Posted by Bruce Miller
One of Barksdale’s terrific but lesser known programs is Stretchin’ at Barksdale, a homegrown, organic, Sunday night concert series produced and hosted by B J Kocen, one of Greater Richmond’s most enthusiastic music impresarios. The kickoff concert of the 08-09 Stretchin’ Season—our third—took place Sunday evening before a crowd of about 40 music lovers, all assembled at tables spread out in front of the lobby stage in our comfortable Willow Lawn “living room”—that’s “lobby” for those of you who resist the urge to be homey.
There are about five great things to be enjoyed at a Stretchin’ concert. The first, of course, is the music. Each month, B J (or Beej to those who know and abbreviate him) assembles a stellar roster of talented singers and instrumentalists from both near and far. Past Stretchin’ All-Stars have included Paul Curreri, Slash Coleman, Harry Gore, Susan Greenbaum, David Janeski, Browning Porter, Devon Sproule, Brad Tuggle, Sheryl Warner and the Southside Homewreckers, and, of course, Beej himself. This Sunday’s lineup, pictured above, included (left to right) George Garrett on cajon, Jackie Frost on rhythm guitar, Beej on rhythm guitar, Brad Tucker on bass, and Jim Wark on lead guitar. Jackie, Beej and Brad were the principal vocalists.
A second crowd-pleasin’ aspect of the Stretchin’ experience is the price. Most Sunday evening concerts (almost always 6 pm to 8 pm) carry a cover of only $5 with no drink minimum. You won’t find a better bargain than that.
A third attribute of the series is the venue. Turns out Barksdale’s living room is about the perfect place to hear authentic music up close and personal. The acoustics and sound system are great and you never sit more that 15 or 20 feet away from the performers. Seating is cabaret style, at tables, so you can purchase a Blue Moon (or the beverage of your choice) and perhaps a snack from the Barksdale bar and then have a place to set it down. And, of course, the living room is smoke-free.
Then there’s the spontaneity. All the performers are there for the love of the music; they split the meager box office and whatever tips the appreciative crowd cares to toss into the on-stage bucket. So there’s not a lot of rehearsing. It’s mainly great musicians jamming together, often for the first time, giving the whole evening an improvisational, jazzy feel, except the tunes trend a lot more to Van Morrison and Eric Clapton than Miles Davis or Thelonious Monk. Requests are often shouted up from the audience to the stage, and when they know ‘em, they play ‘em.
Last but certainly not least, there’s B J Kocen, about as charming an emcee as you’ll ever want to meet. He establishes a laid back, comfortable tone while liberally sharing his true passion for this music that he loves. You can’t help but go wherever the music is taking you when Beej is driving the cab.
You won’t see any ads in the paper for our Stretchin’ evenings—with these prices, who can afford ads? But you can sign up for the Stretchin’ email list by writing B. J. at email@example.com. Or you can sign up for the Barksdale email newsletter and receive reminders from us as well. No reservations are required. Just show up at the door with your fiver and a pal or two in hand, and then sit back for a relaxing evening of good music with good friends.
You’ll be glad you did. Hope to see you at the theatre!
(Note: Many thanks to Scott Elmquist, Photo Editor at STYLE, for the great pic of Sunday's concert; Brad Tuggle who serves as staff liaison for the Stretchin' series; and the Glave Kocen Gallery for letting B J share his artistic energy with the performing arts as well as the visual [B J co-owns and co-runs the place with his beautiful wife Jennifer Glave].)