Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Taxing Tickets is Strangling Show Business

In Richmond there's a problem most people don't even know exists. Understanding it isn't so easy because it's about what isn't happening.
How many cool night clubs didn’t open? How many big trade shows chose a city other than Richmond? How many touring rock ‘n’ roll acts skipped Richmond? How many companies didn’t move here? How many jobs never materialized?

While no one can answer those thorny questions with any certainty, they need to be asked. That’s because part of what stopped those things from happening remains an obstacle. It is still acting to stifle the entertainment industry in Richmond.

"It" is the seven percent tax The City of Richmond extracts from every dollar for an admission ticket that changes hands within its boundaries.
Click here to read a righteous rant against the local admission tax at Richmond.com.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Will axing Stewart backfire?

In Monday's Richmond Times-Dispatch Jeff Sharpiro writes about an investigation that is now underway in the General Assembly.
Today, at opposite ends of the Capitol, Senate and House committees are opening inquiries of the VITA-Northrop Grumman partnership, which has been criticized by legislators and state employees as pricey, and, in some cases, unnecessary.

Legislative scrutiny of the contract—the biggest privatization deal in ever in Virginia government -- intensified with the firing earlier this month of Lemuel Stewart Jr., as the state’s chief information officer.

As this story revolves around a $2.3 billion contract, it's a situation that's way over my head. I don't know anything about whether Northrop Grumman was living up to its end of the deal with Virginia.

Here's all I do know: If Lem Stewart is wrong, I'll be surprised.

Back in the '80s, I got to know Stewart when we both played on the 3rd St. Diner softball team in the Fan District Softball League. He was a good player and a good teammate. He could run like the wind. And, Lem was/is as sharp as a tack.

While I may agree more often with Gov. Tim Kaine's politics than Lem's, in this case, I suspect Kaine may be the one who's riding for a fall.

That's because the Lem Stewart I know simply would not have taken the position he did unless he knew he could prove he was right. And, if he was right to challenge Northrop Grumman, this brouhaha is not going to help the Democrats in an election year.

Especially THIS election year, coming during a time when voters are more than a little bit pissed off about how their money has been squandered by people they trusted.


Update: From Richmond BizSense here's an odd oops story about Northrop Grumman.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Bostic, Baldwin and Wilder

Now that the scheme to build a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom is dead for the second time, we can look back on how this story has flapped in the breeze since October of last year. The drumbeat that it would happen, no matter what objections were raised, lasted nine months.

Regular readers of SLANTblog know that I raised more than a few objections.

Well, it has turned out all that drumming was just a noisy distraction. Some of the people who tried to pass themselves off as experts, or in-the-know, were just amateurish spin doctors. It says here the noisiest proponents of baseball in Shockoe Bottom must have known they never had the general public behind the Highwoods Properties plan, so they just beat their drums harder.

At times the debate online was sidetracked by the absurdity of anonymous supporters of the Highwoods scheme striking angry poses, ostensibly because they weren't getting the respect they said they deserved.

At a public forum on where to play baseball opponents of the Highwoods/RBC plan were characterized as being too old and set in their ways to matter; they were called "selfish." Online they were frequently called worse.

All along, one of the biggest problems the Shockoe Bottom stadium concept had was that it really wasn't all that much about baseball. It was about real estate. The plan was to lure baseball fans to the Shockoe Center, where they would spend lots of money on whatever retail opportunities would be adjacent to the stadium.

Of course, if the baseball games didn't draw as well as Richmond Baseball Club's Bryan Bostic promised they would, anybody could see there might be a problem with tilting a huge development on the success of a Double A baseball team affiliated with the San Francisco Giants.

Then there was the matter of many Richmonders thinking that Shockoe Botoom is better suited to development to do with its unique history and transportation improvements.

Over the last five years Mr. Bostic has probably done more to injure baseball fans in Richmond than anyone else, in spite of what he has said were his intentions. Hopefully, from now on we will hear much less from him about how much he loves baseball.

Bruce Baldwin, the last general manager for the Richmond Braves, also deserves to be mentioned on any list of those who injured local baseball lovers. Throw in former Richmond mayor Doug Wilder, and there you have it -- the three guys who deserve the most credit for driving the International League out of Richmond.

It isn't known how this will turn out. Today I won't make any predictions about how long it's going to take to fix it. But at least Richmond has dodged the Shockoe Bottom Center bullet.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Monday, June 22, 2009

Let there be sunlight

Today's new piece at Richmond.com is about Sunlight:
Now Richmond’s Mayor Dwight Jones has the power to make a savvy move that would put him in a good light. He could tell one and all, including employees of The City of Richmond, he is going to break with the old style that depended on keeping John Q. Public in the dark.

Yes, Jones could turn his back on yesterday’s cloistered way of doing the people’s business. Richmond's new mayor could call a press conference and say, “Let there be sunlight.”

Or, Jones might call no press conference. Like his predecessor, he can go on clinging to yesterday’s routinely paranoid way of running a government that wanted as little kibitzing from taxpayers as possible.

Click here to read the entire piece.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Richmond's dated and silly logo

Isn't it time for Richmond to get a new logo? The current logo, unveiled about 1o years ago, still looks to me like offend-no-one, focus-group-art. But, it's a little bit too cute, and now it looks dated.

Rather than hire a design group to create another safe but silly replacement, how about a contest for a new logo? Put together a good panel and let it choose a design from submissions. The winner could get a cash prize that would cost The City much less than doing it the other way.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Admissions tax relief

Ever since my days as a movie theater manager I've been aware of how much the City of Richmond's admissions tax -- SEVEN PERCENT -- hobbled show business in this town. The tax comes off the top of every dollar exchanged for admission to any event.
However, since this tax comes off the top, the show’s producer/promoter surrenders that seven percent, even when the show fails at the box office. Hungry for revenue, Richmond takes its seven-cents gouge from every dollar spent on a seat for movies, basketball games, live music or travelogues.

Over the years, like the dog that didn’t bark, the touring company shows and pop concerts that have skipped Richmond -- because of its extra tax -- just didn’t happen.
Click here to read the rest of "The Show Mustn't Go On." However, that one is only my most recent rant about Richmond's anti-show business policies. Over the last 25 years I've penned several articles on this topic for various publishers.

The point of bringing this up now is that there's a new movement toward phasing out the admissions tax. At this point it's just some people talking. But the number of them and WHO they are makes me think that we may well be on the road to doing something for Richmond that will be a huge boon to show business.

Most important, this change would not involve the taxpayers having to endlessly subsidize publicly-owned theaters and clubs, to try to jump-start an arts/theater district. Instead, The City would just get out of the way.
  • Click here to read "Six Percent of Nothing," an article about the admissions tax (it was six percent then) I penned in 1999.
Update: By the way, Henrico and Chesterfield don't have an admissions tax. Among the cities with pretty good live music scenes that don't charge an admissions tax are, Austin, Nashville and even Charlottesville.

More on this soon. Stay tuned...

From Inevitability to Illusion

The air of inevitability for baseball in Shockoe Bottom is gone. The last five weeks have not been good to the forces advocating the building of a new baseball down there. At Richmond.com there's a new commentary piece of mine up about how the where-to-play-baseball story has changed since the Richmond Times-Dispatch's Public Square forum last month:
In addition to being way outnumbered, as far as the attendance went, another part of what underlined the weakness of Highwoods/RBC position was how fairly the forum was conducted. Silvestri’s calm evenhandedness offered a sharp contrast to those individuals who said things that were off-the-wall, or perhaps less than forthright.

After all the hyperventilating in comments under baseball stories, the thinking that Richmond was evenly divided on whether to build a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom was revealed to be an illusion -- poof!
Click here to read "The Tipping Point for Shockoe Bottom Baseball."

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

'Matinee Madcap'

"Matinee Madcap": Shot in 16mm at Richmond's Biograph Theatre in 1974, it is a chase-scene-driven, Black & White comedy. Click on the video box above or click here to see the movie.

Monday, June 15, 2009

House of Freaks video clips

The House of Freaks, a two-man band -- Johnny Hott on drums, the late Bryan Harvey on guitar and vocals -- appeared on Mondo City in 1990.

Click here to see clip No. 2 from the same Mondo City show.

At the time, Bryan and Johnny were kind enough to come on a low-budget local cable television program that I produced and hosted, to sit for questions. Naturally, we worked nothing out in advance. As always, we took phone calls from viewers ... it was all live.

These clips are part of a half-hour segment of the interview. In other weeks the guests on Mondo City included GWAR, the Bopcats, Page Wilson, Chuck Wrenn and others.

For background on the 2006 death of Bryan Harvey and his family click here.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

SLANT flashback: 'Smooth Noir'

Here's a flashback to an issue of SLANT 20 years ago. It was printed when the infamous Joe Camel ad campaign was still popular. Tobacco was still riding high ... but not for long.

In August of 1992 the art above appeared over the text below:
It's Happy Hour. Rebus starts the Lamberts, Hendricks and Ross tape that he had selected to kick off his shift. In walks his first customer.

It's Joe Camel, smooth matchbook celebrity.

Although Rebus recognizes him immediately, even without his makeup, he doesn't call attention to it. Joe looks like he would rather not be bothered.

Joe: Two shots of Cuervo Gold. No fruit. No salt.

Rebus: Hey pal, if it's been that kind of day, let me buy the first one. It's the...

Joe: THAT kind of day? Yeah, I guess it's been about as bad a day as ... forget it.

The bar's only customer slaps the first empty glass down onto the cold marble as Rebus turns the stereo's volume up a notch.

Joe: The tests came back. It's the Big C. I'm doomed. It's too late to operate. Just like that -- cancer. Kaput!

Rebus: Well, er, in that case, I'll spring for the second one, too.

Joe: Thanks.

Rebus: How about a sandwich?

Joe: A sandwich?

Rebus: Sure. Like something to eat. We've got a killer cold meatloaf sandwich, or...

Joe: Cancer of the hump.

Rebus: The hump?

Joe: They said my five-pack-a-day habit probably had nothing to do with...

Rebus: I didn't even know you had a hump. Like, it never shows in the commercials.

Joe: I wear corset. We all do. It's part of the act. The Mad Ave. geniuses want smooth camels, not hunchbacks. Hey, let me tell ya, they tighten those babies down with a torque wrench.

Rebus: I won't say anything about it.

Joe: I'm not hungry. How 'bout another shooter?

Rebus: Sure, ah, did the doctor, er...

Joe: Did they say how, how long I've got?

Rebus: Yeah. No offense meant.

Joe: Maybe the weekend.

Rebus: Cancer of the hump! What a bad break.

Joe: I deserve it.

Rebus: Hey, nobody deserves hump cancer. Not even...

Joe: I do man. I'm paying the price for selling my soul to the devil. All those kids.

Rebus: Kids?

Joe: Innocent children that Joe Camel suckered into smoking the product. It's karma.

Rebus: You didn't invent cigarettes.

Joe: Above all else, be smooth. Don't you want to be the smoothest dude?

Rebus: Come on Joe, kids are going to smoke cigarettes regardless of...

Joe: Maybe, but this campaign was slick. They brought in behavioral voodoo scientists.

Rebus: Joe, it's not your fault. You've just been dealt a bad hand. Joe, ah, that is your real name?

Joe: What's in a name? What's real? Way back, maybe before your time, people knew me as Clyde. Since then I've...

Rebus: Right! Clyde. I knew you looked familiar. Yeah, you worked with a cat named Ahab the Arab. But, now you look, like, ah, wider.

Joe: You're talking 30 years since that gig. Who hasn't put on a little weight?

Rebus: I can dig it. But it's still not your fault if a kid smokes. Everybody's got to earn a living. You're like Tony the Tiger or Ronald McDonald, or...

Joe: No! I knew it was wrong. I went to the meetings. I knew the marketing strategy. We were going after third-graders. It was sick.

Rebus: So, what are you going to do?

Joe: Get drunk, then make a plan.

Rebus: Good move. Ready for another?

Joe: I wonder if strapping my hump down made the cancer, ah...

Rebus: Maybe it's never too late to beat the devil. They made you a celebrity; call a press conference. Go public with it. Confess! Drop a dime on the subliminal sleazemeisters.

Joe: Do you really think people would listen?

Rebus: The Marlboro Man went clean.

Joe: You're right! I knew getting drunk was a good idea. Hand me that telephone. I'll do it. I'll blow the lid off the...

Rebus: That's the spirit!

Joe: I've got work to do; call my agent. And, you know what?

Rebus: Chicken-butt!

Joe: Let me try one of those meatloaf sandwiches. And, some coffee.

Rebus opens his eyes. The dream was OK until that business about the meatloaf sandwich. Not to mention the stupid chicken-butt joke.

He gets out of bed and walks toward the bathroom. On the way, Rebus remembers the Joe Camel jacket draped over the chair by the door. A steady customer had given it to him at the bar. He picks it up and throws it into the trash can next to the toilet.

Rebus: Sorry Clyde, I'm not taking any chances.

-- Fini --

Thursday, June 11, 2009

After the Storm

Creigh Deeds surged? Terry McAuliffe melted down? Of the three candidates, which guy would the GOP rather have faced?
Of course, the instant wisdom is telling us that Deeds surged, that he came from behind. That perception is based largely on believing opinion polls, as if such devices can be counted on as reliable snapshots of reality. Survey USA had McAuliffe ahead of Deeds by six points only two weeks ago.

While it does appear Deeds had momentum on his side in the last month, it’s hard to believe he actually moved 20 points in two weeks. It's easier to believe the polls missed something.
Click here to read my analysis of the Democratic primary results, "After the Storm: Deeds Wins in Landslide," at Richmond.com.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Deeds or McAuliffe?

A new piece written by yours truly about the Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls is up at Richmond.com.
Depending on which way you squint, the Democrats gubernatorial front-runner is either former chairman of the Democratic National Committee (2001-05) McAuliffe, or Deeds, the current state senator representing the 25th District. As the last week before the voting winds down, momentum may be on Deeds' side, but McAuliffe has the advantage in cash on hand.
Click here to read the entire piece, "Democratic Hopefuls Eye Primary."

Thursday, June 04, 2009

No. 9

The piece above (click on the image to enlarge it) was done in ink, paint and pencil on paper. Unframed, it's 10" by 8" and will cost you just $90.00. Contact me at (804) 359-4864 or ftrea9@yahoo.com. Other recent work is posted below.

Mercie's Lee and Chintaown

The piece above, "Mercie's Lee," is an ink and pastels study (10" by 8.5") of the statue of Robert E. Lee in my neighborhood. French sculptor Jean Antoine Mercie's strikingly dignified Lee Monument was unveiled in 1890. My take on the statue is yours for $90.00.

"Chinatown" is 10" wide and 7.5" tall. It was done in ink, paint and pencil on paper. Buy it now for $90.00.

Yes, the wolf is at the door, again, so art is for sale at fire sale prices. And, if you want me to make something new, to your specs, I'm ready and willing.

Larry the Friz Wiz

"Larry the Friz Wiz" is a 5" by 7" piece, unframed. It was done in ink, paint and pencil on paper. The original is $77.00. Same size prints are $14.00 (six have sold and two remain available).

"Three Frisbees No. 2" was done in ink and pencil on paper. It's 8" by 10" and is yours for $77.00. Prints (5" by 7") are $14.00. Email: ftrea9@yahoo.com or call (804) 359-4864.

Striped Discs

"Striped Discs" was done in pencil, ink and paint on paper. Unframed, it is a 10" by 8" piece that can be yours for $77.00. "Derriere No. 7" was done in oil sticks on paper. Unframed, it is 12" wide and 10" high. Buy it for $77.00. Email: ftrea9@yahoo.com or call (804) 359-4864.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Sotomayor's record is there to examine

Sonia Sotomayor has 17 years of experience on the federal bench. There's plenty of material in her writings and decisions to mine for how she might act as a member of the Supreme Court.

Of course there are members of the Republican Party that will oppose her because they would oppose anyone President Barack Obama nominated. Yes, there are right-wing commentators who will call her a "racist," based on an away-from-the-courtroom remark she made that rubbed them the wrong way.

Like most of us, Sotomayor has surely made remarks that she would rephrase, if she got the chance. The difference in what is said offhand and what is written after reflection is something anybody trying to understand truth and proportion can grasp.

If any serious person wants to know how Sotomayor's life experience, including her heritage and her training as a lawyer, will come to bear on her decisions, they need only look at the record -- she has 17 years on experience on the federal bench.

That record as a judge is most of what Sotomayor's confirmation hearing should be about. Don't be surprised if it seems at times to be about everything but that record.

Still, from a political games standpoint, it's amazing that Republicans attacking Sotomayor using her background against her have taken the bait. By using attacks based entirely upon her Hispanic roots they are making it more and more difficult for the young people of any background to relate to their strategy.

The Republican's most visible geezer spokespersons -- Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich -- seem unaware of the trend that has young Americans less racist, homophobic and generally less intolerant than their predecessors. Any strategy that ignores that trend is doomed.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

June Shadow

"June Shadow" is new work. It is 7.5" by 10". It was done in pencil, ink and paint on paper. Unframed, it's yours for $125.00, if you're the first to claim it. Call (804) 359-4864. Email: ftrea9@yahoo.com.

This is one of several sketches I've made of this set of steps. It was done in oil sticks on paper. Unframed, the piece is 10" by 13"; it's called "Escape." The price is $150.00.

Sign of the Times

One summer afternoon in the mid-1970s, I was walking about 30 yards behind a guy heading east on the 800 block of West Grace Street. Then, like it was his, he casually picked up the Organic Food Store’s hand-painted sandwich board style sign from the sidewalk in front of the store. Without turning his head to look around, the sign thief kept going at the same pace.

As I walked faster to close the distance between us we continued down the red brick sidewalk. By the time we had passed the Biograph Theatre, where I worked, I had sized him up and decided what I would do. He was a big-haired hippie, 18 to 20 years old; he could have been a student. Or, he might have been a traveling panhandler/opportunist. In those days there were plenty of both in the neighborhood.

Passing by Sally Bell’s Kitchen, in the 700 block, I was within six or seven yards of him when I spoke the lines I had written for myself while walking. My tone was resolute, my voice clear: “Hey, I saw you steal the sign. Don’t turn around … just put it down and walk away.”

The thief’s body language announced that he had heard me, but he didn’t turn around. Instead he walked faster, with the sign under his right arm, holding the weight with his hand.

Moving closer to him, I said with more force: “Put the sign down. The cops are on the way. Walk away while you still can.”

Without further ado the wooden sign clattered onto the sidewalk. The sign thief kept going without looking back. As I gathered my neighbor’s property I watched the fleeing hippie break into a sprint, cross Grace Street and disappear going toward Monroe Park at the next corner.

With a big smile I carried the recovered property back to the store, which was a few doors west of the Biograph. Obviously, I don’t really remember exactly what I said to the thief three decades ago, verbatim, but that was a faithful recounting of the events.

What I had done came in great part from a young man’s sense of righteous indignation, together with the spirit of camaraderie that existed among some of the neighborhood’s merchants in that time. There were a bunch of us then in our mid-20s, who were running businesses on that bohemian strip — bars, retail shops, etc. We were friends and we watched out for one another.

Now I’m amazed that I used to do such things. My tough guy performance had lasted about a minute. The character I invented was drawn somewhat from Humphrey Bogart, with as much Robert Mitchum as I could muster. Hey, the thief didn’t look back, so he must have felt lucky to get away.

Who knows? Maybe he’s still telling this same story, too, but from another angle.

This much I know — that quirky pop scene on Grace Street in those days was a goldmine of offbeat stories. There was Chelf’s Drug Store at the corner of Grace and Shafer. With its antique soda fountain and a few booths, it had been a hangout for magazine-reading, alienated art students since the late-1940s. It seemed frozen in time.

The original Village Restaurant, a block west of Chelf’s, was a legendary beatnik watering hole, going back to the 1950s. Writer Tom Robbins and artist William Fletcher “Bill” Jones (1930-‘98) hung out there. Strangely, that location has remained boarded up for years, while the new Village goes on across Harrison Street. That same neighborhood was also home to cartoon-like characters such as the wandering Flashlight Lady and the Grace Street Midget.

During the late-‘60s the hippies had come on strong to replace the beats, as the strip went psychedelic, seemingly overnight. But by the mid-‘70s the hippie blue jean culture had peaked. It was about to be replaced by the black leather of Punk Rock and polyester of the Disco scene. All-night dance clubs became popular.

So, by the late-‘70s the mood on the strip had changed severely. Cocaine was becoming the preferred drug of choice with the druggie in-crowd, replacing pot. Several restaurants were serving liquor-by-the-drink, the dives catering to the young set began having rugged bouncers at the door.

Into the ‘80s I remember an angry, red-bearded street beggar with a missing foot threatening to “bite a plug out” of me, because I had had the temerity to tell him to stop bothering people in front of the Biograph, to move on.

In that moment it was painfully obvious to me that times had indeed changed. Wisely, I didn’t press my case any further that day. Instead, I moved on.

-- 30 --

Monday, June 01, 2009

Righteous public art (1989)


Built by art students, on May 30, 1989, the Goddess of Democracy was erected in Tiananmen Square as a symbol of their call for democratic reforms in China. The gathering protest in Tiananmen Square had begun in mid-April; tension was mounting.

Subsequently, on June 4, 1989, following orders, the People’s Liberation Army put an end to the demonstration. Mayhem ensued.

Although reports varied widely, hundreds, if not thousands, were killed. Made of chicken wire and plaster the Goddess was destroyed during the brutal routing of the protesters that had remained to the end, in defiance. As the drama played out on television, via satellite, the events shocked the world.

As their art student counterparts in China had been murdered in the shadow of their 33-foot-tall sculpture, in Richmond a group of VCU-affiliated artists heard the call of inspiration to stand with those who had fallen. They knew they had to build a replica of the lost Goddess.

The impromptu team of the willing and able worked around the clock for the next couple of days to give form to their tribute to the courage of those who had perished for freedom of expression. While the project was not sponsored by the school, wisely, VCU did nothing to discourage the gesture.

Richmond’s Goddess of Democracy (pictured above and below) stood the same height and was made of the same basic materials as the one in China had been.

Twenty years ago, facing Main Street, it stood as a memorial for about a month in front of the student center. CNN had a report on it, as did many other news agencies. Its image was on front pages of newspapers all over the world.

Art-wise, it was one of the coolest things ever to happen in the Fan District. And, nobody made a penny out of it. It was constructed and maintained entirely by volunteers.

It was also a wonderful illustration of how traditional right and left, liberal and conservative, characterizations of all things political don’t always do justice to the truth of a situation. Was the stubborn and heavy-handed Chinese government standing to the right, or to the left, of the students calling for reform?


It was the most dignified and successful piece of guerilla art this scribbler can remember.

-- Words and photos by F.T. Rea