county lines: caleb stine and the honey dewdrops at plan b.

We’d last seen Caleb Stine at Clementine with Andy Friedman. He was promoting his intimately straightforward album I Wasn’t Built for a Life Like This. So when we heard he was headed this way again, we made a point to attend–this time at Plan B in Broadway. Okay, so it’s not actually in Harrisonburg, but Plan B is a local business that serves local food and coffee and promotes lots of local music and art. In fact, we covered them once before, when No Strings Attached performed there, remember? Anyway, Plan B has this genius tactic when it comes to booking musicians. They watch for bands that will be passing through this area, traveling from one gig to the next, and they ask them if they’d like to make a stopover in Broadway. They’ve gotten some really great acts with this method, so be sure to keep your eye on the Plan B calendar. Who woulda thought, in little ole Broadway?

As a bonus, Caleb Stine is currently accompanying the Honey Dewdrops on their tour (the new album is called Silver Lining and it’s excellent), so we got to hear some of Caleb’s stuff, some of the Dewdrops’ stuff, and some stuff they’ve collaborated on. The Honey Dewdrops are a folk duo from Charlottesville-ish who’ve released three albums. They’re no strangers to Plan B, having played there a year ago at the grand opening. A variety of stringed instruments (banjo, guitar, mandolin) and their perfectly harmonized voices define their Americana/Appalachia style, but their lyrics reflect the joy and despair of modern life. They somehow manage to sing songs that are both happy and sad at the same time–conveying the beautiful tension of love and life itself. Caleb Stine does the same thing, so it’s no wonder they complement each other.

It was rainy and stormy that night, and I worried the weather might keep people from coming out. My kids and I met Brandy at Plan B at about 7. Caleb and Brandy have a mutual friend in Maryland, so he came right over to catch up with her. Bree and Cal love Caleb’s music, and my daughter wasted no time asking him to please play her favorite song, “Riverside.” With extra hoots, yee hee hees, and haw haws. And can you play it first?

People trickled in, shook out their umbrellas, ordered drinks and took their seats. Employees handed out free popcorn popped in one of those big, old-fashioned movie popcorn machines. The musicians’ suitcases sat on a table modestly displaying their goods for sale.

We settled in at a table in front of the stage and the musicians took to the stage. There was Laura, looking really pretty in a periwinkle dress and cute sandals, and her husband in jeans, a button-down shirt, and endearing bare feet… and Caleb, in a muscle shirt, camo shorts, and Crocs.

Sure enough, he started with “Riverside,” and both kids were mesmerized. I think it took Cal a few seconds to realize we weren’t listening to the iPod. Then his mouth opened and he started to clap… realized he was in a room full of people and started laughing… called Caleb Stine “silly” and then sorta mouthed the rest of the song to himself. When it was over, he tottered off to the toy area. Bree, enthralled, sat with us for several more songs. That’s my girl.

Their next song was Stine’s “No Harm in Being Crazy” from his latest album, in which he lists lots of “crazy” things… dialing 911 “just to talk to someone,” and looking at photos of a previous life, and answering “fine” when someone asks how you’re doing. I guess we’re all a little crazy.

Next they sang several songs from the Honey Dewdrops’ new album and songs they wrote together. One is called “I’m Falling in Love With You,” and I furiously scribbled its breathtaking words: “I’ll keep spinning that mix that you made for my car and that way we’ll be singing together” and “Our love is a newborn, wobbly-legged child–let’s watch as it trots through the heather. You’re a kind-hearted lover and such a good friend and I’m falling in love with you.” <swoon>

At this point, Cal got thirsty from all that popcorn, so he climbed up on a stool at the bar and ordered a water. On the rocks. And back to the toys he went.

After a few more songs, they played “My Service Isn’t Needed Anymore,” another one of those clever, bittersweet, funny/tragic songs at which you don’t know whether to laugh or cry. About how life can turn on a dime… one minute you’re mopping the floor of the grocery store where you work until “something went missin’ from the register drawer, and my service wasn’t needed anymore.” Or you’re enjoying the exhilaration of new love until “something ’bout the way that she closed the door said my service wasn’t needed anymore.” All that time invested for no return, really.

One of my favorite numbers of the evening was called “Together Tied,” one of those happy/sad songs I’ve been talking about that seemed to saturate the experience. The title sounds sweet and happy enough, but lines like “home is just a place you can never get back to” remind us that we don’t appreciate the time we have together until we’re not together, and so when we remember home, we aren’t just recalling things that happened there… we’re remembering what we miss about home and about that period of life. As they put it, “home is in the leavin’, the last words around the table.” The same goes for the song “Happiness,” which, as it turns out, “has got nothing to do with happiness.” I was also touched by the next number, “It’s Hard to Pray,” because Laura’s 87-year-old grandfather (“granddaddy”) memorized it and sang along when she and Kagey visited him recently. It’s a song about faith, about believing and praying even when your prayers aren’t answered.

Then I heard some shouting in the back and realized it was MY KIDS. Oh dear. So at the end of the song, I had to scoot back there and do some shushing and whispered scolding. I told my son, “Honey, you’re not at home.” And I think he, in that moment, realized he was in a public place. “Oh,” he said. “Woops.” It wasn’t too much longer before we left. It was half past eight, the kids are usually in bed by then, and we still had to drive thirty minutes to get home. But we stayed til the end of the first set, and I’m glad, because I got to hear my favorite, “The Eternal Present.” Stine called it his “State of the Union for Yourself” song. It’s another paradoxical song, where he explores the peace of living in the present moment, but also, the loneliness of never putting down roots. You can’t have both, I guess. Still, at the end of the song, he reminds us that “every atom is connected and no one stands alone.” And that certainly helps.

I didn’t get to stay for the second set, but Caleb, Laura, and Kagey had said that it was a special set–cover songs. An entire album. We were intrigued. Who would it be? Led Zeppelin? Bob Dylan? Bob Marley? It turned out to be… The Beatles. I wish I’d seen it. And the crowd perked up, too, as the night wore on. Looks like a lot of hee-hawing and dancing ensued:

The Honey Dewdrops will return to Plan B on September 1st for the cafe’s one-year anniversary, so put on your Crocs and camo shorts and git yer hineys up to Broadway that evening. Plan B is located at 202 N. Main Street, Broadway. Visit soon!

Copyright © 2012 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. Photos by Brandy Somers. Written content by Katie Mitchell. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

a rollicking good time: fridays on the square.

I love a stand-up bass and a drummer decked out in a mini-skirt and cowgirl boots.

It was Friday on the Square in Harrisonburg–a downtown outdoor film and music event presented by Citizens for Downtown and Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance and (this particular week) sponsored by Alexiou Hearing and Sinus Center and Davenport Windows and Doors. We were stoked to get outside and see the Judy Chops perform: the week had been nauseatingly hot. On this breezy, beautiful evening, the heat finally broke and the city itself exhaled in relief.
We’d gotten to the courthouse early and set up our chairs and blankets so we wouldn’t have to carry them as we walked to Cat’s Cradle–which we featured on the blog a couple weeks ago (you can find that post here). Ducking into The Corner for a quick snack and drink, we noticed some portentous clouds rolling in and remembered all our stuff sitting on the square. Then some chugging and gobbling occurred, and six sets of feet scurried up the sidewalk to the barren courthouse lawn. Everyone else, including the band, had moved to Turner Pavilion (home of the Harrisonburg Farmers Market) and made themselves at home. As the band warmed up, we set up camp: chairs, blankets, lunchbox dinners, crayons, markers, and the like.

Brandy got into her human tripod position and I settled into my chair with my notebook. Among the couple hundred folks in attendance, I saw familiar downtown faces, like Anne Juarez, Mariana Bowling and Chris Howdyshell with their two cuties, Steve McClay from No Strings Attached with his family, the always-fun Sarah Murphy and legendary sound guru, Dave Beaver.

The band started playing. The Judy Chops are a six-piece band out of Staunton who perform in the Burg pretty regularly. They feature a drummer, an upright-bass player, and several guitar strummers/banjo pickers/fiddle pluckers and what have you, and they encourage (literally–by suggesting so, and figuratively through their mirthful demeanor) foot-stompin’ and dancin’ and sangin’ and howlin’ and whistlin’ and clappin’ and cluckin’ and hootin’. Yes, everyone was sitting in chairs at the start of the show, but it didn’t take the Judy Chops long to inspire some movement in the crowd. And you know? It’s always the older generation that starts the dancing. They’ve finally reached the nirvana of “oh, what the hell!” And so a couple of folks started to dance, and a few more joined in, and Sarah Murphy roped three of our kids into dancing with her (God bless that woman!)… they were linking arms and kicking up their feet, smiling and laughing, spinning in a large circle. It must be the Harrisonburg dance because I got swept up in it at The Little Grill Open Mic Night back in September. Wheeee! Needless to say, everyone was completely entertained by the band.
Meanwhile, in the grassy lot, kids were running wild. This is another reason I love my Burg: kids are so comfy hanging out here. They were playing tag and frisbee and throwing baseballs, they were climbing trees and dancing and spinning… there was giggling and (mild) taunting and hugging and stick swords… In fact, Ella got a little miffed at my son, and when Brandy asked her about it, she said “Cal thinks tagging people is stabbing them in the stomach with a stick.” :( Ooooch. Sorry! <cringe>

Parents rotated in and out of the grassy lot, taking turns supervising the youngsters. We all felt a collective responsibility for the kids, no matter whom they belonged to, and I really love that about this town. Not that I would ever let my kids get too far away from me, but I appreciate being able to take the kids places and not worry about their safety the whole time. We look out for each other here. It’s what we do.
This coming Friday on the Square, you can catch films from the 2011 SuperGr8 Film Festival. These three-and-a-half minute films made by local residents might just inspire you to pick up a super 8 camera and start rolling for this year’s festival, which will take place in November. There were more than 40 films last fall, and because Friday’s viewing is only one night, there’s not time for them all. The folks at SuperGr8 carefully selected a balance of color and black and white films for your enjoyment. They are as follows:

Black and White
1. Overcome by Ernie Didot (Winner of best Black and White Film)
2. The Park Bench by Elwood S. Madison III
3. Raveler by Brandy Somers (Winner of best B/W Actress)
4. A Year of Dying by Jeremiah Knupp & Holly Marcus (Winner of Best B/W Cinematography)
5. The Wrestler of Casus by Michael Trocchia
6. Noir Justice by The Brothers Sedeen
7. Drew by Brent Finnegan (Winner of Audience Choice for Best B/W Film)
Color
8. Chasing Shadows by Nicole Martorana
9. Myddfai by Martin Rees
10. My Love is Blind by Tim Estep & April Sedeen Estep (Winner of Best Color Film)
11. You Go To My Head by Lynda Bostrom
12. How To Reinvent Yourself by Jay Zehr (Winner of Best Color Cinematography)
13. Something Else by Chris Whitmore (Winner of Best of the Festival)
14. The Ride by Elliott Downs

The show starts at sundown on the courthouse lawn. See you there!

Copyright © 2012 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. Photos by Brandy Somers. Written content by Katie Mitchell. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

har-har harrisonburg no. 24: no strings attached.

There’s something about improvisational comedians that appeals to us all. Maybe it’s that we’re impressed by how quick on the trigger they are. Maybe it’s that they are MacGyvers of comedy, creating humor out of some random words, a feather boa, a Q-tip, and a plunger. Still maybe it’s that they find themselves squirming in the most uncomfortable situations but manage to emerge without anything exploding. Or perhaps it’s that improv comedy is a reflection of life itself–the beautifully strange daily occurrences in all our lives.We are all improv comedians (or tragedians) in that way.

Still, it’s fun to go out and see people act ridiculous.

On a warm May evening, Brandy and I took her kids to see a performance by No Strings Attached, Harrisonburg’s own improv comedy troupe. The performance was at Plan B, a cute, little BIG coffee house in Broadway. I was glad to finally see that place. Spacious and comfortable, it houses a mix of modern and vintage mid-century furnishings, two bars, a toy area for kids (or whomever, really), and a cozy fireplace. They also display lots of local artwork–some for sale–and they use real plates, mugs, and silverware–nothing disposable. It just feels good in there.

No Strings Attached, starring (on this night) Rachel Jenner, Tony Lopez, James Oates, Steve McClay, Jeremiah Meadows, and Gbenga Adekunle, took the stage at about 7pm for a two-hour set and were introduced by an employee of the establishment who sat at the sound booth. Brandy had a weird Wizard of Oz moment as she looked around for the source of that voice. “…Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.” Except there were no flames or any giant, misshapen, green heads.

Rachel explained a few things to the spectators. First, all their material is unrehearsed and supplied by the audience. Second, they often ask for volunteers to assist on stage, and she insisted that “if we ask for volunteers, it’s to make us look stupid, not you.” Hm. I happen to believe in “stupid by association,” but okay.

Then the show started. And although I’ve seen them before, I’m familiar with what they do, and I was all equipped with my notebook and pen, I’ve never tried to take notes at one of their performances–and it was a nightmare. Everything happened and changed so fast, and nothing made sense for more than like a minute and by the time I wrote anything down, it had morphed into something else, plus I kept getting distracted by the performance itself, PLUS I was laughing my butt off at times… so my notes are but a random collection of… weirdness. Like, “Remember that dog that was licking on it?” And, “Why am I supporting his head? He’s dead.”

???

I remember that those two lines came from the same skit, but I have no idea what the skit was about.

My favorite part of the night was a charades-like game where the group asked the audience for two adjectives and two nouns. They got “transcendental” and “photogenic,” and “dog” and “sponge.” The group divided into two teams. One team had to mime “photogenic dog” to Gbenga and get him to say it, and the other had to act out “transcendental sponge” and get Steve to guess it. WHAT?! And as they guessed out loud at each other, Steve and Gbenga were actually hurling really bizarre insults at one another. Now, get ready to write some of these down for future use:
“You’re modular.”
“You’re circular.”
“You’re a transcendentalist square.”
“You’re a transcendentalist nerd.”
“You’re a fixture.” ???
“You’re a person that’s not a king.”
“You get smaller and you go through the air and your eye pops out.”
Okay, so maybe you had to be there.

Steve, puh-leeeeez UNDERSTAND this!

Somehow Steve got “transcendental sponge” before Gbenga guessed “photogenic dog.” Here’s how to act out “transcendental,” in case you ever need to:
1) Act like a train. (trans)
2) Hold up ten fingers. (cen)
3) Act like you’re at the dentist. (dental)
Voila!

And for sponge:
1) Pretend to wash dishes.
2) Pretend to wash a car.
3) Pretend to wash a dog.
4) Act out an ocean floor scene.
5) Get frustrated.
6) Do lots of squeezing motions with your hands.
7) When your partner STILL doesn’t get it (ugh, Steve!!), do lunges, and somehow that’ll work.

I’m sure between the photos and this entry you have a crystal clear picture of what to expect when you go see No Strings Attached. Ha. Catch them on Harrisonburg’s next First Friday at Downtown 34, and be sure to like them on Facebook to stay informed of other upcoming performances. Prepare to giggle, snort, cringe, guffaw, squirm, gasp, and possibly even sneeze. I’m sure it’ll be excruciatingly uncomfortable and side-splittingly funny for all involved!

Copyright © 2012 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. Photos by Brandy Somers. Written content by Katie Mitchell. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.