Friday, April 29, 2011

Culture Up My/Your Ass Friday

As I mentioned in a comment under the Yo Yo Ma popping and locking post, I’ve been inundated – in mostly a good way – with culture lately. When your significant other works for an arts festival, it happens.

This weekend I am taking in not one but two performances of the Virginia International Tattoo – not the kind that Mark proudly displays and I expose at parties, but the military music corps type. It’s a somewhat phenomenal demonstration, the largest of its ilk in the world, even superseding its traditional inspiration in Edinburgh, Scotland. More pipes and drums than Sen Dog could ever want.

Last Friday I saw a Vegas-y performance of The Music of Michael Jackson; basically it was a rock and roll outfit cranking the King of Pop’s tunes as backed by the Virginia Symphony Orchestra and fronted by some dude who channeled MJ in both singing and dancing. His replication of the Motown performance of “Billie Jean” (seen below) was, in the vernacular of the well-to-do’s who attend these arts festival events, “some seriously good shit.” “ABC” had the stuffed shirts swaying, “Thriller” was silly fun (let’s avoid mentioning my alma mater where this song is concerned, shall we?), and the closer “We Are the World” was fairly cheesy until they had all the kids in the audience come on stage at the end. I didn’t realize the generation-spanning purview of Michael Jackson until that night; the audience was comprised of all ages, and I was most surprised to see how many kids are still huge fans of the stuff we were listening to 20-30 years ago. Highly enjoyable.

This past Tuesday I took in the Wailin’ Jennys, a Canadian trio of brunettes crooning and twanging their way through the States (though “croontwang” is not a moniker appreciated by the artists). A poor analogy might pair the Dixie Chicks’ harmonies with the Avett Brothers’ instrumental versatility. As is the case with most of the acts I am seeing through this festival, the sheer talent exuded. The requisite 10,000 hours to virtuosity that Dave had touted must have been met years ago by each of these people.

. . . which brings me to the events of last Saturday night. The festival welcomed Joshua Bell, the veritable Jimi Hendrix of violin, a guy who was playing with Sting the week prior. His outstanding, animated performance of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto drew standing ovations in the plural, but he’s used to this. He joined a symphony at age 14, and at 43 he’s now the preeminent violinist around the globe. DC area denizens may recall the Washington Post’s sociological experiment from a few years back in which they had a famous concert violinist busk on his Stradivarius in the L’Enfant Plaza metro stop lobby during rush hour, utterly unnoticed by the rat racers scurrying by. That was Joshua Bell. The article won a Pulitzer and is worth a revisit.

My tangential affiliation with this arts festival has meant that I help out when it’s needed, and it has also meant that I’m there for many of the pre- and post-performance receptions. So long as I bring my charming, engaging self to these functions and lend a hand when necessary, I enjoy free Heinekens and access to the performers. It has also given me a glimpse of Coastal Virginia’s (we’re abandoning “Hampton Roads,” but most folks here don’t know that yet) elite as they jockey for position to fawn over the talent, ask for pictures and autographs ad nauseum, and tell their own personal stories that resonate not at all. It’s amusing.

So as Joshua Bell was being mobbed by the generous donors to the festival, I hung back at the bar with the festival staffers, both because I hadn’t paid for the privilege but also because of the awkward exchange of compliments for keepsakes. And so when the furor waned and Mr. Bell ducked away for a new green bottle and a quick chat, I offered what I hope was a breath of fresh air for him – conversation about anything other than concertos and Carnegie Hall. When the reception came to a close, he approached a few of us and uttered the lines we all toss out at any formal engagement . . . “So what are we doing after this?”

Without hesitation, we took him out for mojitos at Havana on Granby Street. Many, many mojitos. Nobody recognized him there, either. (Norfolk, VA is neither Nob Hill nor the West Village, so chances were slim.) There were mildly inappropriate jokes and stories by all parties, flirtation (for once, not by me), and a really weird thing where Joshua Bell could, in several seconds, tell you on what day of the week you were born if you gave him your birthdate. Curiously savant, or “creepy,” as one girl put it. He picked up a hearty chunk of the check; the very cool exec director of the festival picked up more of it, meaning I was paid in alcohol for my entertaining skills.

The most amusing part of all, to me, was that the dude had his violin on his person at all times. It was in a super-protective case on his leg or foot at all times. One of the staffers suggested he leave it in the car, at which point I laughed and eased the virtuoso’s obvious bewilderment by explaining, “Don’t worry, she doesn’t know.” What she didn’t know is that Joshua Bell owns and plays an instrument constructed by Stradivari in 1713, one purchased for around four million dollars US. The violin was stolen twice from its previous owner, meaning he’s probably not leaving it in the back of an SUV downtown. All in all, a surreal and silly evening – Michael Jackson jokes, chatter about Indian leg wrestling, and late-night antics with a man and his violin.

The final piece of an eclectic week of music was the Stone Temple Pilots show on Wednesday night at the Norva. Free VIP tickets were offered to me shortly before showtime, so I went. Weiland is back with STP and in fine form; Rob remarked that his ability to toe the line these days would likely make the difference in good or bad. They sounded great, played nearly everything you’d want, and put on a fan-friendly show. Take ‘em in if you miss those simpler days of grunge and grime.

That’s all for now. The festival ends memorial day, so we’ll see what other high-fallutin’ fancy-boy culture I experience and bore you with between now and then. Have a good weekend; I’ll be neck deep in the Tattoo.


Danimal said...

good stuff dawg.

Danimal said...

So aaaah.....ya think the prince is in there yet?

Igor said...

He is screwing her royally.

rob said...

scepter? he hardly knows her.

zman said...

Whither Da'quan?

Mark said...

Da'Quan y'all. Nice gamble by the Bucs.

TR said...

Strong return by Whigor. My only comment on the royal wedding is that the bride's sister was pretty hot in a Winnie Cooper sorta way.

Danimal said...

Pippa her name and yeah.

Dave said...

great post-- do you think if you got joshua bell a little drunker, you could have played his stradivarius?

i would have used it like nigel tufnel to play my guitar.