__MAIN_TEXT__

Page 1

14 YEARS OF RVA MAGAZINE 2005-2019

1


ALL IN

RICHMOND S E PT. 2 0 - 2 1 | NASCAR PLAYOFFS

WEEKEND PRESENTED BY

2

RichmondRaceway.com

|

#ALLINRICHMOND

RVA MAGAZINE 37 | SUMMER 2019


14 YEARS OF RVA MAGAZINE 2005-2019

3


4

RVA MAGAZINE 37 | SUMMER 2019


14 YEARS OF RVA MAGAZINE 2005-2019

5


6

RVA MAGAZINE 37 | SUMMER 2019


The smartest place to stay in RVA Loaded Graduate Richmond mingles Southern prep Loadedwith withlocal localcharm, charm, Graduate Richmond mingles Southern minimalism. prepwith withmidcentury mid-century minimalism. Grab quickbite biteat atBrookfield Brookfield or our Grab a aquick or take takeininthe theviews viewsfrom from our rooftop perch, perch, Byrd rooftop Byrd House. House.

14 YEARS OF RVA MAGAZINE 2005-2019

301 West Franklin Street | 804 644 9871 | graduatehotels.com/richmond

7


RVA #37 SUMMER 2019 RVA MAGAZINE EST. 2005 RVAMAG.COM

FOUNDERS R. Anthony Harris + Jeremy Parker PUBLISHER Inkwell PRESIDENT John Reinhold MANAGING PARTNER LANDON SHRODER EDITOR-IN-CHief Marilyn Drew Necci WEB EDITOR, RVAMAG.COM Marilyn Drew Necci Web editor, GAYRVA.com Marilyn Drew Necci Director Of Media Caley sturgill Director of Business Development JUstin mcclung DESIGN spilled milk STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Branden Wilson WRITERS Madelyne Ashworth, Caley sturgill, Benjamin West, Hip Hop HenrY, Marilyn Drew Necci PHOTOGRAPHY Branden Wilson, joey wharton, heaton johnson, shane gardner, ken penn, spilled milk, Melissa Lesh, Jeff Kirby, John Donegan & trevor frost INTERNS Abigail Buchholz, Alicen Hackney, Alexander Rudenshiold, Brea Hill, Hadley Chittum, Jayla McNeill, Jimmy O'Keefe, Oliver Mendoza, Sarah Lucchesi

SUBSCRIPTION Log onto rvamag.com/magazine to have RVA Magazine sent to your home or office.

GENERAL, EDITORIAL & DISTRIBUTION hello@rvamag.com ADVERTISING JOHN REINHOLD 276 732 3410 // john@rvamag.com SUBMISSION POLICY RVA Magazine welcomes submissions but cannot be held responsible for unsolicited material. Send all submissions to hello@rvamag.com All submissions become property of Inkwell Ventures Inc. The entire content is a copyright of Inkwell Ventures Inc. and cannot be reproduced in whole or in part without written authorization of the publisher. ONLINE Every issue of RVA Magazine can be viewed in its entirety anytime at rvamag.com/magazine. SOCIAL @RVAmag

RVA Magazine is printed locally by Conquest Graphics cover by Branden Wilson SPECIAL THANKS to Artifex M. Hunter HaglUnd

8

Find RVA Magazine at over 100 Local establishments and hot spots including advertisers within RVA Magazine. For Subscription please visit our Patreon Page: patreon.com/RvaMagazine HEADS UP! The advertising and articles appearing within this publication reflect the opinion and attitudes of their respective authors and not necessarily those of the publisher or editors. Reproduction in whole or part without prior written permission from the publisher is strictly prohibited. RVA Magazine is published quarterly. Images are subject to being altered from their original format. All material within this magazine is protected. RVA Magazine is a registered trademark of Inkwell Ventures.

RVA MAGAZINE 37 | SUMMER 2019


THank YOU To OUR SPONSOR OUR MUSIC COVERAGE IS SPONSORED BY THE GRADUATE HOTEL

14 YEARS OF RVA MAGAZINE 2005-2019

9


10

RVA MAGAZINE 37 | SUMMER 2019


DONT SLEEP 1) @georgiakrapf at dugout photo by spilled milk 2) ON TOUR with Illiterate light PHOTOS by joey wharton 3) the PHOTOGRAPHY of heaton johnson 4) the crowd at avail richmond, va -- photo by ken penn. more photos from the show later in this issue! DON’T SLEEP -tag us @RVAmag / #rvamag

14 YEARS OF RVA MAGAZINE 2005-2019

11


12

RVA MAGAZINE 37 | SUMMER 2019


14 YEARS OF RVA MAGAZINE 2005-2019

13


PLAYLIST TRACKS WORTH CHECKING OUT

JAY SOM, "SUPERBIKE"

ANAK KO (POLYVINYL) Jay Som is the project of LA singer-songwriter Melina Duterte, and the first single from her brand-new second album is the first work I've ever heard by her. Let me tell you, it sets a very high bar. This beautiful slice of hazy psychedelic pop is sure to please all the shoegaze-revival heads out there, as well as everyone who loves the UK indie pop of the early 90s. Imagine The Sundays jamming with Mazzy Star, surrounded by flowers amid a shimmering desert landscape. Yeah, it's that gorgeous. --Marilyn Drew Necci

SHAFIQ HUSAYN FT. JIMETTA ROSE & FATIMA, "MAY I ASSUME"

THE LOOP (NATURE SOUNDS) Funk and R&B still exists. In my search for new Rhythm and Blues that doesn’t sound like rap music, I nearly forgot that former Sa-Ra member Shafiq Husayn was gearing up to release his long awaited album, The Loop . It didn’t take long to find a favorite track: the second song on the album. “May I Assume” features LA’s Jimetta Rose and the UK’s Fatima on vocals, accompanied by Husayn’s signature funk grooves, horns, and a bass line that would make J Dilla nod his head. --Hip Hop Henry

HATCHIE, “HER OWN HEART"

KEEPSAKE (DOUBLE DOUBLE WHAMMY) This track's forlorn vocals and lush, waltzing guitars padded in reverb immediately conjured up thoughts of Mazzy Star for me. I must have listened to it over a hundred times since it was released in June. Maybe it’s the opening lyrics “So, that’s it now for summer, so long” that fit it neatly into this place and time, or the enchanting allure of Hatchie’s post-cynical approach. Regardless, this track perfectly updates the 90’s dream-pop formula, complete with crisp production and modern pop sensibilities -- but don’t fret, it still brings all the turn-of-the-millenium melancholy with it. --Alexander Rudenshiold

DJO, “RODDY”

TWENTY TWENTY (DJOMUSIC.COM) On the heels of the long-awaited release of Stranger Things season 3, Joe Keery -- who plays Steve ‘The Hair’ Harrington on the Netflix show -- has re-entered the music scene as Djo, with his debut single “Roddy.” This calm, psychedelic jam is incredibly reminiscent of his past work with Post Animal, of which he’s an original member. Released last month, the song acts as a perfect summer soundtrack addition for those who want to get their chill on without sacrificing a good bass line and hip-shaking rhythm. --Alicen Hackney

BLACK MIDI, “BMBMBM”

SCHLAGENHEIM (ROUGH TRADE) In June, black midi introduced the world to their noisy, frantic, and decidedly anti-pop sound on their debut album Schlagenheim . One of the album’s standout tracks, “bmbmbm,” features the band playing the same note again and again over a distressed vocal sample. It all builds into a massive breakdown, complete with screeching guitars and what has to be some of the tightest drumming in the world right now. Energetic and refreshing, “bmbmbm” gives a peek into the experimentally ambitious, wildly pleasing music of black midi. --Jimmy O’Keefe

14

STUDIO NEWS

Richmond metalcore / screamo / sass core ensemble .gif From God have been blowing minds here in the River City and beyond for years now. Now they’ve taken their next step, signing to Prosthetic Records (once home of fellow deity-named Richmonders Lamb of God) and preparing to release their first full LP, Approximation Of A Human , in late September. The album was recorded at Viva Studios with Matt Michel and mastered by Lance Koehler at Minimum Wage Recording, and features rerecordings of the two songs that made up their first demo as well as ten new ragers. Bassist Sofia Lakis told Lambgoat that the new album “bears almost no resemblance to previous .gif From God releases,” but from the preview tracks that have been released, it seems unlikely that fans of their previous metallic, chaotic, frenetic hardcore will be disappointed by what’s to come from the new LP. For those who delight in each new tidbit from the world of Jellowstone, the news of saxophonist Charles Owens’ soon-to-bereleased new album, Three And Thirteen , is nothing but good. The album is split up into two parts; the first, “3,” consists of eight songs by the Charles Owens Trio, featuring Andrew Randazzo (Butcher Brown) on electric bass and Devonne Harris (DJ Harrison) on drums. The songs are all fresh arrangements of classic tunes from a variety of genres; the group puts their own spin on material by everyone from Burt Bacharach to Radiohead. The second half of the album, “13,” sees Owens, Randazzo, and Harris joined by 10 other musicians for a big-band treatment of six songs Owens is known for, with new ensemble arrangements by Randazzo. While the first half of the album was laid down at Jellowstone Studio, the second half was captured live at Charlottesville’s Southern Cafe and Music Hall, before the whole thing was mastered by Adrian Olsen at Montrose Studios. This one drops in mid-August, so VA jazz heads are strongly advised to keep an eye out. Word has reached us from Blush Face frontperson and chief songwriter Allie Smith that the RVA indie-pop band is in the studio as we speak. The group is recording with Mitch Clem at Go West Studio, which drew them in after the sound Clem created on Good Day RVA’s live recordings. Illustrious local musician Tim Falen (Piranha Rama) is producing the new album, and while Smith knows that Blush Face is generally perceived around town as “a bit poppy and a bit rocky,” she hopes the new album will have a much bigger sound than those genres are generally known for. “My goal for our next release was to get strings on a few tracks, but it looks like this one is gonna have much more than just that,” says Smith. “We all came to the table (porch) with great ideas, and were happy to find that Tim also has some real good ones.” Look for a late fall release for this one, which is sure to be delightful.

RVA MAGAZINE 37 | SUMMER 2019


14 YEARS OF RVA MAGAZINE 2005-2019

15


RECORD REVIEWS

ABINNET BERHANU & HEBRET MUSICA

(HEBRETMUSICA.BANDCAMP.COM) Named for an Ethiopian phrase meaning “Community Music,” drummer Abinnet Berhanu’s quintet swings with a bebop feel reminiscent of the Modern Jazz Quartet, even as their debut’s multi-part suites recall civil rights-era statement albums by jazz’s leading lights: Max Roach, Charles Mingus, John Coltrane.Hebret Musica nonetheless demands your full attention throughout this excellent album. (MN)

HIP HOP HENRY (HH) AND MARILYN DREW NECCI (MN)

BIG FUNDAMENTAL

YOU BELONG HERE (BIGFUNDAMENTAL.BANDCAMP.COM)

Big Fundamental brings together a trio of musicians from divergent backgrounds, and on their first LP, it seems they found common ground in the slightly off-kilter rock n’ roll that flourished in the postNirvana 90s. If you enjoyed the Toadies, Tripping Daisy, or Local H as a young music fan, you’ll hear some great resonances in Big Fundamental today. (MN)

SYNTHIA SLIMEZ

DESCENT TO GLACIAL SPHERE (GRIMALKIN)

THE COLLOQUIA ORCHESTRA

NDEFRU & OHBLIV

Building on the momentum of Gold Connections’ 2017 self-titled EP, Will Marsh returns with an EggHunt Recordsbacked full-length that shines over a span from cathartic sing-alongs -- like the final sequence of opening track “Icarus” -- to balanced production that's remarkable in how great it sounds at both loud and quiet moments. A rewarding listen from beginning to end. (DJ)

Ndefru, aka The Most Debonair, hits us with his latest -- a 5-song EP that serves as a nod to the Commonwealth with songs like “Cavaliers,” featuring the legendary Plunky Branch. Ndefru’s rhymes merge well with Ohbliv’s obscure sampling techniques to deliver a solid rap album full of beats and rhymes. What more can you ask for? (HH)

NEW LIONS

BENJAMIN SHEPHERD

LIVE AT BANDITO’S (CHERUB)

END STORY (TRRRASH)

The first release as New Lions finds Clair Morgan and his band unified under one name, and rocking harder than ever. The always-present hints of Fugazi-style posthardcore are much stronger in their sound on End Story , an EP inspired by frustration with our current political landscape and full of intelligent anger. Their best work yet, and that’s really saying something. (MN)

16

THE FOREIGN LOCAL (BLUE ETHER SOUND)

HOLD THE LINE

(BENJAMINSHEPHERD.BANDCAMP.COM) Shepherd has been lurking on the edges of Richmond’s music scene for a while now, but his new LP makes clear that he deserves the spotlight. From the rollicking fun of “Cynic” to the dark and affecting “You Keep The Muse,” this album is full of well-constructed, powerfully delivered songs that mix tinges of country into a powerful folk-rock brew. (MN)

Away from the eyes of the city’s mainstream music scene, a movement of harsh, noisy, yet eminently danceable electronic music is growing in basements and underground spaces all over Richmond. Much of that movement was via the LGBTQ community, and Synthia Slimez is no exception. Synthia Slimez is the solo project of transgender non-binary synthwave musician Kosmo Powers, who is also one half of Aesthetic Barrier. According to Powers, the project is a manifestation of anger felt by the oppressed and marginalized “Trans individuals who are fucking sick of existing on a sphere full of bigoted cis shit piles.” The five songs on this EP are every bit as confrontational as that statement, full of atonal synth swirls and grating electronic pulses. The pounding beats and distorted vocals of “Gravitation & Grievance” have a dark industrial feel, “Stellar Blunt/Voided Heart” resonates with both the cosmische movement of 70s Germany and the strange fringes of early 80s New Wave scene, and “Uranian Teratoid” is the full-on interstellar dancefloor banger at this album’s pulsing heart. The in-your-face nature of this EP demands total commitment, but once you’re in, you’ll discover a multi-dimensional universe of psychedelic dance music. Don’t fight it -- put your prejudices aside and dance into a newer, better world. --Marilyn Drew Necci

THE WIMPS

PLASMA (THEWIMPSRVA.BANDCAMP.COM)

The midtempo indie rock of The Wimps fits right in with the image their name conjures in your mind, but on Plasma , they radiate anxiety only barely concealed beneath the laid-back surface of their sound. Bursting forth on songs like the consumer-frustration epic “Disposable” and the dysmorphic outburst, “Noise,” it proves that despite the name, these Wimps have real guts. (MN)

YOUNG FLEXICO

THE NEW FLEXICO ALBUM

(FLEXTOPIA/GREEN & GOLD GLOBAL) Music to ride to: that’s the immediate vibe of Young Flexico’s perfectly-titled debut album. From braggadocious tracks like the superdope “Skratelikedat” to some introspective rhymes on “Alone,” Flex shows his style’s no gimmick. Featuring Michael Millions, Nickelus F, Segga Spiccoli, Red Dummy, and production from Ohbliv and Bandolero, The New Flexico Album stands out RVA MAGAZINE 37 2019 RVA MAGAZINE 31 || SUMMER WINTER 2017 beyond the RVA scene, and deserves your attention. (HH)


14 YEARS OF RVA MAGAZINE 2005-2019

17


RVA ON TAP BY CALEY STURGILL NEW BREWS IN TOWN

Big news in the River City brewing scene is the return of Richbrau Brewing to town, one of the city’s oldest craft breweries, which first operated in Shockoe Slip from 1933 until 1969, and again from 1993 until 2010. The OG Richmond brewers (that’s right, even before Legend Brewing) set their revival in the Shockoe neighborhood they once called home, and it’s music to our ears. In more brand-new location news, The Veil Brewing Co. has an opening this season that’s certain to blow the beach crowd out of the water. With all their stellar beers that made them Richmond-famous, I can’t wait to see how quickly The Veil wins the neighbors’ hearts at their new Norfolk location -- all bets are on that they become a fast favorite. Strangeways Brewing also has a fresh spot this summer, with a large new location in Scott’s Addition at 3110 West Leigh Street. While new breweries are common in the neighborhood, this location has something special: A full-time kitchen crew from SMoHK, a Southern food and BBQ joint whose recipes have not only become a fan favorite in Richmond, but took home #1 from USA Today’s readers as well.

FRESH ON TAP

The best part of Booze News is the one that always keeps our glasses full: The Beer. To no one’s surprise, The Answer Brewpub released an amazing batch of new brews this season. Medical Glycol Card kicks off their warm weather recipes as a collaboration with Burley Oak Brewing Company out of Maryland. The DIPA is full of the “healing properties” of Cashmere, Enigma, and Cascade hops -- and The Answer reminds us to consult our glycol shamans before we imbibe. Next up is a Piña Colada DIPA called Work Friends, so if you’re trying to hit them up to play Madden later, odds are you just aren’t that close. They’ve also dropped One Beer with a special edition label, Door to Door Glycol Salesman, and brought Summer Showers IPA back to the taps to start the summer off right. With the return of Richbrau comes their long-beloved beer, with fresh recipes like the hazy Psychic Horse IPA, the Edgar Imperial Stout brewed with locally-roasted coffee, the strawberry and pink-guava infused King of Strays Sour Ale, and 4th Street Horribles

18

RVA RVA MAGAZINE MAGAZINE 37 37 || SUMMER SUMMER 2019 2019


Sour Ale with tart lemon and crisp sweet tea. Another notable release this season was DEATH at Garden Grove Brewing, a two-time Virginia Craft Beer Cup awardwinning Belgian Quadrupel (which has undoubtedly earned its name), available now at the Carytown spot... and look forward to THE DEVIL making its appearance later this summer. Richmond’s sweethearts at Hardywood have already had a full season of bringing us a delicious array of brews, with summer flavors like Tropication and Tropic Like It’s Hot. They’ve complemented June releases like Distorted Perception, a New Englandstyle IPA, and Virginia Blackberry to bring out the age-old flavors of sunny days in the Old Dominion -- not to mention their weekly #FreshCanFriday releases like the early month’s Cloud Shapes, a large-bodied DIPA best enjoyed with a picnic blanket and a buddy to watch the sky go by with. Does warm weather get better than that? Virginia is for Lovers, and this anthem of the state is celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year. Black Heath Meadery has a special brew on its way for the occasion, a rose petal, blossom, and hip-infused Rhodomel mead to commemorate half a century of love in the Commonwealth. Three Notch’d RVA Collab House also dropped a Cherries Are For Lovers beer late last month for the 50 Years of Love campaign this year, and its red color is as bright as the days outside lately. Out at Fine Creek Brewing, the Avec Frère 9 Belgian-Style Tripel is making its debut this summer, as well as an extra-special beer brewed in collaboration with the Love campaign, with 50 pounds of Virginia Maple syrup (the nectar of the gods) from Back 14 14 YEARS YEARS OF OF RVA RVA MAGAZINE MAGAZINE 2005-2019 2005-2019

Creek Farms. Väsen Brewing Company welcomed their first can releases ever this spring, and they’re bringing back their Otter Series with several Gose beers for fans to enjoy alongside their sours and farmhousestyle IPAs over the summer. If ciders are more your groove, Strangeways has a great new addition of ciders brewed in-house and available at all three of their locations this season, and new beer releases are on their way like the Imperial Berliner Weisse Fred Zeppelin, Playday Pilsner, and the Helles Frozen Over Munich Helles Lager.

RIVER CITY HAPPENINGS

There’s a new podcast in town, and it’s made especially for our beer family. Booze Clues, curated by the Geeks Under the Influence Media Network, is recorded every month in front of a live audience. They cover an awesome combination of the world’s most bizarre “spirited” headlines from the previous month, bringing them to the area’s comedians, podcasters, and entertainers to investigate. One of our personal favorite headlines they’ve covered this season: “‘F*** It, I’m Drunk, Take Me To Jail’: Florida Man Crashes Lawn Mower Into Police Car -- CBS Miami.” There are plenty more, including drunken nights out that led to some Chinese residents waking up without their peckers -- yeah, you read that right. There’s some serious gold in here, so make sure to catch the next episode this summer. In more ongoing events to enjoy throughout the season, Castleburg Brewery is hosting gigs for everyone from comedians to bookworms, with their Game of Jokes,

Longcat Comedy Hours, and Books & Brews club. For our game friends, biweekly Dungeons and Dragons nights are still going strong at Garden Grove on alternating Thursdays -- and be sure to come early, because these events are popular. They’re also participating in the Habitat for Humanity: The House That Beer Built project over the season, both through fundraising and working onsite to help with construction...and you can look forward to the end of the summer for a special Planned Parenthood benefit show learn more about it soon in our weekly online edition of RVA On Tap. If you’re traveling this summer, be sure to catch Black Heath Meadery at the Lockn Festival, happening up in the Northwestern part of the state this August. Väsen is turning two with an anniversary party on July 27th, packed with food trucks, community partners, musicians, and all their favorite breweries, cideries, meaderies and distilleries they’ve partnered with over the years. Three Notch’d RVA Collab House will also be celebrating its third anniversary in September, so keep your eyes peeled for a big Scott’s Addition party for the occasion. As always, make sure to check RVA On Tap on our site every week, and read the column directly from our Instagram stories and Facebook posts (@rvamag) to keep upto-date on events and releases happening each week. With more than 30 breweries in the area, we’ll go through the best of the best every Wednesday morning to make sure you don’t miss a drop. Cheers!

19


FROM THE DESK OF GAYRVA

SPIDER MITES OF JESUS CAPTURING THE LARGER-THAN-LIFE LEGACY OF DIRTWOMAN

by TV Jerry

BY BENJAMIN WEST

I’d never seen such sprawling crowd at the Byrd Theatre. People wrapped around the block, clutching those little red “admit one” tickets you can buy in copious rolls at Dollar Tree, or holding out their phones bent-armed with the digital equivalent. They were dressed on a sliding scale -- fit, lacey, dapper, all the way down to gym shorts and stained tees. No obvious correlation with age, either.

palachian folks who traveled into the city for jobs during the Civil War. I, personally, have heard other people use the term “redneck.”

The line was buzzing. People honked as they drove by. Then the line lurched forward around the corner, trickling past boutiques and cutesy sandwich shops, approaching the yellow glow of the Byrd Theatre. We filed over the red carpet, under the offwhite marquee, and filled every seat in ready anticipation for Spider Mites of Jesus: The Dirtwoman Documentary.

But Corker, even back then, was a sass quickdraw. He stood up for himself in the face of what was, initially, constant discrimination and ragging.

Donnie Corker, more famously known as Dirtwoman, was immortalized this spring by Jerry Williams in his documentary, Spider Mites of Jesus. The film, which started production when I was just a toddler, had its hometown premiere as part of the Richmond International Film Festival: an eclectic, weeklong extravaganza of films from places like Kosovo, South Korea, Iran... everywhere, really.

by Brad Douglass

“Donnie was a real sweetheart of an individual, and very intense,” said Parker Galore, executive director of Gallery 5, where the film’s cast and crew convened at the end of the night for a bit of an afterparty. Galore knew Corker for many years, and acted as his campaign manager when he launched his 2005 bid for mayor. Corker was a gay man known primarily as a sort of impromptu drag queen. It was by his weird, sassy, kind, lovable nature, and his tendency to stay in the mix on the sloppy Richmond streets, that Corker became a local legend. And over the years, he fell headfirst into a series of misadventures with dramatic twists, turns, and arcs.

by Noah Scalin

By the age of 13, Corker was stealing his sister’s dresses and strolling around his neighborhood of Oregon Hill in full drag. Today, Oregon Hill acts as an offshoot of the VCU Dorm-Industrial Complex, and a nesting place for young upper-middleclass professionals. But in the 60s it was “extremely working class,” as Williams puts it; populated by the ancestors of Ap20

“The people who lived there would joke, they’re as far away from Richmond as they were from the territory of Oregon,” said local author Dale Brumfield in the documentary.

“He was kind of at the forefront of not being afraid, or ashamed of being gay,” Williams said. He was big, too -- and intimidating. Williams remembers first seeing Corker when he would walk the late 60s-era VCU campus wearing a wig. “He was unashamed. He would call you out if you gave him any shit.” There’s a reason why Corker was so unabashed. So ready to push boundaries -emotionally open, cheerful -- yet less accessible to some subtle areas of societal niceties and social cues. “When he was a baby, he had spinal meningitis; his parents couldn’t pronounce it, so they called it ‘spider mites of Jesus,’” Williams said, explaining the title of his film. This ailment, so early in his life, had lasting repercussions for Corker. “Spinal meningitis affected his brain,” Williams said, “and caused some of the mental challenges he had the rest of his life... He was very savvy and very streetsmart, but he was also very childlike.” One example of Corker’s uniquely eccentric relationship with the rest of the world was his routine of calling people throughout the day -- from good friends to people he hardly knew. Although he was illiterate for his entire life, Corker could memorize hundreds of phone numbers. He could talk for hours. RVA MAGAZINE 37 | SUMMER 2019


Now the executive director of local educational nonprofit CodeVA, Chris Dovi ran Hamaganza for many years. The annual charity variety show featuring Corker front and center raised around $30,000 over its lifetime, and provided thousands of hams for those in need. But before all of that, Dovi said he first got to know Corker over the phone. “He would literally do the rounds throughout the day: call you, call the other 50 people in his mental rolodex,” Dovi said. “I have literally a thousand or more Dirtwoman voicemails that he would leave me, desperate to get ahold of anybody to just blab. He was a very social creature.” Corker’s primary origin story may best illustrate his relationship with the world. His moniker, Dirtwoman, surfaced in the 1970s when he was arrested for sex work by the city’s vice squad. While cuffed in the back of the patrol car, he -- to put it nicely -- made a mess. Or: “I picked up the shit and hit the policeman with it,” as he recalls during an interview in the film. The enraged, disgusted officers hurled abuse at Corker, calling him a ‘dirty woman.’ The story traveled around the city, and the term was used in Corker’s direction once again. But Corker embraced the term. Reclaimed it. Relished in it with his Southern-belle accent and demeanor. Before long he was calling himself ‘Dirtwoman,’ and soon it was a form of endearment. Some people were concerned that Corker was being mocked through this persona, and that he’s the butt of a joke that he was never entirely hip to. “When I started to realize that Donnie had become this character, I was concerned immediately that there was some form of ridicule,” Lorna Wyckoff says in the documentary. Wyckoff has a mentally challenged brother, and draws some parallels between cruel treatment aimed at her brother and the way some treated Corker. “I started to feel that in some way what had happened... had really stolen his dignity.” Deciding when we’re laughing with Corker and when we’re laughing at him, though, is complicated. “Some people did make fun of Donnie,” Williams said. “Especially his drag shows. I remember them -- they were kind of like a train wreck.” 14 YEARS OF RVA MAGAZINE 2005-2019

According to Williams, Corker would often get on stage and forget the lyrics to his songs. He was known to start stripping just to get a response. Some of the negativity directed towards Corker was rooted in homophobia, but not all; some LGBTQ advocates criticized Corker for the unsavory ways he represented their community. Williams said he was aware of this issue from the beginning, and it posed a challenge he took seriously. “I was told by a number of people, ‘Be sure you show his heart; be sure you show all of Donnie, don’t just show the outrageous stuff.’” Ultimately, everybody has to decide for themselves whether they think Dirtwoman is a dearly loved icon or the butt of a joke. But in the film, recounting her first meeting with Corker after years of hearing about him and thinking his fans were cruel, Lisa Cumbey remembers having her view reversed. “...he totally owned that brand, and that changed how I felt about it. I knew that it was his, and not something that was being done to him.” After years of declining health, Corker was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. He died in his sleep on September 26, 2017 at the age of 65. His obituary made the front page of the Richmond Times Dispatch, and a Dirtwoman retrospective was distributed nationally by NPR. It’s fun to imagine this radio program in particular: Corker‘s spirit slipping into radios across the country for all to hear, a woman stuck in traffic, a young guy cooking in a sun-speckled kitchen. In all these little moments, Dirtwoman lives on. NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK Richmond is forever in flux. Freshman kids are dropped face first into buzzing neon bar signs and river ruins. After a few years, a few wild nights out, and maybe one too many all-nighters in the depths of Hibbs or Harris, they’re gone again.

punks? When he saved Sharon Ellis’ life, pulling her into a doorway when a man drew a gun at somebody walking behind her and shot? “When I could finally breathe again, we happened to look up, the bullet happened to nick the area which would have been right about here,” she said in the documentary, running her finger over the door frame of the building next door to Grace Street Theater. “Had he not pulled me out of the way, it probably would have caught me in the head.” I didn’t know Corker in his heyday. To me, he was a nameless figure whom I walked past countless times at various points throughout the city. Usually he was simply planted on a bench. He never threw out his famous catcalls. He just sat silent and content, his big belly in a pile, almost Buddahlike. I never spoke to him. I didn’t know about the time a local radio station gave him their press pass so he could crash Governor Doug Wilder's inauguration. I didn’t know his role in a GWAR video, “Sleazy’s Crabhouse,” when ghoulish figures went to town eating crabs out of his crotch. I didn’t know about his drag shows or Hamaganza. Watching Spider Mites of Jesus, a Dirtwoman I had never known came alive for me. Not just the myths and legends, but the little moments too. How he reacted when a friend walked by. His pain and irreverence when recalling past trauma. The kind actions, the daily routine, and the general community he cultivated with hundreds of people. For us experiencing him now after he’s passed, Donnie Corker is all of these amorphous stories, no longer bound by time. They’re on our screens, in our memory, passed back and forth on front porch stoops. We remember Dirtwoman for these weird, amazing stories, but he’s ours because he so thoroughly embraced us -- even when we weren’t perfect to him. The stories are important because they’re what's left. They’re how Dirtwoman survives.

One side effect of this ever-shifting population is the fragility of cultural memory. Once beloved figures can disintegrate in just a handful of years, at least to the young. Do you remember the wild west days of Grace Street? When biker bars and punk rockers were like staccato marks on an erratic symphony? When Corker would sell flowers from a lawn chair in front of the Village Cafe, when he’d break up fights and stand up for the 21


COME SEE WHAT ALL THE FUSS IS ABOUT!

John MacLellan Photos & Design

RTP’S 27TH SEASON 2019–2020

LOVE CAN TELL A MILLION STORIES

ABOUT THE HEALING POWER OF ART

FALSETTOS

A NEW BRAIN

by William Finn and James Lapine SEPTEMBER 4 – OCTOBER 5, 2019

by William Finn and James Lapine MAY 14 – 30, 2020

LET’S DO THE TIME WARP AGAIN!

WHERE ONCE UPON A TIME IS RIGHT NOW!

THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW by Richard O’Brien OCTOBER 17 – 26, 2019

A HOLIDAY CLASSIC IN HARD-BOILED 1940S HOLLYWOOD

HEAD OVER HEELS

by James Macgruder and Jeff Whitty; songs by The Go-Gos. JUNE 17 – JULY 25, 2020

TIMES SQUARE ANGEL

CABARET SERIES:

ABOUT LOVE, ACCEPTANCE AND BUTTERCREAM

The singer, raconteur and gay theater legend, brings his new show to RTP for two performances only.

by Charles Busch NOVEMBER 13 – DECEMBER 21, 2019

THE CAKE

by Bekah Brunstetter FEBRUARY 12 – MARCH 7, 2020 IS LOVE POWERFUL ENOUGH TO SET YOUR TRUE SELF FREE?

SUGAR IN OUR WOUNDS by Donja Love APRIL 1- 25, 2020

CHARLES BUSCH

OCTOBER 11 & 12, 2019

NEW YEAR’S EVE CELEBRATION!

Featuring local award-winning actor, singer and sell-out cabaret artist Scott Wichmann. DECEMBER 31, 2019

BARE: A POP OPERA –The Reunion Concert RTP’s RTCC-winning Best Musical of 2013 returns in a one-night only reunion concert featuring members of its original cast! APRIL 14, 2020

And make sure you check our web site at www.rtriangle.org for special events and performers checking in from all over the country!

GET TICKETS AT WWW.RTRIANGLE.ORG OR CALL (804) 346-8113

The 2019-2020 Season Is Supported In Part By Funding From

MEDIA SPONSORS:

22 22

RICHMOND TRIANGLE PLAYERS AT THE ROBERT B. MOSS THEATRE IN SCOTT’S ADDITION 1300 ALTAMONT AVENUE, RICHMOND, VA 23230

RVA RVAMAGAZINE MAGAZINE37 37| |SUMMER SUMMER2019 2019


1414YEARS YEARSOF OFRVA RVAMAGAZINE MAGAZINE2005-2019 2005-2019

23 23


THE SUN IS STILL SHINING OVER THE JAMES TIM BARRY OPENS UP ABOUT AVAIL’S TRIUMPHANT REUNION

As soon as the word broke, it was all over town -- after 12 years of inactivity, Avail was reforming to play their hometown once again. The quintessential Richmond, VA punk band, who’d spent their entire career proclaiming their love for the city, Avail was once every bit as synonymous with Richmond as GWAR and Municipal Waste. But with their classic albums two decades in the past, did the love Richmond once had for Avail still hold true? The answer to that question came quickly, as their initial reunion show at The National sold out in under ten seconds. The band announced a second show, put tickets on sale a few days later, and that one also sold out within a couple of hours. Clearly, Avail is still beloved in their hometown. One listen to 1998’s Over The James, which celebrated its 21st anniversary this year, is more than enough to demonstrate why that is. Melodic, anthemic, yet full of punk rock rage and hardcore power, Avail’s difficult-to-categorize sound retains a broad and undeniable appeal. In the weeks before the reunion, we caught up with Avail frontman Tim Barry, a popular folk singer in his own right, to talk about the legacy of Over The James and what’s been going on with Avail, and Richmond, in the years since it was released. Let's start with the most obvious question. What inspired Avail to get back together? Music. [laughs] There's really not much more to it. Avail put out a record in 1998 called Over The James. The 20-year anniversary of that record popped up, and there was a fair amount of talk about it. I revisited the record, [and] it was kind of shocking how good it sounded. That music sparked a conversation between us, to revisit the record at its 21st anniversary and do some shows. When we talked about revisiting our old songs, we didn't tell anyone until we had practiced first -24

because lord knows it's very possible for word to get out. If we can't still play our instruments or sing, it would certainly be embarrassing to pull the plug because we were so awful. [laughs] In the 12 years since Avail last played live, you focused on solo folk music, and Joe, Erik, and [former Avail bassist] Chuck McCauley had a band called Freeman at one point, with Freeman Martin singing instead of you. Was there a reason you stepped away back then? What’s changed now that made you want to sing punk rock again? There's not many layers to why we weren't playing shows. It just wasn't as fun as it once was. There's no reason to do something if it's not enjoyable, if it doesn't create something personally for you that's challenging or memorable. I didn't hear about Erik, Joe, Chuck, and Freeman doing their music until after they'd stopped. I love Freeman himself, and the music was fantastic. But I caught that a little late. I do play folk music, and I have for many years. That's where I'm happiest. But I'm an old punk. Even the music that I play is sort of abrasive, not unlike punk music. It's not that I decided to start singing punk rock again -- I kind of never stopped. I just do it in my own way. I always say if it's not anxious right when you walk onstage, why bother anymore? That's certainly where I was at with Avail. And now, 12 years later, I get to revisit that anxiousness and excitement that I lost in the monotony of playing a lot. Tickets to the first show at the National were on sale for about a minute before they were sold out. Were you expecting that strong a reaction? They said that it sold out in 10 seconds, officially, which is fucking hilarious. When Avail was touring, even when we were packing places, Beau and I would

bet with the venue how many people we thought would show up... We've never had big expectations. We had multiple venues held for both nights --The National, The Broadberry -- because we didn't know if we were going to sell anything out. But it wasn't about ticket sales -- it was about revisiting something that was exciting for us. I knew this was going to be special. That morning I went fishing at 6 AM. I turned my phone off intentionally, and didn't turn it back on until about 11:30. And I had hundreds of [messages] on my phone. I was taken aback. But here’s where it really gets exciting -- a handful of the tickets for the first show were sold in person, to people standing in line at the National on the morning that they went on sale. And we were like, if most of these ticket sales are from out of town, people around here aren't going t be able to go. That's who we thought we were gonna be playing for. So [for] the second show, we made those tickets available personally, so they would have to go to the National and pick them up. That morning, I was with my daughters. We drove past the National, and I could not believe how many fucking people were out there standing in line, waiting for tickets to see Avail play. I stopped and talked to a couple people, just to say hi. And I think Larry Floyd said it best, when he said: “Fuck the reunion show. This is the greatest reunion I've seen in years.” And what I saw was a lot of mutual friends, a lot of acquaintances, a lot of people who haven't seen each other in so many years, all standing on Broad Street, talking, sharing food, bringing waters around... It was a really neat thing to see. That show sold out by people buying tickets physically. That's when music becomes something bigger than what it is, more like a movement. Avail plays the same three chords everyone plays; the lyrics are the same words everyone uses in songs. So it's not that we as a band are any different than any other band. It wasn't Avail that created that hype -- a RVA MAGAZINE 37 | SUMMER 2019


WORDS BY MARILYN DREW NECCI PHOTOS BY KEN PENN

14 YEARS OF RVA MAGAZINE 2005-2019

25


26

RVA MAGAZINE 37 | SUMMER 2019


14 YEARS OF RVA MAGAZINE 2005-2019

27


28

RVA MAGAZINE 37 | SUMMER 2019


lot of other bands could have done it. It just happened the way it did, and we're very thankful. We're working our asses off and practicing five days a week to make sure that we give it our all, but we know it's not just about us. It's about everybody hanging out. You're doing several other shows after Richmond. Did you always plan to do that many,or did the interest in Richmond make you want to do more? We planned on doing a couple shows in Richmond, and a few others. But I can honestly say it's not a money grab like most people think. It would be nice to get paid, because we stuck to our guns, and we walked out broke! [laughs] People will hear about these incredible payouts from festivals -- those go to the big bands. But I don't even know where we're going with this. We certainly don't have the intent of becoming a band again, full-time. Right now, the shows that we have announced is what we're doing. Everybody has kids except for Gwomper, and we're all busy. I have another [solo] record coming out in October, and that's right when the Avail stuff tails down. We have no idea what we're doing, but it's definitely not being a tour-the-U.S. type band ever again. I feel like a lot of bands get back together for a tour and then they stick around. [Laughs] I don't mean to quote myself, because that's ridiculous, but I have a line in a song where I say, "Damn, Beau, we both should have quit at age 24. I can't stand bands on their third reunion tour." There's no reason I need to focus on criticizing bands doing what they love, but I always think it's a little weird that a band would have a reunion tour, and then three months later have another reunion tour. And then put out a record, and then do another reunion tour. [laughs] Oh my gosh, y'all! Avail stopped playing right when the internet started taking over, so not a lot of those shows are well-documented, and it just becomes a legend. So do we blow 14 YEARS OF RVA MAGAZINE 2005-2019

it? Do we ruin your fucking great memories of what it was like to go to an Avail show by doing it in our middle age? It's possible! Some bands should just stay broken up, and it's possible Avail is one of them. On Over The James in particular, there's a lot of real heavy, emotional shit on that record in songs like "Lombardy St" and "August." What’s it like to come back to songs like that, and contemplate singing about a particular thing at a particular time in your life. Do you still feel those things 20 years later? I have this weird way of singing songs. I go back to where I wrote them, I'm back at that spot. If I'm not in the spot where I wrote it, I'm relating it to something more recent. There's a song on Over The James called "Cross Tie," and when I sing that song, I am on the freight train that I was riding when I wrote those lyrics. It's so clear -- the colors, the smells... I've never sang that song and not been on that train. Those places are gone now, but they're in my head like a photograph. So I certainly can't go up there and bullshit it. And if that's what practice was for me, if the first time I went in, just bullshitting through the lyrics, I wouldn't do it. That's not who I am. Another Over The James song, "Scuffle Town," the classic about Richmond, mentions the murder rate and crime in the city. Richmond has a whole different vibe now; on paper at least, people present it as an up-and-coming city full of craft breweries, loft condos, and fancy hotels. Meanwhile, it seems the struggle, crime, and poverty has just been pushed out to the margins of the city. I feel like "Scuffletown" is still relevant today, but I don't know if a lot of people think it is. What’s your take on that? I don't know. I could be critical of the new wave of people, but older people could 29


have been critical of our wave of youth movement in the early 90s. These cycles in cities are pretty consistent. Because of the political climate, people aren't often comfortable living in places that they are physically opposed, so they go to city centers to live with people who are open to them. And that's great, but with the population growth comes the demographic shift, where poverty gets pushed out. In the 90s, which was the tail end of the crack epidemic, Richmond looked like a bombed-out shell. And the reason artists and musicians clamored to Richmond is because, for example, the house that Avail lived in on Main St at one point was $425 a month for seven bedrooms. That allowed us to tour without making very much money. Avail at its start would not exist if it was 2019 and we were living in town homes for $1500 a month. We wouldn't have had the ability to tour around the country. I was thinking about the line "ethyl dosed the planet," and I'm not sure anyone knows what I'm talking about. The Daily Planet was a social service and gathering place for the homeless on Belvidere St. It was my view that when the Daily Planet got run out and bulldozed, that it was Ethyl Corporation [whose offices were a few blocks away] behind the thing. That it didn't like the eyesore there. Who knows whether, as a young man, I was right or not? It was complete speculation.

30

But we took that stuff really personally, because as a bunch of white kids from the suburbs, we're running around town watching everybody get rooted out, and feeling this sort of guilt for it. Like, here we are, taking over. Here we are trying to function with high crime rates -- shit, our next-door neighbor got killed. People would rob our houses. People would just walk into your house, take the TV and walk out, while you were fucking watching it! It was insane. But things change. And to glamorize the old Richmond, vs RVA, I'm not sure I'm ready to fall for that divide. Would I want to raise my two young daughters in the old Richmond, in the city? I'm not sure. But can I raise my two young daughters in RVA? Well, I'm not sure! We almost had to move because we couldn't afford the rent. availrichmond.com

RVA MAGAZINE 37 | SUMMER 2019


14 YEARS OF RVA MAGAZINE 2005-2019

31


Mural by John Hutchinson & @igorscustom

NESTLED WITHIN THE OCEANFRONT AREA IS VIRGINIA BEACH’S OWN CULTURAL ARTS ENCLAVE—THE VIBE CREATIVE DISTRICT. A hub for artists and spirits, roasters and restaurants, workouts and wares, museums and more, the ViBe is where our creative businesses have set up shop to share their passion and inspire a sense of discovery in locals and visitors alike. 32

RVA MAGAZINE 37 | SUMMER 2019 www.ViBeCreativeDistrict.org


AUGUST 29 - SEPTEMBER 24th Street stage Schedule

Lee Brice

311

+LIVE+

Dashboard Confessional

For 25 consecutive years, Chartway Federal Credit Union American Music Festival has

been held on the Virginia Beach oceanfront each Labor Day Weekend. New this year, AMF expands to Thursday night and Monday afternoon with free shows at 24th Street Park! All performances take place along the oceanfront at the 5th Street Main Stage on the Beach and at 17th Street Park, 24th Street Park, and 31st Street Park stages.

Tickets on sale at TICKETMASTER.COM Get More Info LIVEONATLANTIC.COM

14 YEARS OF RVA MAGAZINE 2005-2019

For Questions, Call 757-385-SURF (7873)

Get the Free App TXT “APP” TO 41400

Connect with Us

33


PHOTOGRAPHER TREVOR FROST ONE RICHMONDER TRYING TO SAVE THE PLANET In the springtime of Richmond in the 90s, two chairs sat on a front lawn. A sheet draped across them, they created a small, outdoor fort. A mailbox sat close by, one with a bird house attached to the back. A young boy hid beneath the sheet, clutching a point-and-shoot camera. He looked out into the yard, keeping very still, watching the mailbox, waiting. A bluebird landed on the perch. He clicked. “Like a painting is a piece of canvas, or a single piece of wood -- what you see is what you get,” said Trevor Frost, now 32. He’s a National Geographic wildlife photographer, whose first photographs were of the bluebirds and deer in his yard. “Whereas in photography, [if] you take multiple pictures on multiple days, they’re very, very different. But for me, everything I do is born out of wanting to tell stories.” Frost discovered his love of storytelling through photography by exploring the wildlife around his home and in the James River Park system of Richmond. His parents took him and his siblings on walks along the river nearly every day, a habit he continues even now. As a child, he found that presenting arguments in clear, persuasive ways was the best way to communicate, and using this form of storytelling to convey his love for wildlife became his career.

years old. At 22, after graduating college, Frost applied to National Geographic for a Young Explorer grant. He received $5,000 to explore and map caves in the central African country of Gabon, thus beginning his career as a wildlife photographer. On the trip, he mapped 11 new caves in the area. He went on to photograph crocodiles in Northern Australia, orangutans on the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia, gelada monkeys in Africa, wild salmon in the Sacred Headwaters of Birtish Columbia, snakes in India, and humpback whales off the coast of Tonga, an island in Oceania. “I’ll never forget the very first humpback I went in the water with,” Frost said. “It was a mother and her calf. It definitely kind of stopped me in my tracks -- took my breath away -- just to see something that large, but also that inquisitive and mindful. I’ll put it this way: if you could figure out a way to take everybody on this planet that doesn’t give a shit about the natural world, and you could take them there and plop them in the water with those whales for 20 minutes, it would change their mind.” Frost now works as an Eddie Bauer Adventure Guide, but continues his work in documenting wildlife by using his images to stress its importance.

“I’ve always found great joy in really dissecting something that interests me, and then figuring out how can I present this in a way in which people will want to learn more about it,” said Frost, “or perhaps change the way they think about things because of what they’ve read, or seen, or done.”

“Why is it that I’ve decided to devote all my adult life to wildlife? I can’t come up with a better answer than the way it makes me feel,” Frost said. “So that’s selfish. But my hope is that other people realize it has this inherent power… Functional brain imaging shows us that our brains actually can change on a chemical level when we spend time with animals.”

Although he was born in Durham, NC, Frost considers himself a Richmond native, as he has lived in Richmond -- primarily on Southside-- since he was four

In the last several years, Frost has openly acknowledged his struggle with anxiety and depression. Although he says it never keeps him from leaving his bed, he

does become antisocial, unresponsive, and unmotivated. Spending time at his home in Richmond with his partner, their two cats, and the James River are what uplifts him. Traveling to the most wild, scenic places in the world is what reinvigorates his motivation. “When I developed depression and I started doing this work, and spending time in these wild places, it wasn’t lost on me that when I was going to these wild places, or even if I go for a paddle on the James River, I felt completely different,” Frost said. “So naturally, I just started asking myself, ‘Well, why am I drawn to these places? Why am I devoting so much of my life to protect these places and protecting wildlife?’ The only answer I can come up with is, they make me feel a certain way that nothing else does. So the more I thought about that, the more I dreamed of telling a story so I could share that with the rest of the world. It’s not to suggest that wildlife is going to cure people -- it’s not going to get rid of their depression. But it’s going to help.” While traveling all over the world photographing animals may sound glamorous, the reality is much more grueling. Discovering stories, finding funding, spending long nights editing, and long days traveling, waiting for hours and often days on end in hot environments without producing usable material -- these are all part of Frost’s reality. But most frustrating is when the work doesn’t have the influence he hopes for. “If you look at conservation -- saving wild places, fighting for clean water in your backyard, all these things -- overall, we’re failing,” Frost said. “I mean, there are success stories here and there, battles are being won, but the war -- we’re losing. As a storyteller that has evolved in that genre of storytelling, it’s not lost on me that we are also failing. We are either telling the wrong stories or we’re just not getting through to people.”

BY MADELYNE ASHWORTH 34

RVA MAGAZINE 37 | SUMMER 2019


“I’ve been to 85-plus countries, every continent except for Antarctica, and I have never come across a place that is better than this. Ever.”

PHOTO BY MELISSA LESH 14 YEARS OF RVA MAGAZINE 2005-2019

35


36

RVA MAGAZINE 37 | SUMMER 2019


PHOTO BY JEFF KIRBY & TREVOR FROST

14 YEARS OF RVA MAGAZINE 2005-2019

37


Frost uses multiple routes to influence others to care about the natural world around them – being an adventure guide and leading tourists into nature is one of his methods. One of his projects played a part in preserving a sacred wildlife habitat in the Canadian province of British Columbia. In his role with the International League of Conservation Photographers, Frost helped writer Wade Davis and a team of photographers complete an expedition to the Sacred Headwaters, a sub-alpine basin and the source of three wild salmon rivers. The result was a book, The Sacred Headwaters: The Fight To Save The Stikine, Skeena, and Nass. The area, a sacred place to indigenous peoples in the area, was sold to Royal Dutch Shell in 2004 by the British Columbian government. While it was met with persistent opposition from local environmental groups, think tanks, and activists, Royal Dutch Shell’s project still felt ominous.

38

“That photo book was used by activists that were already running these different campaigns, trying to stop Royal Dutch Shell from coming in and fracking a million acres of land in the headwaters of these three very important salmon rivers,” Frost said. “So they were using the book, and they were using the images that we made.” Davis was later asked to give a TED talk on the project, at which former Royal Dutch Shell President Marvin Odum was in attendance, along with several other business luminaries. According to Frost, Odum approached Wade after the TED talk and affirmed that if what Davis had said during the talk was really the case, they wanted to back out of the Sacred Headwaters project. One month later, they did exactly that; the British Columbian government also placed a moratorium on fracking. “I think that what the book did was, there were all these activists and groups of people and individuals together, and they

were doing the hard work; then we came in and pushed it right over the edge,” Frost said. “We shined a spotlight on it, and the combination of those two things, with them providing 90 percent of the work and us providing the last little 10 percent that they needed, is what got us there.” Today, between spending time at home in Richmond and making the occasional trip to India to photograph snakes, Frost dedicates most of his energy to monthly trips to Peru -- a project he describes as the most challenging, yet important one he’s worked on. “It’s a story that is exposing, in a very raw way, someone’s life,” Frost said. “It’s someone that isn’t really excited about being on camera, but he’s doing it because he realizes the importance of the issue at hand, and the gravity of what this [project] could actually mean for other people.”

RVA MAGAZINE 37 | SUMMER 2019


After returning home to the UK from Afghanistan with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, a young veteran of the British Armed Forces made a failed attempt to take his life. He traveled to the Amazon to discreetly commit suicide in the wild, but fortunately aborted this mission when he became the guardian of a baby ocelot, a small jungle cat. He now spends his days taking care of this ocelot in the Amazon region of Peru, hoping to one day return it to the wild. Frost and his partner, Melissa Lesh, are creating a documentary film to tell this man’s story, in the hope that his status as a veteran, his commitment to wildlife, and the positive effect it’s had on his mental health will convey the same understanding Frost has had all his life: that wildlife is fundamentally and biologically crucial to our wellbeing. “You’re constantly racking your brain,” Frost explained. “How can I tell a story that is going to [reach] people that it

wouldn’t ordinarily reach?” For Frost, the fact that the man this film will focus on is a veteran of the Iraq war is a good way to reach a new audience. “He’s a veteran,” Frost said. “That gives us a chance to connect with people who, in the U.S. at least, are historically conservative and don’t care about the environment. The second you mention that he’s a veteran and he served in Afghanistan, all of a sudden you win their attention over.”

ing they’re as smart as an orca, or an elephant, but they’re much more intelligent than we give them credit for.”

Winning people over is also one of the reasons Frost travels to India to photograph snakes, or takes pictures of his friends holding snakes in their hands. By engaging with an animal that is frightening or mysterious to the average person, he hopes to make it seem a little less scary and a little more beautiful.

“It can be a slap in the face when I come back [to a city] from the rainforest,” Frost said. “It’s easy to get trapped. But we have one of the most incredible wild areas in a city in the continental U.S. I’ve been to 85-plus countries, every continent except for Antarctica, and I have never come across a place that is better than this. Ever.”

“We’re taking the photos similar to the way you would take a portrait of a human, trying to show that [the snake] has personality,” Frost explained. “The truth is, snakes do have personality. I’m not say-

That quest to unearth healing connections with the natural world, and animals in their natural habitats, propels Frost on regular extended trips across the world. But he still considers Richmond home, and offers compelling reasons for cherishing his home city.

These days, when he’s in town, Frost likes to ride his bike back to places he’s visited many times before. “It never gets old,” he said. “There’s always something new that I’m seeing.”

14 YEARS OF RVA MAGAZINE 2005-2019

39


40

RVA MAGAZINE 37 | SUMMER 2019


14 YEARS OF RVA MAGAZINE 2005-2019

41


HIP HOP X SKATE X FASHION

A CONVERSATION WITH SHAWN GRAY OF WASHINGTON AVENUE SKATEBOARDING Hip hop and skateboarding: two subcultures with roots that go back well over 40 years. Over the decades, each has had a long struggle for acceptance before eventually becoming mainstream cultural staples. In the past decade, the two have become more closely intertwined than ever. Stars like Pharrell Williams and Lil Wayne have embraced their skating roots, and rappers today wear Vans as much as they wear Adidas and Nikes (word to Dom Kennedy). Here in Richmond, there are days when downtown Broad Street looks like a skate park. 42

I spoke to Shawn Gray at the Analog Suspects record release show, where the group raffled off a limited-edition signature skateboard deck produced for them by Washington Avenue Skateboarding. Gray is the man behind the Richmondbased Washington Ave, and has his own history as a rapper as well. We spoke about RVA hip hop and skateboarding as he and his team prepared to hit the road for Washington Avenue’s first skate tour. How did you first get into skating? My mom actually skated back in the eighties; I saw photos of her while in New York. And then, I’m not even gonna lie,

man -- PlayStation 1, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater. If I didn't say that, I'd be a liar. Before it came out, I was into X games stuff -- into watching it. But when the actual video game came out, and you can pick a black dude, and it was rap music... I'm just like, “Oh okay. Let's do it.” How long were you a skater? I started out in the driveway. After a few falls, that didn’t last too long [laughs]. It wasn’t where I wanted it to go, but the love was always there. Since then, I’ve been on and off the board recently, but nothing too serious; to where I can give anybody else on a board judgement. RVA MAGAZINE 37 | SUMMER 2019


BY HIP HOP HENRY PHOTOS BY BRANDEN WILSON 14 YEARS OF RVA MAGAZINE 2005-2019

43


That’s what I don’t do -- that’s when you become a poser. Then you became a rapper, before eventually starting a skate team. How are those things similar? It’s similar in the way you deal with people. As a rapper, you can’t be anyone but yourself, or you’re outta here. The same with skating. Both ventures heavily rely on relationships, so it keeps me in line, knowing that I can’t do this alone. For example, me and OG Illa went through a lot. Back when I was a rapper, I wasn't focused on being as much of a good person, so I let ego get in the way of a few things. And I had the power to stop an issue or two, and didn't stop it. I didn't want to stop it. Around 2018, I don't know when I saw him, or how I saw him -- probably Instagram -- but he came by my job. I apologized to him for being like that back then. Once I did that, not only did I feel better, that's when we decided to see if we can get something done together. You have to grow. Have your connections from your days as a rapper also helped with skating connections today? Yes, the rappers you see coming through are from my rap career, like Versace Chachi and Noah-O. Back then, when I was like “Oh, I could rap with y’all,” [Illa] gave me the Jay-Z and Kanye stiff arm. I’m glad he did because I wasn’t ready. I was ready lyrically, but I wasn’t ready to be around that level of dedication and hard work they were doing over there. I was just raw talent. Recently I’ve seen plenty of kids -black kids at that -- on boards up and down Broad Street. How does it make you feel to see the diversity? Let me tell you something, man -- that is one of the happiest things that I've been seeing, as far as Richmond goes. Seeing Broad Street being shredded up and down. And it's cool because that started right around the construction time; a lot of those intersections were blocked off, so a lot of them had access to the middle section over there. Now it's open, but hey, I guess they claimed it. (laughs)

44

RVA MAGAZINE 37 | SUMMER 2019


You’re about to head out on the first Washington Avenue skate tour. How many skaters are on the tour? Ten skaters. The tour is from July 25 th to August 5th. We will be leaving out of Richmond that Thursday night, headed to Tampa, then Atlanta, Charlotte, and back to Richmond. Is there a hip hop tie-in? The skate tour kind of evolved; it was going to be a hip hop/skate mashup type thing. But it didn't work out that way, because it's the first thing that we're doing. I didn't want to make it look like too much of what it wasn't. It’s a skate tour, you know what I'm saying? Now, hip hop is definitely part of it; that will always be there. But I didn't want anybody else to feel like I wasn't focusing on them as much as I should. I really want to do a showcase, a hip hop/skate-type thing [on the Richmond stop]. We do skate night every Wednesday at Monkey Brainz RVA over there [on Jeff Davis]. So I want to do a juiced up skate night that Wednesday -might have a skate showcase; or a pop-up shop type thing. washavesb.bigcartel.com

14 YEARS OF RVA MAGAZINE 2005-2019

45


FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 6 AT 7:30PM • DOMINION ENERGY CENTER Join RPAA for one night only as we celebrate the 10th Anniversary of Dominion Energy Center for the Performing Arts with an unforgettable performance by:

LATIN BALLET OF VIRGINIA RICHMOND SYMPHONY VIRGINIA OPERA

SPARC VIRGINIA REPERTORY THEATRE CITY DANCE THEATRE

ELEGBA FOLKLORE SOCIETY RICHMOND BALLET QUILL THEATRE

TICKET PRICES FROM $27-$42 • 1.800.514.ETIX (3849) • DOMINIONENERGYCENTER.COM PRESENTED BY 46

TITLE SPONSOR SUPPORTING the artists of today, NURTURING the artists of tomorrow, and providing spaces for the arts to THRIVE!

VENUE RVA MAGAZINE 37 | SUMMER 2019


14 YEARS OF RVA MAGAZINE 2005-2019

47


INTERVIEW / PHOTOS BY SPILLED MILK WORDS BY MARILYN DREW NECCI

48

RVA MAGAZINE 37 | SUMMER 2019


THE ANTI-SOCIAL SOCIALITES AEST2 WALKS US THRU HIS RICHMOND GRAFFITI STORY

If you meet AEST2 in the course of an ordinary day, he seems like a normal citizen. But he leads a double life, furthering a decades-long graffiti career in secret. The majority of the city has no idea he exists, but within the tightly-knit local graffiti culture, he is Richmond-famous. As the numeral indicates, AEST2 is not the original AEST. He took his name from a high school friend he used to skate and paint with. “He didn’t want to do graffiti anymore -- and I liked those letters,” AEST2 says. “Also, that was around the time I got arrested for my old word.”

14 YEARS OF RVA MAGAZINE 2005-2019

Your word -- the series of letters graffiti artists paint as their signature, also known as your tag -- is your name in the graffiti world. But when the police catch on, there’s only one way to stay in the game. “I got arrested for my old word,” AEST2 says. “So, write something new.” AEST2 is Richmond-born and Richmondraised, and joined the local graffiti culture as a teenager in the early 90s. At the time, before the days of VCU’s expansion and Venture Richmond’s local takeover, there was a lot of graffiti happening in Richmond. “A lot of legal walls, a lot of tagging,” says AEST2. “Not many people do throw-ups or straight letters [tags]

anymore. Until the early nineties, people were just doing tags, really.” “Tagging” is the act of writing your word, your name, on a wall in stylized letters, as fast as possible in as public a place as possible. People who do this are known within graffiti culture as“writers” or “bombers”; it’s less about art than it is about making sure people know who you are. “Throw-ups” are a bit more complex, but still designed to be quick -- up and done before the cops come.

49


But legal walls, those are another thing. “A permission wall,” AEST2 explains. “Where the building owner is like, ‘You can paint on my wall.’ There were a good handful of those.” The forerunner to today’s many local murals, the legal walls of 1990s Richmond were often host to elaborate “pieces,” which resembled murals, and were sometimes created by entire multi-artist “crews” working together. They looked great, and there was always something new to see. If you ask AEST2, though, the permission walls were a victim of their own success. “Towards the end of the nineties, people discovered throw-ups and fill-ins, doing BIG shit on the street,” he says. “I feel like that was the downfall of the legal walls.” While a huge wall filled with an elaborate, colorful graffiti piece might seem like a wonderful work of public art to artists and fans, the majority of property owners in Richmond’s slowly-gentrifying Fan neighborhood had a different take.

50

RVA MAGAZINE 37 | SUMMER 2019


“Richmond used to be very conservative, as far as art in the public space,” AEST2 says now. “There was the Fan District Association saying this art was ruining everything. There was a push from them and others to get rid of it all. So the legal walls were all painted over, because it was going to scare people.” This was around the same time that Mayor Rudy Giuliani received a great deal of acclaim for implementing what’s known as “broken-window policing” in New York City, cracking down on public drinking, subway fare evasion, and, of course, graffiti. An early success of New York’s broken-window campaign was the permanent end to graffiti on the subways -- which pleased property owners and well-off corporate businessmen, but felt bittersweet to those who saw the graffiti art in New York City’s subways as a grassroots urban art movement.

14 YEARS OF RVA MAGAZINE 2005-2019

51


Where Richmond’s own graffiti crackdown is concerned, AEST2 is more philosophical today. “The broken window theory and all that shit, I get it,” he says. “But as teenagers, you’re not thinking about that.” He describes his own mindset at the outset of his graffiti career: “This shit is fun. Let’s go do this. Nobody is telling us what to do -- we can do anything. It’s freedom. Pure freedom. I’m gonna write on this, I’m gonna write on that. Whatever. You’re not thinking, ‘Who owns this wall?’” As a teenager, AEST2 was encouraged to get into art by his parents. However, they were less than pleased about his choice to focus on graffiti -- especially after his first arrest. “They saw value, but at the same time, [they said], ‘You can’t go around writing on stuff that doesn’t belong to you.’ Like any parent should.” That arrest wasn’t enough to stop AEST2, but it did teach him an important lesson: “Be a little more careful,” he says. Graffiti is generally associated with hip hop -- it’s one of the “five elements of hip hop” set out at the dawn of that movement by DJ Kool Herc and Afrika Bambaataa. However, in early 90s Richmond,

52

it was strongly associated with skateboarding and hardcore punk. “I learned about writing through skateboarding,” AEST2 says. “In Virginia, it’s connected to the hardcore scene. Going to punk and hardcore shows -- that’s where all the writers were.” At that time, before the big graffiti crackdown of the late 90s, fights between straight edge graffiti artists and those who dabbled in various substances were the biggest issue in Richmond. AEST2 was on the latter side. “I was hanging with the kids smoking weed, getting drunk, trying to eat acid,” he says. “All the bigger known writers were all straight edge kids, calling us fuck-ups and causing beef. People got into fights over it -- it was a big deal.” AEST2 tried to stay out of all that and just paint. “I would rather just do my own thing and not be fucked with because I want to smoke weed,” he says. “There were a lot of straight edge kids back then -- it was very popular. Most of them are not straight edge anymore, but obviously years have gone by.”

When the crackdown came, though, all of the artists took notice. It went beyond street beef. The late 90s and early 00s saw some of Richmond’s most prolific graffiti artists -- including those like Mickael Broth, who are well-known legal muralists in Richmond today -- go to jail for their graffiti-related activities. And if property owners’ rights weren’t enough to make the young artists of the 90s think twice, the arrests definitely were. “I was definitely paranoid about it,” AEST2 says. “You do stuff in the street that’s noticeable, and it’s on somebody’s property. The property owner’s pissed. They call the police to complain about it. So the police are getting pressure from people… [and they] start cracking down by creating a task force to find out who’s writing on everybody’s shit. ‘We’ve got to arrest these people and lock ‘em up! Put an end to this.’” The law-enforcement campaign against graffiti has had a big impact on Richmond’s graffiti scene over the past two decades. “I have seen a lot of people come and go,” AEST2 says. “People go hard for a couple of years and then get a real job. ‘I got a career now. I’m not fucking with that -- risking my awesome job and getting arrested for no reason.’”

RVA MAGAZINE 37 | SUMMER 2019


That said, the local scene never entirely died. “[The crackdown] pushed a lot of people to start painting freight [trains] in Richmond, because it was way more low-key,” AEST2 says. “And [the train was] gone the next day. What you did in the [local] yard is now in Pennsylvania or Florida somewhere.” The gentrification of Richmond has also made it harder to find local spots to paint. “There was a lot more stuff to paint back then,” says AEST2. “More abandoned buildings, and the city wasn’t as fancy. Now there are new condos everywhere, lots of new restaurants. Which is great, but it’s not the same.” But there’s still graffiti visible around Richmond -- if you know where to look. “I don’t think it ever went away, just... people grew out of it,” AEST2 says. “There’s not a lot of payoff in it. People that enjoy it and get something out of it stick with it. And there’s new generations of art kids every year.” Legally-created murals have also become a much more accepted form of public art in recent years; campaigns like the Richmond Mural Project and the RVA Street Art Festival have fought back against an

14 YEARS OF RVA MAGAZINE 2005-2019

epidemic of flat gray walls. AEST2 may be on the illegal side of the street art movement, but he appreciates the murals as well. “Everyone [is] more open to art in general now that street art is so popular,” he says. “They might be more accepting of graffiti.” But legal murals will never replace the illicit art of graffiti. “It’s illegal -- that’s the point of it,” says AEST2. “When it’s legal, that takes away a huge part of what it’s about.” AEST2 insists that, regardless of legality, graffiti and street art are two different things. “Street art is more accessible than some letters people can’t read.” However, those “letters people can’t read” are a fundamental component of graffiti -one that can’t be separated from easilyappreciated murals. “People always want to know, ‘What does it say? What does it mean?’” he explains. “At the end of the day, it doesn’t really mean anything. It’s a nickname..”

This argument frustrates AEST2, because it indicates a fundamental misunderstanding of graffiti art and its evolution into colorful, aesthetically-pleasing murals. “That’s where it comes from,” he says. “Tagging [is] the initial phase of it. That’s what you base your whole letter structure on. You do that first, and then progress.” Indeed, it was doing graffiti that taught AEST2 to be an artist. “I sucked like everyone else when I started,” he says. “But you paint more and you learn things. I ended up learning color theory. The more I did it, the more fun I had doing it.” And in the depths of this secret life, he also found a community. “I met other people that liked doing it and it ended up becoming a social thing,” he says. “I met all kinds of people that I would not have met otherwise -- connections in other states and cities. It was our own little bubble. Our own secret fraternity. A bunch of anti-social socialites.”

“Then there’s the whole tagging vs. pieces thing,” AEST2 continues. He sarcastically imitates the fans of murals who doesn’t “get” graffiti: “‘Oh, I like the colorful stuff, but the writing is terrible! Why would you do that?’”

53


54

RVA MAGAZINE 37 | SUMMER 2019


SCOTT’S ADDITION 1001 N. Boulevard

EnSuBoca

ENSUBOCA.COM

EnSuBoca_Taqueria

THE FAN 1501 W. Main Street

14 YEARS OF RVA MAGAZINE 2005-2019

BeauvineBurger

55

BEAUVINEBURGER.COM

BeauvineBurger


BY MARILYN DREW NECCI PHOTO BY SHANE GARDNER 56

RVA MAGAZINE 37 | SUMMER 2019


SPANNING THE COSMOS WITH UNMAKER Unmaker is a tough band to pin down. This up-and-coming Richmond quartet draws from many influences -- from gothic postpunk and progressive rock to experimental electronic music. With a background primarily in metal and punk, they were brought together by mutual frustration with the limitations of those sounds. “We wanted to have a different outlet,” says guitarist Jim Reed. “We were in metal and punk bands, so we wanted an outlet that was exploring other sonic textures and territories.” “I wanted something that I hadn't done before,” agrees vocalist Aaron Mitchell. 14 YEARS OF RVA MAGAZINE 2005-2019

“I remember that,” Reed chimes in. “We were talking at the bar and you were like, ‘Dude, I want to be in a band where I actually sing, but no one wants me to. They just want me to scream and yell. That really bums me out.’” The cure for Mitchell’s blues involved further exploration into musical styles that both he and Reed liked. “One of the early things we touched upon was [film] scores and electronic music,” Reed says. He and Mitchell list a variety of other influences they brought into the mix for Unmaker, including German Krautrock of the 70s, postpunk of the early 80s, and the experimental postmetal band Beastmilk.

With all influences in mind, the two decided to put a band together, and before long had recruited bassist Kent Jung and drummer Brandon Whitaker. They made a conscious decision to remain open musically. “We've always been open to exploring any influence that somebody wants to bring to the table,” says Whitaker. “That's something I really enjoy about this band.” Despite the wide variety of influences that went into the mix, Unmaker established a distinct sound early on -- one that is difficult to categorize, but all the more arresting as a result.

57


PHOTO BY JOEY WHARTON

58

RVA MAGAZINE 37 | SUMMER 2019


Mitchell’s vocals are a particular standout element, embodying a strong, melodic urgency that deepened by the interplay with Reed’s guitar leads. The band has a foreboding feel, but retains a powerful, energetic approach to rhythm and song structures, further accentuating Mitchell’s dramatic vocal phrasing. Lyrically, Unmaker is every bit as sociopolitically motivated as the average punk or metal band, but their approach is more metaphorical, mixing science fiction into veiled commentary about current events. “Children Of The Clouds” paints a romantic picture of nomadic tribes traveling through the desert, but as Mitchell explains, the song is about a very real issue. “A lot of nomadic tribes have been almost completely wiped out because of the strife in certain areas, especially in the Sahara.” “Used Future” gives a dark take on the progress our culture has made over the past several decades. “I think back to what I thought the future was going to look like now, as a kid growing up in the 80s, and what it actually looks like,” says Reed. “[It’s] an ad-hoc situation of the past and present. There's futuristic stuff like our phones, but then we're [living] in hundred-year old buildings.” “Through The Firmament” draws inspiration from a formative experience Mitchell had as an adolescent. “I grew up in the northern part of Michigan, and I would sneak out of my house at night to go watch the Northern Lights,” he explains. “One night, the Northern Lights had basically encompassed the entire sky, and I had the most dreadful existential moment. I feel like that's when I lost my childhood. It was a beautiful moment but also really scary and terrifying -- realizing how very, very small we are in the universe.” Early on, the band made the decision to make synthesizers a factor in the Unmaker sound. While synth sounds have always been stigmatized in the heavier genres its members came from, none of them bought into that idea. “Certain things were just not open, especially in the metal world,” Reed says. “If there were any keyboards, it's not metal. [But] 14 YEARS OF RVA MAGAZINE 2005-2019

I never held that kind of bias.” Mitchell agrees. “I've always loved electronic music, and tried to incorporate it as muchas I can.” While Unmaker has worked with a variety of synthesizer players over their time as a band, none has become a permanent member. On their 2018 debut album, Firmament , producer Ricky Olson played most of the synth parts. “We were really happy with the way the record sounded,” says Whitaker, “but we knew that we needed to get out and play shows. And it's like, are we gonna try to put another person in here?” Currently, Unmaker uses sequencers to trigger pre-recorded synth parts when they perform. Their decision to move forward without a permanent synth player is understandable in light of their struggles to find the right lineup to achieve their vision. After Firmament, Jung left, and was replaced by Chris Compton. As far as the band is concerned, the addition of Compton was a big step up. “Chris brings a lot to the table,” says Whitaker. “He has such a powerful presence that you can tell there's a difference to the presentation, and how rocking it is. It has a different energy.” With Compton in the band, it’s as if a whole new phase of Unmaker has begun. Since finishing their debut album less than a year ago, they’ve already come close to completing another album’s worth of material. “It's a fresh start,” says Mitchell. “The foundation is still there, [but] even the songs I'm writing are a little different, more serious.” As a veteran band with years of experience in the music scene under their belts, the members of Unmaker try to keep their goals realistic. “Just being in the band and achieving the things that we achieve is honestly good enough for me,” says Whitaker. They remain committed, and plan for more in the future -- not just a new album, but tours, videos, and any other opportunities that come along. “We're going to try to just keep going at our own pace and figure it out,” says Reed. Watch this space. unmaker.bandcamp.com 59


60

RVA MAGAZINE 37 | SUMMER 2019


14 YEARS OF RVA MAGAZINE 2005-2019

61


ARMING LEE COUNTY

WITHOUT FUNDING, TEACHERS LEARN TO GUARD THEIR OWN STUDENTS

Each morning, 384 miles west of Richmond, a man clips on his badge, buckles his belt, tightens his gun holster, and heads to work. His commute is upwards of 40 minutes, driving along unforgiving roads through early morning mists that fog his windshield. Any distraction could send him into a river bank or mountainside, but for Deputy Sheriff Dustin Lane, it’s commonplace. Lane is the School Resource Officer (SRO) at Lee High School in Lee County, located at the southwestern tip of Virginia. He is solely responsible for the school’s 860 students and staff. Further, he is one of only four SROs in the county, charged with the safety of 11 public schools, which are spread across 437 square miles. On average, Lane’s nearest fellow officer is at least 45 minutes away. This morning, Lane must spend the first half of the day at the courthouse attending school-related duties, leaving Lee High unattended. Returning around noon, Lane will remain at school late into the evening, seeing off every student and staff member before he heads home. “My wife works at one of the elementary schools here,” Lane said. “They don’t have a resource officer. She’s a secretary. She’s had irate parents come in before trying to jump the counter to get to her because they’re so mad over her just doing her job, performing her duties. She’s the first line of defense, and she has nothing to defend herself. Not even a resource officer.” Having an armed staff member at her school would change that. The urgency around the question of whether she should has been heightened since the Parkland school shooting in February 2018. Consequently, the Lee County School Board seeks to equip school staff

with firearms through a designated conceal and carry program -- a program which challenges existing Virginia law. One of the poorest counties in the state, Lee County has a poverty rate of 26 percent. This widespread poverty affects even the school board. With adequate funding, they would hire more officers to cover the county’s 11 schools. However, given the current constraints of their budget, finding an alternative solution may prove financially impossible. And if a Lee County law enforcement officer is needed to respond to a crisis -- a fire, a medical emergency, or an active shooter -- rapid response will not be an option. “When I first got here, we had two SRO officers that were paid the same as a teacher, which means [for] 180 days a year instead of around 260,” said Dr. Brian Austin, Lee County Public School Superintendent. “So their salary was extremely low, and there was a high turnover rate.” Lee County is closer to eight other state capitals than it is to its own; the Cumberland Gap is just minutes from the county’s westernmost school. That school mainly relies on park rangers when they need first responders because police are too far away. The landscape is tangled and the roads are indirect; driving to Lee County from eastern Virginia requires cutting through Kentucky. At best, the county is decidedly remote.

“If you look at our funding level, we’re the second-poorest county in Virginia,” said Rob Hines, a member of the Lee County School Board and budget committee. “We were the poorest a year or two ago. We just have to use what resources we have in the best way we can. We don’t want to end up a national story that has these tragic events, where people just walk up into a school and start shooting, and we’re not doing anything to protect our kids and our staff.” With prudent spending and state grants, the school board was able to provide schools with magnetic doors and an intercom system, requiring everyone to buzz into buildings. Austin recently hired a fifth SRO through a state grant, but with few able-bodied candidates applying, and a single-year funding cycle, the community still worries about whether it will be enough. According to CNN, in the year since the Parkland shooting, there has been, on average, a school shooting every 12 days. With communities across the country in disarray, Austin and Sheriff Gary Parson felt they needed recourse, and immediately began formulating a plan.

“I feel like we’re forgotten about sometimes in Southwest Virginia, this far down,” Lane said. “I know when I go to Richmond to train or something, I hear other departments talking about getting grants for this and that; here, we’re lucky to be able to get the money for SRO grants.”

“I can’t tell you the number of times after Parkland that we had [Sheriff’s] staff going to people’s houses to follow up perceived threats, threats made on social media, to make sure that everything was okay,” Austin said. “Am I going to say there’s a heightened state? No, no more so than usual. But are we always cognizant of the mental health and safety of our students?

Leaky roofs, chipping paint, and faulty electrical systems are just some of the issues found in Lee County’s schools.

Yes.”

BY MADELYNE ASHWORTH AND JOHN DONEGAN 62

Holes in hallway ceiling panels reveal vines of hanging wires, pockmarked lockers leak paper, mold adorns the walls. And there isn’t enough money to remedy everything at once.

PHOTOS BY JOHN DONEGAN RVA MAGAZINE 37 | SUMMER 2019


14 YEARS OF RVA MAGAZINE 2005-2019

63


Austin and Parson began researching ways to legally allow certain staff members at each school to carry a concealed firearm. Under a particular statute in the Virginia Guns in Schools Law, schools can create programs that allow firearms on the premises; however, the limits are vague. They could choose to either design their own program, or find one that had been used in similar circumstances in the past. Eventually they went with a program set up by the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS), titled the “Special Conservator of the Peace,” or SCOP. The SCOP program requires a psychological evaluation, 40 hours of training, and continued training to refresh every couple of months. Positions with similar training include security guards in some malls and amusement parks. Initially, Austin told LCPS staff members they could volunteer to be considered for the program; While no staff member was approached directly, many decided to volunteer. According to the sheriff, in an active shooter situation, armed staff would only protect students until law enforcement arrived. Staff would then give full responsibility to law enforcement. “I’m looking for someone who has competency with a firearm, one that feels comfortable with a firearm, someone that can display safety, things they’re already aware of,” Parson said. “A lot of people have already been through hunter safety classes in our county. We’re just a very gun-oriented area. Most rural areas are.” The county’s foundation is in its volunteers. The fire department relies heavily on their volunteer firefighters. Many parents also teach, or lead after-school programs. And this is a county of carriers. “I lived on a farm with my grandmother, who slept with a .38 under her pillow,” said Sarah (not her real name), one of the staff volunteers who has begun SCOP training. “I’ve been around guns all my life.” For Lee County residents, guns are a household mainstay. Most adults are licensed to hunt, and many recall growing up within reach of a firearm. 64

“[In Indiana, there] was a young man who had gotten shot while he was trying to defend his students,” Austin said. “In response, school boards started passing out bats and buckets of rocks to teachers to be able to defend students. We can do better than that. We have a significant number of individuals in our community who are concealed-carry, that frankly have to make an effort not to carry weapons on school property.” As part of their screening, volunteers also filed a psychological evaluation. Questions touched on topics like impulse control, stress, and personal bias -- elements crucial to determining a dependable candidate. "I guess they’re just looking for a pattern of a dark side," Sarah said. "It asked a lot of questions about anger and anxiety, sleeplessness... I hadn’t really thought about it a lot, but it didn’t bother me." As of now, at least 13 volunteers have undergone the two-week preliminary training, led by the Lee County Police Department. Austin asserted that if the SCOP program is approved, training sessions would be continuous; they would not, however, be nearly as comprehensive as full SRO training with the police academy. “If we could afford SROs, I would prefer that route over what we are doing,” said Debbie Jesse, a member of the Lee County School Board. One volunteer, while insisting her training on the matter was thorough, could not recall the specifics of how to approach hostage negotiation, calling into question the efficacy of the training and the suitability of its applicants. And yet, volunteers felt confident about their ability to handle situations that might arise. “I feel positive that I could be level headed and calm enough to be able to talk to someone. I think so,” Sarah said. “As far as shooting and feeling comfortable with that, it was not hard.” However, in spite of a person’s best intentions, paralyzing fear fused with paramount responsibility could result in shooting at anything that moves -- including children.

“Training is obviously an important part of this. But most important is, you really have to have the mindset to be…. I don’t want to say an aggressor, but to be able to confront a threat,” said Tim Spivey, a retired police lieutenant, who was a member of the Chesterfield SWAT team for 16 years. “If you don’t have the proper mindset, you’re not going to react the way you should.” Police academies typically hold 30-week course programs, three to four weeks of which focus on firearms training. This includes both target shooting and liveaction scenario training, during which trainees weigh the safety of others. Spivey insists that this is paramount. “I hope part of their training is [making clear that] you can’t just wildly shoot if it’s going to harm other people around,” Spivey said. “Being a disciplined shooter is being sure of your target and what’s beyond it, and not causing other casualties. Training is the first step, the basis for accomplishing the job. But training is kind of like education -- it’s ongoing. You can never get enough.” Spivey stresses that, in high-risk situations like these, giving a staff member leeway to handle an emergency situation with deadly force would be unwise without more extensive training and multiple psychological evaluations. However, back in Lee County, Sheriff Parson feels there are more important concerns. “I understand there’s a liability involved, but honestly I’d rather get sued for saving kids’ lives than sit here and do nothing, and we lose a bunch of kids,” he said. In July of 2018, the Lee County School Board voted unanimously to introduce the SCOP program, allowing carefully selected employees at each of the schools to use firearms as a preventative measure against any potential active shooter situation. These employees would be trained and designated as Special Conservators of the Peace. The requirements to be an SCOP, created by the Supreme Court of Virginia, include a background check, a drug test, proof of training with a certified Virginia RVA MAGAZINE 37 | SUMMER 2019


law enforcement agency, and proof of liability insurance. Austin and Hines insist the cost of insurance premiums are more than affordable, despite concerns within the county for available insurers. “It would be a larger expense, yes, but the Special Conservator of the Peace has certain levels of protection that are expected so we met those standards through our insurance,” Austin said. However, Austin says, that cost has not been added to the school district’s premiums yet. Last July, Austin completed the requirements for SCOP and became the first Lee County school staffer to submit his request to DCJS. They rejected his request and, a week later, the Virginia Attorney General’s office released an opinion condemning Lee County for their decision to implement the program. “Our kids deserve a safe, secure learning environment when they come to school, and adding guns and armed, unqualified personnel to our classrooms is incompatible with that goal,” stated Attorney General Mark Herring. “The law already provides several options for employing armed security personnel with full law enforcement training, but the law doesn’t allow for the arming of unqualified personnel, and for good reason.” 14 YEARS OF RVA MAGAZINE 2005-2019

However, former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who represented Lee County in their lawsuit against the current Attorney General before that suit was dropped in March of this year, feels that Virginia’s Guns In Schools Law does provide for exceptions to the prohibition of firearms on school grounds -- one of which fits with Lee County’s current program. “For their community, I think this is a very intelligent solution,” Cuccinelli said. “I actually think it is a very intelligent solution for many communities. Part of my interest is making sure they can safely and smoothly undertake this.” The citizens of Lee County have put a great deal of thought into this program, but flaws have been revealed as part of its implementation. While Austin recognizes these flaws, criticism from outside the county only increases his determination to complete the project. “Your presumption about the presence of additional protectors posing a danger reveals an assumption on your part that the Lee County School Board and Lee County Public Schools administration do not share,” he said. The issue of gun usage is a polarizing one, but this decision isn’t as simple as whether or not individuals have the right

to bear arms. For Lee County residents, it has everything to do with their local tradition of volunteerism. People here feel compelled to step up, take action, and assume protective roles when called upon by circumstance. After all, the closest hospital is 40 minutes away; to residents of Lee County, it feels as if they have no one to rely on but each other. But what ultimately happens in Lee County will set a precedent for the entire state. “Their first priority is protecting their own children, but they want other counties to be able to do it, too,” said Cuccinelli. “And I strongly suspect that there are plenty of other school boards in Virginia, while they’ll stay perfectly quiet while this is going on, they’re definitely pulling for us to win.” Even if Lee County is allowed guns in school, though, it won’t feel like a victory. The only thing they’ll gain is a somber reminder that this is the reality of school safety today. “They’re hired as teachers. We don’t expect them to make [a life-or-death] decision,” said Lane. “But... if they’re willing to step in and help, offer their services, I don’t want to tell them that they can’t do it.”

65


66

RVA MAGAZINE 37 | SUMMER 2019


14 YEARS OF RVA MAGAZINE 2005-2019

67 67


gallery5 game night bring your own or play some of ours drink specials + open gallery hours

every wednesday 5pm - midnight free / fab / fun

#LongLiveGallery5 www.gallery5arts.org 68

RVA MAGAZINE 37 | SUMMER 2019


14 YEARS OF RVA MAGAZINE 2005-2019

69


Jesse Smith & Kenny Brown present

RICHMOND TATTOO ART & MUSIC FESTIVAL th th Sept. 13 -15

Featuring Ink Master Winner & Ink Master Angel Come meet some of your favorite TV personalites from

WEEKEND ENTERTAINMENT On-site Tattooing by the best in the industry, $15,000 in cash & prizes for Competitions, Live Music, Burlesque & Fire Performances, Family Friendly Saturday & Sunday ‘til 8pm, Free Tattoos, Live Art for Charity, AirSex Competitions… and much more!

DOUBLETREE BY HILTON RICHMOND - MIDLOTHIAN 1021 Koger Center Blvd.

70

RVA MAGAZINE 37 | SUMMER 2019

RichmondTattooConvention.com


14 YEARS OF RVA MAGAZINE 2005-2019

71


summer days on the patio are here ! J OI N U S 72

4 N . T H O M P S O N S T.

FOR SIMPLE, CLEAN, ORGANIC AND LOCAL FOOD AND DRINK. 7:00 AM TO 9:00 PM, 7 DAYS A WEEK, RAIN OR SHINE. RVA MAGAZINE 37 | SUMMER 2019

|

R I C H M O N D , VA

|

8 0 4 -3 5 9 -75 2 5

|

E L LWO O D T H O M P S O N S . C O M

|

Profile for RVA Magazine

RVA Magazine Summer 2019 #37  

RVA Magazine Summer Issue is full of our usual coverage of the local music, art, and culture in Richmond Va and beyond! This issue has feat...

RVA Magazine Summer 2019 #37  

RVA Magazine Summer Issue is full of our usual coverage of the local music, art, and culture in Richmond Va and beyond! This issue has feat...

Profile for snooka
Advertisement