It's fair to say Robbin Thompson (1949-2015) started out as a natural troubadour who enjoyed performing on the road. Nonetheless, he chose to make his home in Richmond, even though he meant to make his living through music. Thompson was born in Boston and grew up mostly in Melbourne, Florida.
Local live music aficionados are grateful to Robbin and other gifted musicians who've resisted the temptation to move to a city with a larger music scene. The ones who stayed have helped make Richmond's live music scene what it has been since hippie times and the days of Mercy Flight, Robbin's band when he was a VCU student.
Occasionally, some of the musicians who've moved on to other places come back to town for reunion type shows, or playing as sidemen with national acts. Then there are the rare times a group of pros are prompted to return from all over the map, just to do a one-off show. The Robbin Thompson tribute presented on the National's stage on the afternoon of February 28, 2016, was such an occasion. Every song performed at Robbin Thompson's Real Fine Day was written by Robbin.
A well-engineered CD – “Final Encore: A Live Tribute to Robbin Thompson.” – produced by Thompson's bandmates, featuring recordings of the live performances, has become available today. Listening to the colorful intros by various performers helps this commemorative CD speak to the good life Robbin and his wife Vicki put together here in central Virginia.
Every now and then something happens to remind me of what a privilege it has been to have shared so much of my time over the years with friends who've been part of Richmond's music and art scene. Such was the case when I was listening to the last cut on the CD. That song, “Solid Ground,” is the only one on the new CD that wasn't recorded live at the National.
It is listed as a “bonus track.” It was the last song Robbin wrote; he recorded a lean demo of it. At a recent conversation at the Bamboo Cafe two of those who lovingly fleshed out that recording, Velpo Robertson and Bob "Rico" Antonelli, described the process of turning it into a full-fledged Robbin Thompson Band encore – the last encore.
Listening to “Solid Ground” a second time I began to imagine what it must have been like for Robbin's longtime bandmates to craft that recording, using their collective feel for how to fill around his voice and guitar on the demo, I was struck with the thought that I'm glad I know these guys.
As the song ended, for an instant, I was taken back to being at that tribute show at the National, blessed with a pass, to cover the event as a journalist. The all-access badge allowed me to take in what happened from various perspectives. Getting to see such an unusual show being rehearsed and then presented, from the inside out, was a rare treat.
Still, most of the time during the performances I was backstage in the stage-right wing, which was where the musicians waiting to go on and those who had already done their bit watched one another perform ... and take turns telling old stories about life on the road.
It's also fair to say there were some excellent yarn-spinners on hand. All in all, what a show it was! The uplifting vibe in that ancient theater inspired the performers, some of which had traveled a good ways to be there, just to do one song, maybe two.
Stay tuned for a more complete telling of the story about the making of that bonus track. It's in the process of being written. In the meantime, this is a good time to note there's no business like show business. Ask anybody who knows.
- Click here to go to Plan 9's page for buying the CD and posters.
- Click here for info on buying this music, one cut at a time.
- Bonus video: Here's some four minutes of video footage I shot at the rehearsal at the National on Feb. 27, 2016.