone at all. Incredible projection and energy. He sounds louder – meaning you perceive him as louder – than any metal band I’ve heard, and with no electricity, just a guitar and his voice. Finally, since I moved to Richmond about four years ago, it seems like there are fewer and fewer places for bands to play. Places and shows have been shut down left and right over reportedly nonexistent noise violations and trivial zoning and code violations, which seems like a shady act of municipal fundraising through fines. It got me to thinking, why do you even need a venue to play a show? Why do people need to make money all the time? Why do we have music behind closed doors, and why do we have to consume electricity to make music? What’s all this nonsense about age restrictions and always playing until 2 in the morning? Why does doing what I love seem more and more like work? So I wanted to see if we could make music performance happen without all that.

None of this is to say that I’m going to stop frequenting nightspots, and there are some people doing a lot to keep venues open and make the arrangement more equitable. Danny and Tiffany at Community Chest have been good to us, and they’ve brought in some amazing out of town bands. But I’d like to see more house shows, outdoor get-togethers, and that kind of thing, and it might happen if people didn’t get hassled so much.


Herschel Stratego

Shannon Cleary: What made Belle Isle feel like the perfect venue for this?

Robert Barrow: The first time I went into the power plant at Belle Isle, probably almost 4 years ago, that’s the first thing I thought. I just said, “This would be perfect for live music!” I’ve always been into that echoey cathedral sound, like the Jesus and Mary Chain have on Psychocandy – the music just swirls around you. I walked around inside of there shouting and clapping to hear how the sound echoed


Hot Lava

Shannon Cleary: What do you think is a regular person’s preconceived notion about music festivals? What do you think prevents most people to take on such a project?

Robert Barrow: I think most people think of festivals as something that other people organize, get sponsors for, whatever. To me, the festival is an extension of the idea of the carnival, where the world gets turned upside down and everyday people get the chance to live like royalty. Everyday rules are abolished, and people are free to be happy together. Who wouldn’t want that? People used to and still do have tent revivals, where people come together and get energized, but we don’t all speak the language of tent revivals. Still, when people get together like that, there’s energy, and you can feel it, regardless of if you believe in God or gods or spirituality or anything like that. I’m crossing my fingers that more people are seeing through the contrived notion that you have to be in a certain place and act out certain forms and that someone has to make money in order for people to have a good time.


The Diamond Center

Shannon Cleary: The line-up is really interesting to me. With your band The Color Kittens, it seems like a new scene has emerged that doesn’t necessarily cater to anything besides being in a rock band. I immediately think of groups like Hot Lava, The Milkstains, The Veins or even bands that all of you participate outside of the Color Kittens. Even beyond those immediate connections, it doesn’t seem to far-fetched to have performers such as Pedals on Our Pirate Ships or Herschel Stratego participate in the event on Saturday. When it comes down to it, what really makes a scene and in this day and age, what does being part of a scene really even mean?

Robert Barrow: Musically, I don’t know that much binds us together, besides a DIY sort of aesthetic/ethic. If the music scene you want doesn’t exist, who cares. Make it up! But there’s been a great group of DIY musicians in Richmond for a long time, and I wish I knew more of them. I’m a relative newcomer. There are people doing more than I am – I don’t really feel responsible for any sort of scene, except that I try to go to shows. On a personal level, I think everyone in this lineup is very welcoming and open to new people. Lots of us hang out, but there’s not a crystallized group of friends. Everyone I’ve met from this group is OK with hanging out with someone who could be a huge dork. I don’t even think there’s a concept of being “cool.” Well, maybe, but Dude cool, not James Dean cool. It gets boring when bands have this XXXtreme, cooler-than-thou, in-your-face attitude. I like to laugh, and I like it when other people are laughing too.


Pedals on Our Pirate Ships

Shannon Cleary: I guess after all is said and done with the Summer Solstice Island Power Jam, what is the next project up for you? Would you consider organizing another fest or would your focuses direct themselves more towards the Color Kittens?

Robert Barrow: I totally have more responsibilities right now than I can handle! I tend to bite off more than I can chew. My wife and I have been working on a house and a garden, so that’s going to get a lot of my attention. Musically, I’m really excited about Tyrannosaurus Awesome, the new project I’m working on with my wife Alison, who plays keyboard in the Color Kittens. I don’t know about festivals, but I might plan a get-together or two here and there. Right now I’m just hoping that we don’t get chased out of the power plant.

The Summer Solstice Island Power Jam takes place Saturday, June 19th (that’s tomorrow) at the Belle Isle Power Plant. The bands featured are Hot Lava, Pedals on Our Pirate Ships, The Diamond Center, Nervous Ticks, The Color Kittens, Herschel Stratego, Cubbyhole and Tyrannosaurus Awesome. It’s All-Acoustic and All-Free. It goes on from 1pm-8pm. See you there.

R. Anthony Harris

R. Anthony Harris

I created Richmond, Virginia’s culture publication RVA Magazine and brought the first Richmond Mural Project to town. Designed the first brand for the Richmond’s First Fridays Artwalk and promoted the citywide “RVA” brand before the city adopted it as the official moniker. I threw a bunch of parties. Printed a lot of magazines. Met so many fantastic people in the process. Professional work: www.majormajor.me




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