Harrisonburg, you know how to throw a good shin-dig. I’ve been to some that were all pulled pork and PBR. Some that were wine and cheese and silent films. Some that were champagne and eggs benedict. Some that were margaritas and enchiladas. Some that were craft beer and local food. I even hosted one that was sushi lessons and gourmet cake. But this one was something brand new.
I went to my first-ever Progressive Party with Brandy and I LOVE the concept. A progressive party is one in which guests move from one home to another to enjoy a multi-course meal. Cocktails and appetizers at one location, dinner at the next, coffee and dessert at yet another, and so on. Until a couple weeks ago, my only experience with such a thing has been at my own house. I sorta have my own version of the progressive party… snacks for the kids on the coffee table, then dinner at the kitchen table, followed by maybe a popsicle or ice cream sandwich on the porch. And cocktails for me throughout. Okay, so maybe that’s not really a “party,” but there usually is a fair amount of laughing, dancing, and spilling. And yes, I have been known to make a meal out of cheese, crackers, and rolled up salami held together with those little festive toothpicks.
Anyway, Brandy and I were lucky enough to be invited to the Arts Council’s Fourth Annual Progressive Party. Because our lives are a sitcom, the evening started out strangely. First, the people we’d invited as our “dates” for the evening both succumbed to last-minute illness. Thankfully, Brandy’s sister Brook was available, and that woman went from sweat pants to cocktail dress and drove thirty miles in like 43 minutes. Then, we weren’t sure where exactly we were going, so there’s that. That, and trying to explain the location to Brook. Once there, Brandy managed to get her purse caught in the lace of her dress and then pointed out the three holes in her pantyhose. Meanwhile, I regretted choosing to wear my “superbra” because I couldn’t stop tugging at that thing.
Now, it’s hard for a herd of 260 partiers to eat dinner at one person’s house, so this Progressive Party deviated from the norm a bit. All the guests assembled for happy hour at the home of Chuck and Geri Barker (co-hosted by Keri and Joel Davis). Their spacious home, patio, and garden perfectly accommodated all of us, and we enjoyed a lovely selection of beer, wine, and hors d’oeuvres. We saw lots of friends there, like Mike and Suzi, and Lindsay and Don, and Rachel and Andrew. I complimented Patrice on her dress, and then I learned that apparently, you can RENT clothes. I mean, clothes that are not a tuxedo. You can rent a dress for an evening. And by “rent,” I don’t mean buy it, wear it, spray it with Febreze and return it for a refund the next day. I mean, you can RENT a dress. Perhaps the inventor of rent-a-dress and the inventor of the progressive party are one and the same.
At about six o’clock, we were instructed to move to our dinner location. All 260 guests were divided among roughly twenty host homes for a home-cooked meal. Brandy, Brook, and I were assigned to Meg and Bill Wightman’s. In a typical progressive party, Meg and Bill would just serve us the next course, like salad, and then we’d go to another home. But because of the crazy number of people involved in this thing, we stayed put at the Wightman’s for SIX more courses, to be deliciously outlined in the photos that follow. Prepare to drool.
While we waited for everyone in our group to arrive, we looked around their adorable home. The kitchen is gorgeous, and that coupled with Meg and Bill’s unbelievable calmness assured me we were in for a good meal. We admired precious art work by their kids, Alice and Liam, like the butter dish Alice made at You Made It. And we saw Bill’s collection of defaced dollar bills. He would buy defaced bills from the bank, rescuing them from certain shredding.
Everyone arrived, and to our delight, we were joined by Chuck and Geri Barker (from whose house we’d just come) and Lindsay and Don Denny. So our group consisted of Meg, Bill, Lindsay, Don, Chuck, Geri, Brook, Brandy, and me. Then the food started. First, this martini glass filled with pink snapper and mango salsa plus jalapeno — yow! Man, that was delish. They get their fish from Pickford’s Fresh Seafood — it’s overnight-ed from Hawaii!! And wine from Vintage Wines — both stores are across from Costco. Oh, and Vintage Wines has tastings on Fridays and Saturdays.
Next up was spaghetti with Pecorino cheese and pork and some other things I missed because I was eating noisily. Then a salad of baby greens, homemade Hawaiian bread croutons, and goat cheese.
Between courses, we chatted about family and friends, about death and legacy (Geri’s mom had recently passed), about kids, and about nearly dying from canoe-related mishaps, which nearly everyone at the table had experienced.
Then came THE MEAT. Omgahd, the meat. Lordy. Bill grilled these lamb chops and served them over this butternut squash, red lentil, and coconut puree, and I think there was spinach and garlic in there somewhere, and heavens-to-Betsy, it was SO SCRUMPTIOUS. And the little flatbreads with coriander chutney — Lord.
After that Meg asked, “Is anyone else hot, or is it just my stage in life?” Or maybe it’s that she’d been running in and out of the kitchen all night. At any rate, the next course cooled us off: a grapefruit champagne sorbet. And finally, dessert. A blueberry-white chocolate bread pudding with amaretto sauce. You wouldn’t believe the reaction. Everyone just wanted to move in. We all fell in love with the Wightman’s at the first bite.
Lamentably, the meal ended, even though I was stuffed to the gills and couldn’t possibly have eaten more. Except maybe one more lamb chop. Or five. At any rate, the final “course” of the progressive party was a performance by Blue Label at Court Square Theater. They played songs by artists from Elvis to Stevie Wonder to Lady Gaga. We heard “Happy” and “Footloose” and “PYT.” And people were dancing like CRAZY. I was seriously trying not to scald someone with my coffee as I wiggled my way down the aisle. And once I felt I had safely digested most of that delicious meal, Brandy, Brook and I cut a rug, too! In another part of town, in fact just a few yards away, MACRoCk was raging… but I’m pretty sure we had just as much fun.
If you ever get a chance to attend the Arts Council Progressive Party, you won’t regret it. Not only will you be treated to an exquisite meal, but you’ll have warm conversations with friends old and new, you’ll get to dress up (even if you have to rent it, girl), you’ll get to hear some music and dance your feet off, and most importantly, you’ll be helping the Arts Council continue to provide Harrisonburg with meaningful art experiences. Hope to see you next time!
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