TVD Live: RVA Music Festival 2011

On the heels of Richmond’s notorious Best Friend’s Day, RVA Magazine with the help of local promoters and investors organized the inaugural RVA Music Festival.

The popular magazine and website has become a mainstay in Richmond, helping to cultivate and support the art and music scene. Richmond is a small city, but the people are diverse and the history is rich. Hardcore and folk music are appreciated equally here and house shows are more likely to fill in than a venue. The DIY ethic prevails, the success of the mostly punk festival Best Friend’s Day and the bike kid’s Slaughterama serve as proof that Richmond likes action, but they are not used to paying for it. RVA Music Fest has been the first real attempt at testing the local denizens and hoping that they’ll support something larger, though a steal at just $30.

The gates opened at two on Sunday afternoon in the historic Shockoe Bottom district. I arrived around three and found a sparse crowd. Best Coast and the ever popular Girl Talk were headlining, but local acts filled two stages throughout the day before anyone got a glimpse of Gregg Gillis.

The second stage was positioned directly in front of the main entrance and I listened to Proverbial, a jam band with some reggae influences, briefly before heading to find some friends. The sun still hung high and what few people were there were finding shade anywhere they could and ducking into bars for air conditioning.

The main stage was at the end of the street, with the Richmond skyline (yes, that exists) hanging in the distance. The pop-punk outfit, The Silent Age played in earnest despite the repressive heat and meager crowd. While their sound is something we’ve all heard before, they are talented musicians, and would have been a hit among high schoolers, had there been more in attendance. Though, Richmond isn’t exactly known for being a safe city, and I can understand why parents may not have been supportive of their darlings attending.

I caught part of rap trio Luggage’s set on the second stage. Each member was proudly wearing their band’s shirt, and made attempts to interact with the crowd. It wasn’t always successful. I couldn’t tell if they were being sincere, or if this was an attempt at satire, either way it was difficult to bear and I headed back to the main stage.

White Laces have built a following in Richmond and elsewhere. They were among Esquire’s top fifteen bands to see at this year’s South By Southwest Festival. By the time they went on, it had started to cool down and people were arriving en masse. Their noise-rock stood out among the other bands and drew a fair amount of people. One elderly man in particular had a blast while dancing in front of the stage, though he was later escorted out by security.

The local independent radio station, WRIR was hosting meet and greets with the bands at McCormack’s Irish Pub. I headed there to catch White Laces’ interview and to grab a bite. It was crowded despite the beer and food vendors lined up on the street.

Best Coast was supposed to go on soon, so I headed back to the main stage where a local radio DJ was presenting a blonde woman. She wasn’t on any of the schedules I had seen, nor did anyone seem to know her name. She sang a song that I can only presume to be titled “Complicated” with the fervor of a pageant queen. It was an odd appearance at our tiny festival to be sure.

When Best Coast took the stage, a sea of women stood at attention. They are chick-rock to the umpteenth degree and have their routine down. Bethany announced that it was their second to last show of the year, and that her guitarist Bob now has a girlfriend – I’m used to band banter, and usually enjoy it, but I thought it was odd and slightly embarrassing for him that she would announce his personal affairs in such a public manner. The audience didn’t seem to mind though and they ohh’d and ahh’d along with her through each song.

By this time it was dark, the skyline was lit and the audience had boomed since three o’clock, Richmond was patiently awaiting Girl Talk, the popular mash-up master of his generation. When he took the stage the mass erupted with squeals and cheered in excitement – they were there to dance. He isn’t a musician in the classical sense, but his mash-ups are clever.

If you don’t think about it too much, it’s a great time. Gregg Gillis isn’t there to put on a show so much as he’s there to put on a party.

Everyone left in a sweaty haze and took the party home.

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