Where the roads never meet.
director, editor: R. Anthony Harris
videographer: Joey Wharton
production: Wharton Major
Where the roads never meet.
director, editor: R. Anthony Harris
videographer: Joey Wharton
production: Wharton Major
From announcing the Avail reunion shows in Richmond to interviewing tattoo artists, musicians, and hometown folks, No Lies Just BS Podcast host Nick Swartz opens a personal window into Virginian life from his Harrisonburg shop, Alley Cat Tattoo.
“I don’t really do things in the conventional way.”
From humble beginnings in Clifton Forge to being kidnapped with his brother at eight years old, Swartz could have easily captured an audience with the tales of his own upbringing — but his stories weren’t the only ones Swartz wanted to tell.
“Not everyone is a great storyteller, but everyone has a story to tell,” Swartz said. “I’ve talked to people from all over the place… I’ve got a ton of stories that I haven’t told yet on the show, but I like to sprinkle them in when my memory is sparked by someone else.”
The podcast, which started three years ago this October, is a storytelling podcast with a focus on the tattoo community. From interviewing world-renowned tattoo artists to hometown folks from rural regions of Virginia, to hosting the original Avail reunion show announcement in its Tim Barry episode — which quickly ignited fans from Richmond and across the nation — Swartz made a point to highlight voices from all walks of life.
“The podcast has kind of grown on its own. And it’s weird, because I get recognized in Richmond a lot more than anywhere else — but I also have people look at the podcast and go, ‘What’s that?’ more than anywhere else.”
Swartz has come to know many of his friends and podcast guests through owning Alley Cat Tattoo. Since No Lies Just BS started, he’s sat down with tattoo artists like Richmond’s Brian Bruno at Absolute Art, Mike Rubendall of Kings Avenue Tattoo in New York City (according to Swartz, one of the most high-profile shops in the world), Jill Bonny of San Francisco’s Studio Kazoku, Virginia’s Scott Sterling, Timothy Hoyer, and more. He’s also hosted musicians like Scott H. Biram, Old Heavy Hands, and Ryan Braces of Bracewar.
“I was trying to tell these stories out about growing up in the mountains and having this crazy life,” Swartz said. “My brother and I got kidnapped when I was eight and he was eleven. We were left in an empty condominium in Florida for a month. We were around rednecks, bikers, and scumbags, drugs and crazy shit. I was telling these stories [as I started the podcast], but I was sort of directing them toward a tattoo audience, because that’s where I was known.”
An especially-beloved voice for Swartz is that of Mary Jane, a local artist in her 70’s who made her way into his shop seeking her first tattoo. Mary Jane had just seen the latest season of Stranger Things, and noticed the character with a fishbone tattoo on her ear. Sick of wearing earrings, Mary Jane decided to get her first tattoo on her earlobes.
“I hear her setting an appointment, and she has an incredible Southern accent from the far South. And I love accents — it’s something I’ve always been drawn to,” Swartz said. “I said to her, ‘Do you know what a podcast is?’ And she said, ‘Yes, of course. What am I, an idiot?’ I asked if she’d like to be on my podcast, and Mary Jane said, ‘Well, my friends will probably think I’m crazy for spending the day with some weirdo like you, but I’ll do it [laughs].’”
Mary Jane (Episode 98) went on to tell a remarkable tale of growing up in Alabama and living through segregation. Born in Tuscaloosa — at the time, the national headquarters of the Ku Klux Klan — she lived in the Deep South until 1969 before moving to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Her family included a black woman, Johnnie Mae Jones, who was her daddy’s best friend and worked as their live-in nanny for 50 years. In high school, Mary Jane and her friends used to get drunk and sneak into Klan rallies.
“She said, ‘I remember going to these meetings as a little girl,’ and I thought ‘Oh my god, she’s gonna be racist, I’m gonna have to throw her out of here.’ Then she went, ‘The only thing I knew about these guys was they wore white… things… over their heads, and that they were white trash. You knew they were the lowest of the low,’ and I said, ‘Oh, thank God.’ I’ve had the gnarliest tattooers from all over the world reach out to me and say she’s their favorite episode — now, she has two full sleeves of tattoos and two half sleeves on her legs. And she’s part of our family, she comes to cookouts at my house.”
Stories like Mary Jane’s aren’t uncommon to No Lies Just BS. Swartz has hosted guests from tattooers to musicians and hometown locals — all telling their own little pieces of life with a laid-back, and usually comedic, flare.
“Anytime you have the opportunity to be friends with someone, it improves upon your life,” Swartz said of Mary Jane. “We’ve become the best of friends. She’s a special lady.”
As the owner of a tattoo shop nestled in the Shenandoah Valley between the Appalachian Mountains, Swartz has come to hear the wild and entertaining stories of his many customers, musicians, and tattoo artists in the industry.
“[Jill Bonny] came on, and told a story about visiting two Japanese tattoo masters in Japan, both of them in their 80’s. One of those gentlemen is Hori Yoshi III,” Swartz said. “He prepared a statement to be read on my show, which is mind-blowing. He’s been my favorite tattooer for years, and I never thought I would be in contact with him.”
Of the few people Swartz has pursued more than once to be on the show, Tim Barry was one of them. When he initially didn’t hear back, Swartz assumed it was because of his enthusiasm for Avail, a part of Barry’s life that was behind him. But out of the blue, he got a text from Barry that said, “I want to do the show, and I want to do it on this day.”
“Avail is a big deal for me, they made a huge impact on me,” Swartz said. “I said I couldn’t do that day because I had someone flying in from LA to do the show and hang at the shop for a couple days, and he goes, ‘Well, it’s got to be this day. And if it can’t be this day, it can’t be at all.’ I was like, ‘fuck!’ [laughs], so I went to Richmond… And he said the real reason why you’re here is because Avail is playing in Richmond for the first time in 12 years.”
The episode quickly reached the music community in Richmond, sparking a wave of excitement for the reunion in Virginia and around the country. When he first announced the show dates on the podcast, Barry noted an episode of No Lies Just BS that hosted his bandmate, Beau Beau.
“Tim told me, ‘Listening to you talk to Beau on the podcast, and the way you described our shows, was inspiring, it made me feel good. Then I was opening for Hot Water Music in London, and they described the Avail shows the same way. I listened to Over The James again, and it sounded really good… so I decided to talk to the guys [about a reunion].’” Swartz said. “It was a face-melter for me. I didn’t know he was going to do that when I got to his house.”
At the beginning, No Lies Just BS got its name from the first Blues Brothers movie — Swartz’s favorite to date. His son’s name is Jake Elwood Blues Swartz, and the podcast’s name was no less intentional.
“It’s been a part of my life my whole life. After Jake gets out of prison, he asks, ‘When are we gonna practice?’ And Elwood tells him the band’s not together. Jake says, ‘You told me the band was still together, you lied to me!’ and Elwood says, ‘Ah, it’s not a lie, it’s just bullshit.’ My wife suggested the name for the podcast, and I agreed because I didn’t want to be the guy to discuss serious topics — there’s a place for those things, and I’m just not the guy to host that show.”
Swartz still tries to make a difference in the world, especially close to home. He just doesn’t like to make a big deal out of it.
“I’m the type of person that I believe as long as we take care of our own, and our own neighborhoods and communities, everything will be okay,” he said. “I do it here. Whenever it’s time to pack the bus for school, I go around and get everyone in the shop to pitch in for school supplies for kids in our area. It’s not a huge thing. But I feel it makes a difference here.”
As he became more involved in the culture over his 16 years owning Alley Cat Tattoo, Swartz came to meet many people with interesting backgrounds and stories he thought the world should hear. As No Lies Just BS grew its audience, he found that the most valuable piece of the podcast was its ability to share the jokes, tales, and personalities — the small, often overlooked facets of everyday life — that give a community its soul. Its underground and personal vibe makes listeners feel like they’re sitting in the room with their favorite artists and musicians.
“There’s this incredible tattooer out of Norway named Marius Meyer, and he was one of my early listeners,” Swartz said. “He said to me, ‘Nick, the draw for me is not the tattoo stuff, but it’s the window into Appalachian life from a country boy’s point of view. There’s no way I can get an authentic version of that where I live, unless I read a book that was written 50 years ago. It just doesn’t exist.”
The podcast offers its listeners a look into the region’s culture. With little other outlets aside from local news, No Lies Just BS creates a way to tell Virginia’s stories from a personal view that many news stories don’t convey.
“The thing that I enjoy is bringing stories to the table that people would not hear otherwise,” Swartz said. “My brother and I lived in a place where, if you needed to, you couldn’t holler for anybody. It was just our house in the woods. We cut wood to stay warm, we killed deer and caught trout to feed ourselves, and we had a giant garden. It’s a point of view that I can provide and share that’s just not often touched on.”
Swartz feels that there’s a difference between his own perspective on life in the back country of Virginia that isn’t captured by most who choose to write about it.
“Often those little articles and news stories [about life in the area] are written from an outside perspective that is spoken to someone that they pity,” he said. “I’m proud of where I’m from, I’m proud of who I am. And the things that I’ve experienced, good and bad, equipped me for life.”
Swartz is interested in everyday people, and with them, he’s heard everything from the complicated to the humorous and bizarre. A passionate chef, Swartz takes a personal investment in cooking — and after cooking with Old Heavy Hands, Brother Hawk, and the artists of Absolute Art among others, his cooking and connections through tattoo communities helped him become close friends with many people from the tattoo industry, including Bracewar’s Ryan Braces.
“Ryan’s been my buddy for many years, and he was booking a show at Strange Matter for Brother Hawk and Old Heavy Hands,” Swartz said. “He asked if I’d come down there and cook, so I went with a buddy of mine. It was a blast. I hit it off with those dudes, we drank whiskey and smoked, and I gave them a ton of food for them to take on the road. So at that point, we decided to link up, and Bracewar booked a show in Harrisonburg. He’s a solid guy all-around — those dudes are my close friends, and they mean the world to me. That’s my family.”
Another favorite musician of his guests on No Lies Just BS, Scott H. Biram, originally made an impact on Swartz the first time he saw Biram play. That happened back in the 90s, when Biram opened for Hank Williams III in Washington, D.C. When Biram played a show in his town years later, Swartz reached out to a friend at the venue about getting him into the show.
“He told Scott, ‘I think you guys are very similar, and you’d get along just fine.’ So Scott avoided me at all costs,” Swartz laughed. “A year later he comes back, and his manager tells me the reason he avoided me is because he plays a persona on stage — from my friend, he thought I was just like his persona. And he didn’t want to associate with anybody like that. But I’ve been to his shows and bought him drinks so many times, I said that if he sees me, he’ll know me. I texted Scott a picture of me, and immediately got a text saying, ‘Aw hell, man, I didn’t know it was you!’”
When Biram came on the show, he played a version of “Mule Skinner Blues” in the office. The old-time bluegrass song has been a favorite of Swartz’s since he was about 10 years old.
“For a moment, I was like, ‘This is unreal. I can’t believe it, he’s sitting five feet from me playing a song that I’ve listened to my whole life.’ That really made a big impact on me. He’s a solid guy, it definitely kind of blew my mind — he was also one of the first people that had no reason to give me a chance. In tattooing, you might know who I am, but in the rest of the world, I’m just a dude.”
After more than 160 episodes, there are still plenty of guests Swartz hopes to host on No Lies Just BS in its future. From tattooers like Baltimore’s Uncle Pauly and New York’s Rose Hardy, originally from New Zealand, to honky-tonk musician Wayne Hancock from Texas, the list keeps growing as Swartz meets artists from different walks of life. Most importantly, he wants to hear their stories; especially more from ordinary folks like Mary Jane and his Uncle Benny.
For many of us, the words of a passing stranger in our day-to-day encounters are nothing more than white noise in the background of life’s routines. But for Swartz, something as simple as an accent overheard from another room can open the door to a lifetime of stories shared, new friendships, and the sense of community that connects us all as individuals. The simple things are, to him, things to be valued — and whether it’s small talk or a big moment with our artistic heroes, he’s able to use No Lies Just BS as a means to bring people together.
Catch up with Swartz at Alley Cat Tattoo in Harrisonburg, with his shop’s artists including Chris Porter, Andrew Conner, Trevor Smith, Richie Stutler, and Jake Hockman, as well as piercers Katie Davis and Sarah Pennington (who also performs in Richmond as a popular burlesque artist by the name of Sindi Ray Boustier).
Our 2019 Fall Pride Guide, in collaboration with VA Pride, is out now! In this article from the magazine, Alexander Rudenshiold dives deep into Richmond’s vibrant LGBTQ music scene.
It’s no secret that Richmond is experiencing a musical renaissance right now. Everywhere you look, there’s something happening in every genre: from metalcore to emo, and experimental hip hop to techno. It’s all happening, it’s all connected, and it’s all LGBTQ. While many of the musicians deemed “culturally relevant” at large are the same cookie-cutter, cisgender, straight white people that they have always been, Richmond’s underground music scene — like so many others across the United States — is run and populated by LGBTQ people.
Perhaps the most prominent recent success from the Richmond LGBTQ community is six-piece metalcore collective .Gif From God, who recently signed to Prosthetic Records: an internationally-distributed metal label known for putting out such titans as Lamb of God, Gojira, and Animals as Leaders. The band has become notable online not just for their punishing riffs, but also for the reactionary homophobic and transphobic rhetoric they’ve received in response to their music. The band exists in an intersection between different communities of LGBTQ people in Richmond, sharing members between scenes — most notably vocalist Mitchie Shue, known widely for their post-metal project Truman, and bassist Sofia Lakis, who also regularly DJs techno music.
“I believe the identities I hold directly shape the way I perceive and experience the world,” said Shue. “Most of what I write about in .Gif is in reference to mistakes I’ve made, frustrations I’ve felt, and a deep feeling of intense hopelessness, surrounding the circumstances of my existence and the people I care about.”
Both Shue and Lakis also play guitar in the six-piece “revenge” band Listless, which has recently made appearances at DIY festivals up and down the East Coast. Shue elaborates that much of the content in both of these bands is focused around holding individuals accountable, and that “actions have consequences, and the ways in which we carry ourselves through the world hold weight and meaning.”
“I feel like these identities have shaped my perspective and experiences in both obvious and imperceptible ways, but at the end of the day, I make music to please my own palette,” said Lakis, an out bisexual trans woman. “I draw inspiration from my environment and my experience of it, and that experience is affected by my gender and sexual identity to varying degrees in any given situation.”
As a guitarist in Listless, Lakis said that most of her inspiration comes from sources of anger. “A lot is derived from my identity rubbing against the grain of my environment, or a self-loathing somberness and resentment stemming from dysphoria, disillusionment, and trauma.” With .Gif however, she thinks of things as a bit “cheekier,” specifically with regards to the genre typing of the band as “sasscore.”
“Sasscore is hard to define in strict musical terms, but there is a sort of queer connotation to it,” she said. “That goes along with certain sounds and tropes that basically serve as the hardcore/metal equivalent of ‘camp,’ referring to the more ‘effeminate’ qualities of some emo/screamo, mixed with a kind of off-kilter ‘lol, I’m so random’ humor trafficked by myspace-era scene kid memes.”
On top of all this, Lakis also books a series of electronic music showcases under the name “Formula,” aimed at bringing together the many dance scenes in Richmond. She directly credits the LGBTQ community with the success of these events. “LGBT+ artists were at the forefront of this party because we were the ones facilitating it,” she said. “And to a large degree, LGBT+ artists are the ones leading the charge in the Richmond dance music scene.”
Shue and Lakis find themselves at the intersection of two of Richmond’s most prominent LGBTQ music communities, the Great Dismal collective and Ice Cream Support Group. Shue, through Great Dismal, is responsible for many of the most notable offbeat metal and punk shows happening in Richmond booking prominent bands like The HIRS Collective and Soul Glo. The shows also give back to the local community, by donating a portion of the proceeds from each show to organizations working towards positive change, like the Richmond Reproductive Freedom Project and the Richmond Doula Project.
Ice Cream Support Group is a collective of electronic artists organized by Angel Flowers (a.k.a. DJ Archangel), who regularly throw dance parties called “Ice Cream Socials” as fundraisers for some of the same organizations supported by Great Dismal. The Socials serve as an important springboard for DJs like Lakis, a place for them to experiment and find their sound. These groups represent a community which, while differing in some interests, comes together through the principles of what Shue calls “values-based organizing and mutual aid” — coming together around common goals and, despite their differences, supporting one another when they’re able.
Another vibrant new group on the scene is Space Litter Records, a community space run by Ana Davis and Sawyer Camden, both members of emo band Warrington. Since starting in February of this year, Space Litter has become a hub for DIY organizers across Richmond. They lend their space and time seemingly without limit and book their own shows, specifically with the intention to highlight marginalized voices. Davis explains that her identity affects the way she books shows, and that she specifically looks to book groups which aren’t entirely straight and white. “It feels good to see people performing who might not have had their parents pay for their instruments and lessons,” she said. “[People] who make DIY look and feel different for once.”
On top of affecting Space Litter’s booking practices, Camden, a trans man, said that his identity affects his songwriting as well (even if indirectly). “I honestly only have one song that’s actually about my trans identity, and dealing with that as a human,” he said. “But my identity shapes my whole life, and I sing mostly about my depression and anxieties, with very few songs about love and relationships. Oftentimes that stems from my ‘gay/trans lifestyle.’”
Critically, Richmond’s underground hip-hop and rap scene is also making major moves, particularly since LGBTQ rapper Alfred. released their latest album LIKE YOU!! on the notable indie label Topshelf Records, in conjunction with the joint Richmond-Brooklyn operation Citrus City Records. They, along with producer/rapper Ty Sorrell and noise rap duo BLVCKPUNX (of which DJ Archangel is a member) are leading a new wave of hip hop artists in Richmond exploring gender and sexuality through classic and experimental forms.
“I see [Great Dismal and Space Litter] making an effort to make connections across different genres, and bringing people together by simply providing spaces where marginalized people can feel safe and welcomed.” said Judy Hong. “[They] have been so gracious to me by booking and supporting me during my time in Richmond.” Hong, a non-binary/agender Korean-American and frontperson of indie rock band Baby Grill, and the mastermind behind longstanding label Quiet Year Records, also spoke to the hardships of being a QPOC (queer person of color) in music. “Whether it’s while playing shows, recording, or working with music journalists, the relationships I have with the people around me have largely shaped my experiences.”
They stress that there are a great number of practical issues which limit the access for many marginalized people to participate in this type of music. “Who has the PA, the recording studios, the booking calendars, the online platforms?” they ask. “Who will take me seriously and show they can respect me as a person?” For them, finding ways to connect with people higher up in the music industry is a challenge. “It’s still cis, straight, and white-dominated, and I’m just not around many people like that anymore — but that’s who’s calling the shots in the music industry, that’s who I have to get the attention of and impress. It’s discouraging sometimes, for sure.”
Despite setbacks like policing of DIY venues and closures of venues like Strange Matter, Richmond’s LGBTQ music scene has persisted and thrived, particularly in the past year. There’s a pervading sense of positivity that enmeshes its members, a sense of community that’s uniquely entwined seemingly-disparate genres into one giant web of support.
“Moving to Richmond from Columbia, SC — four, going on five years ago — was one of the best things I ever did for myself,” said Lakis, who credits the community here in Richmond with empowering her transition. “The resources provided by local organizations like Health Brigade are what brought me here, seeking residency and a chance to begin some form of medical transition. Along with those resources, I found a community full of the most supportive and generous people I’ve ever met, and I’ve made more friends than I could’ve imagined in a relatively short amount of time.”
Hong’s feelings echo Lakis’s. “I have a lot of love for the queer and trans people of color in Richmond,” they say. “While there’s still a lot of violence against LGBTQ people here (and everywhere), there’s pockets of joy and solidarity that make being here worth everything.”
“Being a queer POC in Richmond is actually sick because there are so many of us around,” said Davis. “It’s nice not to feel like such a freak in a town full of them.”
“Also,” adds Lakis, “it’s a pretty good place for a girl to find a date.”
Top Photo: .Gif From God at Gallery 5. Photo by Erik Phillips
Every Friday night, RVA Mag brings you an absolutely essential playlist curated by Virginia’s most influential artists, musicians, and institutions.
This week, our featured playlist comes from Slimehole founder Mark Osborne, who started his event promotion/tour booking/music consulting business a few years back when he was the talent buyer at the late, lamented Strange Matter. These days, he’s responsible for bringing to Richmond many of the best live music events this city sees on a week-to-week basis, at venues large and small, from the Broadberry to Wonderland and everything in-between. If you want to hear about good live music every single week, make sure you’re keeping up with Slimehole.
On this dreary summer weekend, Osborne has brought us a playlist that runs the gamut — everything from horror movie soundtracks to hard-hitting hip hop, from moody postpunk to raging metal, and more. All of it’s here, and it’s sure to brighten up your weekend.
Embrace the slime, Virginia.
Open this playlist from mobile in your Spotify app HERE.
Music Sponsored By Graduate Richmond
Richmond’s Large Margin go beyond the obvious frustrating aspects of American society in 2019 in order to critically examine their role within that society. They also rock really hard.
Any active listener to indie rock in the last half-decade will have noticed the uptick in “angular rock,” a term partially lifted from jazz criticism used to describe odd musical phrasings (or, to use theoretical terminology, large harmonic jumps). This buzzword has been posthumously applied to such 90s-era groups as Fugazi and Drive Like Jehu, both of whom are big influences of Richmond’s own angular champions, Large Margin.
Though Large Margin only started in 2017, all of its members – singer/guitarist Chris Compton, guitarist Chris Carreon, bassist Zach Wish, and drummer James O’Neill – had known each other and appreciated each other’s music for over a decade, according to Compton. “Since these friendships were already established, we all kind of understood musically where the other was coming from,” he said.
This cohesion is evident when listening to the band’s self-titled debut album, released last fall – not only is the musicianship tight, but the songs themselves sound composed by a band of scene veterans; they’re layered and complex, but are not gaudy, or trying to prove something. That said, they clearly know what they want to sound like. “I’ve always been drawn to powerful melodic voices in aggressive music,” said Compton, crediting not only the aforementioned Drive Like Jehu and Fugazi but also less predictable groups like Nine Inch Nails and Killing Joke as core influences.
In another veteran move, the band completed a full album of original material within a year of their formation. Compton credits the band’s creative speed, in part, to a time-crunch created by Chris Carreon’s impending move to Philadelphia at the time of the band’s formation.
“I’ve always been the type to dwell on every detail, and that rush to create allowed me to not second-guess my instincts,” said Compton. “We had the music for the record written by the time Chris had left, which for me is lightspeed. It did take me awhile to finish the lyrics, but I’m very proud of what we created in such a short amount of time.”
Large Margin’s music isn’t just sonically cohesive, though; lyrically, it’s united by an intense frustration with the current social and socio-economic landscape. But for Compton, it goes beyond that.
“I felt that the frustration of a white cis-het male towards a system ultimately set up to work for them was hardly something that needed to be exclaimed,” he explained. “I instead chose to look inward and analyze my own role as an ally. A lot of the frustration and disappointment heard [in the lyrics] are more directed at my own insecurities and failures to help those that are truly marginalized by those in power. Beyond the surface aggression heard in the music, this ended up being a very personal record.”
Compton had good things to say about Richmond’s music scene and the people in it – crediting Mark Osborne of Slimehole and Shannon Cleary at WRIR as promoters who are consistently supportive. “Though we’re all still grieving the loss of Strange Matter,” Compton said, echoing a sentiment which continues to resound throughout Richmond’s music scene even eight months after the club’s closure, “it’s been great to see other venues around town pick up the slack, as well as a wealth of DIY venues putting up touring acts.”
Despite their first record having only been out for a year, and a member living multiple states away, Large Margin has begun to write new material. “Writing with a member long distance is something we’re learning to navigate,” says Compton. “I don’t imagine it being as quick to come together as our previous release, but our goal with this band is to enjoy the process of writing and playing as much as we can.”
He also says that the band doesn’t have plans to tour. “Booking tours and marketing our music is not something that brings us much joy,” he said. “We’re just trying to have a good time.”
Top Photo by Craig Zirpolo
Music Sponsored By Graduate Richmond
That Forbes article was right about what a great music city Richmond is, but for all the wrong reasons.
Any article which refers to Richmond as “the Southern capital” is going to make me wary – the nonchalant use of this term indicates a particular disconnectedness from (or disregard for) the history, politics, and culture of the area. So, when a Forbes article published on Friday titled “Why Richmond, Virginia is the Underground Music City Everyone Needs To Visit” dropped such a loaded phrase in its first paragraph, I knew I was in for a read.
The piece first came to my attention via a meme on Instagram. Initially, I thought nothing of it – people poke fun at innocuous articles online all the time. It was only later, when I saw multiple prominent figures in the Richmond music scene share the article and their own displeased takes, that I actually looked into it.
The title seems to suggest some sort of counterculture with it’s use of the phrase “underground music” – but, instead of shining a light on the very real D.I.Y. music scenes flourishing in Richmond right now, author Isis Briones chose to do exactly the opposite.
This article covers quite a few Richmond music hotspots and events: Nas and Gryffin’s planned headlining sets at The National, live DJ sets on the weekend at a downtown rooftop bar, the many breweries in Scott’s Addition, and Harry Potter at the Altria Theatre – giving each of these a decent chunk of wordage. Now, the discerning reader may notice something lacking from this list. Ah, yes! That would be actual local music. In the last two sentences of the article, amounting to essentially a footnote, the author writes:
“For less mainstream affairs, give smaller places like The Camel and The Canal Club a try. From hip hop to punk rock, you can find beloved local musicians performing at these iconic Richmond venues.”
Don’t you love Local Musicians? Me too! I caught them down at the Iconic Richmond Venue the other night! They really rocked, reminded me of Phish! And who doesn’t love a little Phish, am I right?
Not to belabor the point – but Forbes has absolutely highlighted the least interesting, least underground, least Richmond aspects of this city. This fact was not lost on any number of people actively involved in the local scene.
Manuel Lemus, a co-founder of Citrus City Records and founder of Underground Orchard (a local booking company), was one of the many people I saw unhappy with this article’s portrayal of the Richmond music scene. “It’s funny because there’s always been this weird thirst to label Richmond as this ‘new, up and coming’ music scene by a certain crowd of people,” said Lemus. “But honestly those people aren’t even really part of the community and don’t contribute much.”
They were also quick to point out the part that queer and POC artists and promoters play in organizing the local music scene, and the way those people are frequently ignored. Speaking of the Forbes article’s intended audience, Lemus said, “Those folks prioritize the same two or three artists, and very niche events that are white-centric and themed towards a particular ‘brewery’ vibe.”
These grievances have been echoed across Richmond’s underground music circles recently. Many people take issue with the proliferation of breweries throughout places like Scott’s Addition and the gentrification they cause, pushing out artists – particularly those from marginalized groups and communities. On top of this, between the abrupt closure of the genuinely iconic Strange Matter late last year and the continued scrutiny of D.I.Y. venues by police, there are a very limited number of spaces for independent musicians to be heard.
This leads into what I think is the most infuriating part of the article: it’s erasure of the people who make the music scene in Richmond so vibrant – the artists, the booking collectives, and the showgoers. This focus on the big venue with the big artists, on spaces where music comes second to beer and debauchery, is a slap in the face to every person who works day in and day out to persevere through the setbacks and improve the music community for everyone here.
Richmond, Virginia is the underground music city everyone needs to visit – not because of major touring acts or soundtracked drinking events, but because of the diverse array of styles and people who collectively make up this city’s unique musical identity.
Top Photo: Butcher Brown (via Facebook)
Music Sponsored By Graduate Richmond