Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Richmond Magazine: Interview with Tony Bennett

Over the years, I've managed to interview a few well-known celebrities, performers, artists and public figures -- even some outright stars. My upcoming autobiographical tell-all, Personalities Who Have Talked To Me, will be very revealing. 

Seriously, I thought I had become pretty jaded about this gig. But when the phone rang one day and a familiar voice on the other end said, "Hello, is Don Harrison there? This is Tony Bennett," the hairs on the back of my neck stood up.

We're talking greatness here. And Tony Bennett is hotter than ever (he currently has a top-selling duet CD with Lady Gaga burning the charts, among other things). During my recent Q&A interview with him for Richmond Magazine, I got the veteran crooner to talk about his signature song, "I Left My Heart in San Francisco," his relationship with Frank Sinatra, his love for painting, what he calls "America's Classical Music," and his newfound duet partner and their unlikely success.

To read my interview with the legendary Tony Bennett, available in the December issue of Richmond Magazine, click right here.

And for more on Tony Bennett, let yourself go right here.

Photo by the mighty Mark Seliger!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Richmond Magazine: Someday My Prints Will Come

Think collectively and carry a big steamroller! 

My feature article on Studio Two Three, and its director Ashley Hawkins, is now online at the Richmond Magazine website. 

This scrappy printmaking collective is not only responsible for creating giant screenprinted maps of Richmond (pressed by a huge steamroller at the Richmond Street Art Festival, RVA MakerFest and other public events), the space provides 24-hour equipment and facility access for printmakers and budding artists across the region. 

You'll be impressed. Read the story by clicking here.

And for more on Studio Two Three, imprint yourself here.

(Photo by the mighty Rosemary Jesionowski)

Monday, December 1, 2014

Style Weekly: Q&A with Leo Kottke

I love it when I find myself.

This has happened a few times: I do a Google search on a completely unrelated topic and somehow one of my old stories pops up -- usually a story that I had completely forgotten about. This thrills me to no end because that means I get to read it "fresh," as if someone else wrote it. 

The other day, researching a potential feature on astrology (don't ask), the search engine coughed up an interview I conducted with the legendary folk guitarist, Leo Kottke in 2009. In the introduction to the Style Weekly piece, titled "Dreams and All That Stuff," I write that "I'd always heard that Leo Kottke was a tough interview -- when you could get him on the phone, that is. What a crock. Calling from a tour stop in El Paso, Texas, the finger-picking specialist is gracious, funny and forthcoming with details surrounding his still-evolving career in music."

Here's an excerpt from the interview:
Q: You say you were self taught.
When I was 13, I got sick… Once I got sick, I got sicker. After a couple of months I was in bed and not allowed to sit up. So I'd been on my back for two months. My mother brought home a toy guitar because you could play it on your back. I was a trombone player. I didn't really think that the guitar was a musical instrument. It was invisible to my ears. I was into marching bands and wind ensembles and stuff like that. So I was lying there and really sick, all screwed up, and the guitar had a little -cowboy stenciled on it and it was garbage, I can hear it really well and it was junk, but I didn't know that. I made what turned out to be an E chord and strummed it. I don't know how I got it in tune.
And that was it. I can still remember it – the sun was shining. I was out of bed in a week, never wound up back in bed. I knew exactly what I wanted and that was the guitar. I didn't dream that it would become a job. I couldn't have cared less and, in some ways, that is still true. The job is a distant second to just being allowed to get my hands on the guitar every day. I sat up immediately and I remember everything about it, beautiful weather – big cumuli out the window, blue sky. It was a happiness that I had never met and it's still like that.
Q: Has your romance with the guitar ever worn off?
It never did wear off. But I did notice that some behavior of mine would cloud it, so that was it for the behavior (laughs). Dizzy Gillespie talked about that, he wrote a great memoir, "To Be or Not to Bop" He said that you have take care of [your art], to be a kind of a monk, otherwise it won't sustain for you. That's the trick. You'd give up anything for it.
And for more on the evocative folk guitar of Leo Kottke, take yourself here

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

RIchmond Magazine: The Story of Bio Ritmo

I've pitched the idea of a large feature article on the band Bio Ritmo to different magazines and publications over the years. Nobody would bite.

Most working writers have a little file cabinet, either literally or in their minds, of the Story Ideas They Most Want to Tackle if Someone Would Only Let Them. A multi-voiced, large-scale feature article on Bio Ritmo -- the Salsa Machine -- was forever sitting in mine.

Earlier this year, I finally found a home for a story on the Richmond-based band, but it just didn't feel right. The most I could have was 1,750 words and that really wasn't going to cut it. When the assignment got pushed back on the publication's schedule, it was my chance to take it somewhere else. And I'm glad I did because Richmond Magazine -- especially editor Jack Cooksey, also a huge Ritmo fan (they played at his wedding!) -- totally got what I wanted to do. And they knew I needed some space to do it.

This is a long, complicated, sometimes heartbreaking, often funny, certainly inspiring story of a group that has literally willed itself to survive, stubbornly and courageously performing their own unique take on an exotic style of music that is not exactly commercial in the U.S., and finding both success and frustration. And if you've seen them live recently, you know: After 23 years, numerous lineup changes, a major label deal, at least three breakups and eight compact discs (and scattered 45 singles) of energetic, original and playful salsa music, Bio Ritmo may actually be better than ever.

My feature on the group, from the November issue of Richmond Magazine, begins:
Cali, Colombia, has a complex heartbeat. The second-largest city in the South American country, it is the self proclaimed capital of salsa, a Latin dance music that mixes Afro-Caribbean song patterns, the Cuban son montuno tradition, Puerto Rican street beats and jazz. The genre’s distinctive pulse — driven by the “clave” rhythm — emanates from bars like the club La Muralla, named after a song by a salsa ensemble many consider among the music’s greatest: Bio Ritmo, which hails from the unlikely locale of Richmond, Virginia.

The cartoon likenesses of Bio Ritmo’s singer, Rei Alvarez, and timbales player Giustino Riccio adorn La Muralla’s logo; inside, a large poster of Alvarez is seen near a Tito Puente poster. Night after night, DJs in Cali bars blast out Bio Ritmo music on their sound systems — distinctive rhythmic concoctions like “La Verdad,” “Lola’s Dilemma” and “Tu No Sabes” — while fans make their own homemade Bio Ritmo T-shirts.
But while Cali, and parts of Puerto Rico, Italy and even the Republic of Georgia, spin and dance to the sensuous, playful and ever-changing studio recordings of this 10-piece ensemble, there is another scene happening one June night, 2,300 miles away in Richmond. 
To read the rest of "The Salsa Machine," expanded from the print edition, click right here.

(Photo by the mighty Chris Smith.)

And find out more about Bio Ritmo by clicking this spot.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Get That Print Edition

You'll find my byline all over the November issue of Richmond Magazine -- but not all it is available online yet.

But that just means you should buy the print edition.

If you do, you'll discover my long-burning feature article on Richmond's great salsa band, Bio Ritmo, and a profile of Studio Two Three, an impressive printmaking collective that makes giant maps of RVA (with a steamroller). I also have several film and concert previews featured and make another -- almost Hitchcockian -- appearance in this issue. But I'll let you discover that for yourself.

What are you waiting for? Get the November issue of Richmond Magazine, on newsstands now. (Do they even have newsstands anymore?)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Coastal Virginia Magazine: Chasing Air

Settle down around the campfire, kids, and let me tell you all about a macabre little tale I like to call "Chasing Air."

The special October investigative piece for Coastal Virginia Magazine charts the rise in ghost hunters (or paranormal investigators) around the region, and nationwide. These groups, inspired by popular television shows like "Ghost Adventures" and "Ghost Hunters," are busy listening for EVPs and testing for EMF fields at a haunted location near you. And not just at Halloween. 

For the piece, photographer David Uhrin and I went on a paranormal "lockdown" with a TV-perfect team from Virginia Beach, Paranormal Science and Investigations (PSI). What we found may shock you. 

A spooky excerpt:
Uhrin has been snapping photos alone in the upstairs bedroom. Suddenly, we hear a blast of white noise.       
“Is the radio supposed to come on by itself?” Uhrin yells. “The radio just came on.”       
Everyone freezes. “That’s one of the claims.” Roddy says.     
After checking out the upstairs room, and asking the photographer to reenact his movements, they review the video feed to see if he touched the radio. He didn’t. “But he sure jumped when it came on,” Chacon says.     
I ask about the alarm function. It was turned off, I’m told. “It should be relatively easy to check this out, find out the model and the manufacturer,” Roddy says of the incident. “See if there could be a surge or something else ... ”      
The noisy static blares through the small house, and the hairs on the back of my neck are standing up. We just had a ghost show moment. 

Read the rest of "Chasing Air" by clicking right here:

(Photo by the mighty, and mighty courageous, David Uhrin)

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Virginia Living: A Road to Grow On

My October music column for Virginia Living Magazine has been posted online. "A Road to Grow On" is all about the success of the Crooked Road music heritage trail in Southwest Virginia, and how that region is using the area's music and indigenous culture for economic development.

To read "A Road to Grow On," click this here spot.

And to find out more about the Crooked Road music heritage trail, go right here

This, sadly, is my final installment of the Virginia Music column, which I originally started at VL in 2003 (there were a few years that I didn't write it because of other job requirements, but I resumed it in 2012). The decision to stop writing it was based on many factors, including timeliness (my deadlines are often months in advance - hard to organize this gig with that kind of lead time). Also, to do the job well, the columnist has to listen to a lot of music - which is time I don't always have these days. So while I'll continue to write for Virginia Living, I just won't be doing the column anymore. 

I will cry about it, though. Boo-hoo.

And I hope that the magazine continues on with a fresh new set of ears on the beat. This was the first (and still the only) regular music column with a Virginia-wide scope, and I'm proud of the diverse array of subjects I was able to explore (see below). In addition to the main topics, I also got the chance to review a host of noteworthy music releases -- in genres ranging from punk to funk to hip-hop and bluegrass -- and perhaps expose some Virginia Living readers to great contemporary music from the Commonwealth they would otherwise have been unaware of.

Among others, the Virginia Music column covered the following topics:

The early music of Jamestown
The Blue Ridge Institute and Museum at Ferrum College
John Cephas, Piedmont blues master from Bowling Green
WGH in Norfolk and the legacy of top-40 radio
Swamp Dogg, R&B/soul legend 
The Rah-Bras, Richmond punk-pop trio 
Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse
Robbin Thompson, singer-songwriter
The Ferguson Center for the Arts in Newport News
Archivist/engineer Chris King and the People Take Warning box set
The legacy of Portsmouth's Ruth Brown
The Lonesome Pine label and the Music of Coal box set
The James River Blues Society
The Virginia Foundation for the Humanities' "Crooked Road" CD series 
Hobart Smith, banjo master
Invisible Hand, Charlottesville alt-rockers
Music producer Steve Buckingham
Barky's Spirituals record shop in Richmond
The Mockers, Hampton Roads power popsters
Maura Davis and Ambulette, Richmond alt-rockers
The Patsy Cline museum in Winchester
The Richmond Folk Festival
Special Ed and the Shortbus (now called the Hotseats)
Anousheh Khalili, singer-songwriter
Aside Oceans, Blacksburg hard-rockers.
Paul Shagrue, DJ and host of Norfolk's "Out of the Box"
The emergence of WRIR 97.3 FM in Richmond
Margot McDonald, NoVa singer-songwriter
Billy Ray Hatley, roots rock singer
The William & Mary Hip Hop Archive 
The Last Bison, Chesapeake folk-pop ensemble
The Trash Company, one-man Richmond funk pioneer 

(Photo by the mighty Jonathan Romeo and courtesy of the Crooked Road)

Monday, September 29, 2014

Richmond Magazine: Paranormal Activity

I'll be honest: Some feature stories can be very hard to write, while some just seem to write themselves.

Perhaps I was channeling some otherworldly entity lingering in the ether when I penned my latest Richmond Magazine feature, or maybe the long and strange story of the Division of Perceptual Studies (DOPS) at the University of Virginia -- the only full-service paranormal laboratory affiliated with a major U.S. academic institution -- was so interesting in and of itself that even I couldn't screw it up. From start to finish, I felt guided by an unseen hand (of course, that could have been the spirit of my helpful editor, Jack Cooksey, who became just as enthralled in the subject as I was).

Yes, as hard as it may be to believe, UVa is home to a privately-funded research lab that takes a serious, scientific look at such things as reincarnation, deathbed visions, psychic phenomena and near-death experiences. My article, "Paranormal Activity," introduces you to the staff of DOPS and the uncommon work that they've been doing for 47 years in Charlottesville.

The story begins:
Dr. Jim Tucker admits that he encounters things in his daily research that he just can’t explain.
Take, for example, the case of James Leininger, a boy from Lafayette, Louisiana, fascinated with airplanes, who began having nightmares when he was 2 years old. “Airplane crash on fire,” James would cry out, an atypical comment for his age. Over the coming months, he would inform his parents, Bruce and Andrea, that he’d been a pilot, also named James, who flew planes off a boat and his plane had been shot down. When Bruce asked him who shot his plane, the boy, a bit exasperated, said, “the Japanese.”
A few weeks later, he revealed that he had flown a Corsair plane, and remembered the name of the boat: “Natoma.” Shown a map, the youngster pointed to the waters surrounding Iwo Jima and stated that this was where he died. He added that “Jack Larsen” was there.
James’ father, a conservative Christian who struggled with the idea of reincarnation, was a little spooked. He did some research and discovered that there was indeed a USS Natoma Bay involved at the battle of Iwo Jima, and one of its Corsair pilots was lost in the mission, a man named James Huston. In the violence of the larger war, the crash was a nondescript event not widely reported or remembered.
“Huston’s plane had crashed in exactly the way it had been described by the boy,” says Tucker, an associate professor of psychiatry and neurobehavioral sciences at the University of Virginia’s Division of Perceptual Studies (DOPS). “It got hit in the engine, burst into flames, crashed in the water and quickly sank. The pilot of the plane next to his was named Jack Larsen.”
Creative Director Steve Hedberg has done a great job illustrating the article, so you'll want to grab the October edition of Richmond Magazine, on newsstands now. But to read the online version of "Paranormal Activity," click right here.

To find out more about the Division of Perceptual Studies, and to watch videos of test cases that DOPS researchers have looked into, go to http://www.medicine.virginia.edu/clinical/departments/psychiatry/sections/cspp/dops/

Photo by the mighty Adam Ewing!

Coastal Virginia Magazine: Straight Outta Virginia

My feature article on the William & Mary Hip Hop Collection is now available for your reading pleasure at the Coastal Virginia Magazine website. 

That just doesn't sound right, does it - Hip Hop and William & Mary? Believe it, son. 

Find out how, in bucolic Williamsburg, the roots of Virginia rap are being studied, explored, collected and documented - the early days of Missy Elliot, Timbaland, Mad Skillz, Clipse, Pharrell Williams and more. 

Here's how the article, titled "Straight Outta Virginia," begins:

Kevin Kosanovich doesn’t look much like a b-boy. 
Instead, the College of William and Mary graduate student gives off the veneer of a brainy lacrosse player. Armed with a dry wit, the stocky 33-year-old Saginaw, Michigan native wears glasses, frequents cultural symposiums for fun, and says he’s getting too old to stay out late at night. In many ways, he’s your average white academic fellow living in AnyCollegesville, USA.
But Kevin K., as unassuming as he appears, possesses mad skills.        
The American Studies doctoral candidate can tell you all you want to know about the old-school break dance crews, cocaine rappers and hip-hop street teams of the Old Dominion. The roots of Pharrell, the early days of Missy Elliott, the beginnings of Timbaland, the down low on Danja ... this bespectacled redhead has got, or is getting, the knowledge.         
“How did Hip-Hop come to Virginia? That was something I was really interested in,” Kosanovich tells me as we prepare to enter William and Mary’s Earl Gregg Swem Library together on a 100-degree day in early July. “Who were the people who created this culture?”         

If I were you, I'd go out and buy the October issue of the magazine so you can see all of the cool pictures that accompany the piece, as well as CV Creative Director David Uhrin's awesome layout. But you can read "Straight Outta Virginia" by clicking right here.   

For more on the William and Mary Hip Hop Collection, go right here.

Photo of Kevin Kosanovich by the mighty Jim Pile.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Virginia Living Magazine: Setting the Stage

It's time to take a tour of Virginia's major performing arts companies, courtesy of Don Harrison.

The September/October issue of Virginia Living Magazine features "Setting The Stage," my big overview of the commonwealth's most vital, interesting and conspicuous arts organizations.

Here, you'll get the lowdown on nearly two dozen different performing troupes -- the likes of Virginia Stage Company in Norfolk, Richmond Ballet, Crystal City's Synetic Theater (pictured), American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, Abingdon's Barter Theatre and many more. It's a one-stop shopping place for info on the performing arts in the Old Dominion. There are also some scoops -- information on upcoming seasons, planned new venues, possible future collaborations and special concerts and performances. If you like the arts, you'll dig.

(It was been suggested to me that, because I'm so familiar with different parts of the region, that I was the only writer who could really do this. But I think I misheard that -- I'm actually the only writer crazy enough to do this. Not only was this a multi-sourced 5,000+ word epic, it was a rush job as well.)

You'll want to pick up a printed copy to see all of the great photos and to experience that typically-fabulous Virginia Living glossy presentation, but the bi-monthly magazine has posted the big spread online too.

To read "Setting the Stage," click here. And break a leg.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Richmond Magazine: Q&A with Noah-O

I'm all over the August 2014 issue of Richmond Magazine -- available on finer newsstands right now. I have contributed concert previews, personality profiles and even some "back to school" features. Go and buy a copy of the mag so you can play that exciting new game, "Find Don Harrison's Byline." 

One of this month's articles is a Q&A with Richmond-area rapper Noah Oddo, a.k.a. Noah-O, who just recently dropped a fine new disc called Monument Avenue.

It begins:
Noah Oddo, aka Noah-O, went national a few years ago when the video for his song “I Got It” won airplay on MTV. Since then, the Henrico-based hip-hop artist and producer has been fostering area talent through his Charged Up Entertainment company, while working on his latest disc, Monument Avenue. 
Peppered with appearances from fellow River City hip-hoppers, Oddo’s 14-song collaboration with producer Taylor Whitelow is an ambitious sonic travelogue through life in the Richmond he knows, with live instrumentation, creative arrangements and unflinching wordplay about single mothers, subtle racism and the power of music. 

Read the rest by clicking right here.

For more on Noah-O and his new disc, go to this spot.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Coastal Virginia Magazine: Beyond the Voices

Hear ye, hear ye...

My feature article on Studio Center, titled "Beyond the Voices," is now available at the Coastal Virginia Magazine website.

Founded by the legendary Warren Miller, and now owned by former radio executive William "Woody" Prettyman, the Virginia Beach-based Studio Center boasts multiple locations across the U.S., and has grown from a recording studio and voice talent agency into a "we do it all" kind of operation -- media translations, 3D animation, graphic design, GPS automobile prompts, you name it.

"Beyond the Voices," which is in Coastal Virginia's July issue (on sale now), starts out like this.
The first thing you notice when you visit Studio Center is the smell of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.
“Help yourselves,” Chris Wilson says as she offers a plate of gooey goodness to the group of visitors relaxing in the recording studio’s well-cushioned lounge, tricked out with multiple TV screens and a pingpong table.
The Studio Center staff was directed to taste-test dozens of brands just to get the right company cookie, the marketing director says. Both Virginia Beach locations of Studio Center, including the company’s main corporate office (a former headquarters for Gene Walter Homes), boast video editing suites, soundproofed studios and casting rooms that share the dreamy aroma. “Chocolate Chip cookies are one of the things that Woody likes to have at all of our locations,” Wilson says.
To read "Beyond the Voices," click right here.

Online extra (don't you love them?):  I, along with the Coastal Virginia eyewitness news team, got the chance to spend the afternoon at Studio Center a few months ago and talk to some of the staff. The result is this nifty little short film.  Check it out.

Richmond Magazine: Digging at Country Music's Roots

What do you do when you write TOO much, and the excised stuff is just too good to leave on the cutting room floor?

You turn it into an online extra, of course.

So let's call my new web-only feature on early country music for Richmond Magazine a "companion" to the feature article on the 1927 Bristol Sessions (and the soon-to-open Birthplace of Country Music Museum) that I wrote for the publication in this month's issue. 

Or we can call it a bonus track. Or maybe inspired leftovers. 

Here's an excerpt from "Digging at Country Music's Roots." 
Country, or “hillbilly,” music had actually been around as a commercial concern for years prior to the Bristol Sessions. If we are to judge history purely on where the music was recorded, New York City could also claim itself the “Birthplace of Country Music” if it wanted to.
In 1922, a fiddler from the Texas panhandle, Eck Robertson, met up with an older fiddler of mysterious origin, Henry Gilliland, at an Old Confederates Reunion in Richmond. They decided to travel to the Big Apple and inquire about playing on one of those new talking machine platters. The duo auditioned for executives at Victor, who said what the heck, and captured what are considered the first commercial recordings of what we now know as old-time music.
Read the online extra, "Digging at Country Music's Roots," by clicking right here

Read the main article on Bristol, "Standing on the Promises," see an early country timeline, hear the music and get the full Rich Labs multi-media experience by clicking right here.

The photo shown is of fiddler Eck Robertson. A handsome feller.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Coastal Virginia Magazine: A Bridge to Somewhere

The Lesner Bridge is rotting away, rotting away, rotting away.

To get the lowdown on the decade-long journey to replace the Lesner, one of the true gateways to Virginia Beach, check out my feature article in Coastal Virginia Magazine called "A Bridge to Somewhere." 

The article not only details the money woes and design controversies surrounding this project, it takes a look at the state of other coastal connections in Hampton Roads.

It begins:
Driving along Shore Drive on the Lesner Bridge, a visitor can take in the fishing boats on the glimmering water and the seafood restaurants dotting the shore and never suspect that this, one of Virginia Beach’s signature gateways, is deteriorating.  
The John A. Lesner Bridge, a much-traveled Route 60 expansion that crosses Lynnhaven Inlet at the intersection of the Chesapeake and Lynnhaven bays, is corroding away. And the rot can’t be stopped. “There’s a chloride attack on the reinforcement,” says Chris Wojtowicz, project manager at the Department of Public Works in Virginia Beach. “It’s corroding the metal from inside the reinforced concrete, from the inside out.”
Since 1988, inspectors have been finding cracks and saltwater damage in the Lesner, which is actually two bridges, serving approximately 41,000 vehicles a day traveling east- and westbound. (That figure, the city’s official number, comes from a 2008 study and is probably higher.) Attempts have been made to repair the rupturing, often at great expense. “Structurally it’s a sound bridge,” Wojtowicz says. “But it requires a lot of maintenance and the amount of maintenance per year is accelerating.”

Grab the July issue of CV -- on newsstands now -- or read the article online by clicking right here.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Richmond Magazine: Standing on the Promises

My feature article on the famous Bristol Sessions of 1927, and the impending opening of Bristol's Birthplace of Country Music museum, is now online at Richmond Magazine's website.

An excerpt:

Countless books, essays and American Studies dissertations have been written about what happened in Bristol; it’s been called “the Big Bang.” Jazz traditionalist Wynton Marsalis — no dirt-kicking honky-tonker — has stated that any serious study of American music has to include these sounds. In 1998, the U.S. Congress proclaimed Bristol the “birthplace of country music,” even though what was captured was a wider snapshot of rural traditions, including gospel.

The folks at Richmond Magazine have done a remarkable job with their online presentation of the piece -- you can peruse a special timeline on early country music and hear some of the legendary music featured by some of the performers discovered at the sessions (like the Carter Family, shown).

The article can be found in the July issue of the magazine, adorned with great photos and a snazzy layout. OR you can read "Standing on the Promises" here with all of those cool extras: http://richmaglabs.com/bristol/index.html

To find out more about the Birthplace of Country Music museum, which officially opens in August, go here: http://www.birthplaceofcountrymusic.org/

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Open Source RVA on WRIR 97.3 FM

Oh conundrum.

So check this out: I start this blog in order to highlight all of my journalistic endeavors. But then I get too busy with my journalistic endeavors to blog.

The one thing I've really neglected to promote on these pages is the weekly radio program, Open Source RVA, that I co-host for WRIR in Richmond. The hourly news and talk show has featured a dizzying number of public officials, artists, musicians and community leaders in its nearly two years on the air, and can still be found every Friday at 4PM EST on 97.3 FM. The show is rerun on following Mondays at 4PM. You can also stream Open Source RVA online, live -- or through a time portal -- at http://wrir.org.

Listeners can also download selected Open Source RVA podcasts by choosing from this menu right here.

And we've just re-vitalized the Open Source RVA website at http://rvaopensource.com.

There, the Open Source publishing division features the work of distinguished Richmond-area voices such as Mark Holmberg, Dale Brumfield and chef Jimmy Sneed, as well as my co-host Chris Dovi and the homegrown Richmond Public Media news team.

Mark it. And may the Source be with you!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Coastal Virginia Magazine: Out of the Dark

The current May/June issue of Coastal Virginia Magazine includes my in-depth feature article on the aftermath of the Bank of the Commonwealth scandal.

The article, entitled "Out of the Dark," details what has happened to all of the shut-down and boarded up properties in Norfolk that were tied up in the scandal, which saw bank executives and local developers go to prison.

The piece begins:
The F.A. Roethke Building was left to rot.
The former home of the region’s oldest car dealership, this two-story warehouse was once a thriving symbol of 20th-century progress and ingenuity. Originally constructed in 1915, it doesn’t fit the standard structural boilerplate; an expansion in 1938 made it look even more unusual.
“It’s basically like two triangles fused together,” says Nicole Turner, a project manager at Luna Development, which bought the Roethke last year at auction for $225,000, a fraction of its value several years ago. The company is in the process of renovating the Monticello Avenue structure and renaming it Fort Tar Lofts in a nod to one of the three Colonial-era battlements that saw action during the War of 1812. The plan is to convert the building into 19 apartments, all of them paying homage to this striking slab’s former use.
“The apartment names will stick to the car theme,” Turner says. “We plan to give them names like the DeSoto and The Plymouth, to retain some of the history of the building.”
The renovated lofts will have an industrial feel with exposed brick, she explains, and the units will revert back to the original windows and flourishes. “We haven’t seen too many of these types of buildings in this area,” she says. “You have a lot of them in Richmond with their tobacco warehouses, and we’re trying to do something similar here with this renovation. This is a historic building, and we’re trying to preserve it.” Turner pauses. “It’s been a challenge.”
Before Luna purchased the property, it had been deteriorating for years, with foliage seeping through the cracks, birds squatting in the rafters and mounds and mounds of indoor trash. “Structurally it was pretty sound,” she says. “There were a lot of broken windows, and it had holes in the roof so the weather just kept getting in.”
The Roethke’s previous owners had bought the building in 1998 from the Norfolk-based Bank of the Commonwealth—for more than it was worth—and then left it to die. Funds appropriated for its renovation were used instead to pay off other loans and to cover 
other investments.
It was only one of many properties across the region that had been dark for years, entangled in an ongoing loan fraud scandal that eventually saw the Bank of the Commonwealth closed down, its top executives sent to prison and four local developers, including the Roethke’s owners, also sentenced to time in jail. The crime? Participating in a conspiracy to hide millions of dollars in losses from Federal regulators, shareholders and the BoC’s board of directors.

To read the rest of "Out of the Dark," buy the latest edition of Coastal Virginia... or click here to read it online.


Friday, April 11, 2014

Virginia Living Magazine: A League of Their Own

Sometimes you turn in a story that you think is good, that has some lasting power, but it disappears into the ether, never becomes available online and it seems lost forever. It's one of the downsides of writing for magazines.

Thank goodness for the big Virginia Squires reunion that will happen in Virginia Beach on May 1 & 2. Because of that event, the fine folks at Virginia Living Magazine have posted my 2008 feature article, "A League of Their Own," about the Squires and the crazy world of the long-defunct American Basketball Association.

This was one of my favorite assignments ever so I'm overjoyed. "A League of Their Own" begins:
When the City of Norfolk purchased the former Jewish Community Center complex near Wards Corner in 2005, it acquired an ideal space for a city-owned recreational facility … and a piece of professional sports history. This was where Virginia’s first—and still only—professional sports team once practiced, and where two future superstars honed their skills with a strange red, white and blue basketball.
Julius Erving—who revolutionized pro ball by introducing the high-flying style that is prevalent in today’s National Basketball Association—was one of them. Fans called him “Dr. J,” or simply “the Doctor,” for his miraculous skills on a basketball court. The other player was George Gervin, one of the greatest shooters of all time. Each got his start on a now-forgotten team known as the Virginia Squires, which barnstormed across the commonwealth for six roller coaster seasons in the 1970s as one of a dozen clubs in the now-defunct American Basketball Association, or ABA.
“To this day, people don’t know that we had Julius Erving and George Gervin on the same team,” the coach of the Squires, Al Bianchi, once recalled. “That sounds like the foundation for a championship team, doesn’t it?”
Read "A League of their Own" by clicking right here. 

And for more on the big Virginia Squires event, which will bring the likes of Julius Erving, George Gervin, Dave Twardzik and Roland "Fatty" Taylor (pictured) back together again, click right here.

Basketball card courtesy of the Tenth Inning!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

WTJU Rock Marathon 4/13/14: The Classic Crock Show

Can you help me occupy my brain...? 

The only rockin' way to conclude the awesome 2014 WTJU Rock 'n' Roll Marathon fundraiser is to flick those rockin' bics and roll with your hosts Don Arlo, "Cozy" Powell and -- if he doesn't have to MC the Chili Cauldron Crawl at Buddmuckers on the Mall -- our own U-Zoo Morning Crew wildman, Turd Dog.

Yes, it's the return of "The Classic Crock Show." And it's turning up to 11 on Sunday, April 13th at 11PM on WTJU 91.1.

For two hours, this rockin' crew will present our own special take on FM Radio "Classic Rock." That means you'll hear stompin' album tracks and deep cuts from Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Blue Oyster Cult, AC-DC, Rush, The Steve Miller Band, the Who, Aerosmith, Jimi Hendrix, KISS, Styx and many more classic crockin' legends!

So get on the WTJU Rockin' Blues Cruise and ride shotgun on this special air guitar-inducing onslaught of riffs and shreds. And remember: Your donation to WTJU during our annual Rock Marathon will help to ensure that we only have to play this stuff if we want to. The WTJU Rock 'n' Roll Marathon concludes with "The Classic Crock Show" on April 13th at 11PM,

Now, would anyone care for just a little more cowbell?

To give a generous pledge to WTJU (The Sound Choice in Central Virginia), during our pledge drive or anytime, call 434-924-3959, or give securely online right here.

Listen to the WTJU Rock Marathon in progress at http://wtju.net/stream

Listen to some of the incredible past WTJU Rock Marathon shows (for up to two weeks) by going here: http://wtju.net/vault

WTJU Rock Marathon 4/13/14: O Brother

"Mother always liked you best!"

Tune into WTJU 91.1 FM for an exploration of brothers (and sisters) in rock 'n' roll. This WTJU Rock 'n' Roll Marathon fundraising program will showcase bands with siblings. And that means you'll hear classics by the Kinks, the Beach Boys (pictured), Creedence Clearwater Revival, Sparks, the Everly Brothers, the Bee Gees, Oasis, The Replacements, the Breeders, the Proclaimers, and many more.

Get with the brotherly love. Join Don Harrison and the Radio Wowsville crew for "O Brother Where Art Thou" on April 13 at 7PM.

And don't forget to give generously to WTJU during the all-volunteer station's fundraising extravaganza, which is happening right now. Call 434-924-3959 or donate securely online by clicking right here.

To hear a live stream of the marathon in progress, go to http://wtju.net/stream.

To listen to past shows featured on this year's WTJU Rock marathon (for up to two weeks), go to http://wtju.net/vault.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Coastal Virginia Magazine: The Chrysler Comeback

You'll want to get the print edition (on greater magazine racks now) because of the gorgeous  photos, but you can read my cover feature on the expansion of Norfolk's Chrysler Museum of Art at the Coastal Virginia Magazine website. It begins:

The older man loved to wander around the Chrysler Museum galleries. Lurking among the early modernist paintings and Tiffany glassware, the modestly-dressed septuagenarian would approach random visitors and ask, “‘What do you think about this piece?’ or ‘Do you like that sculpture?’”
“He’d chat with them for awhile,” Jeff Harrison recalls, “and he’d laugh and wander off. The visitor would invariably ask, ‘Who was that?’
‘That’s Walter Chrysler.’”
Harrison, the Chrysler Museum’s head curator, belts out a huge laugh, reveling in the 30-year-old memory. “Mr. Chrysler really didn’t stand on ceremony.”
In 1971, when the son of the founder of the Chrysler car company left his voluminous and ever-evolving art collection to the museum that now bears his name, he put Norfolk on the art world map. But the man who was once called an “art tycoon” was unpretentious, Harrison recalls. “He drove an old Plymouth station wagon. Like a lot of collectors, he sunk every dime into his collection.”

Read "Art Unveiled" by Clicking right here.

For more on The Chrysler Museum of Art, which reopens on May 10th, go to http://chrysler.org.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Washington Post: Route 11 Potato Chips

It's crunch time!

Make sure that you pick up today's Washington Post and check out my Sunday Business feature on the Route 11 Potato Chip company in Mount Jackson, Virginia.

(I had to do a lot of very thorough journalistic-type research on this one, folks -- bag after bag of dedicated journalistic-type research. I do it because I care.)

The story begins:

     Being a small fry can have its advantages. Take the Route 11 brand of sweet potato chips. The snack-food giants — Frito-Lay and such — haven’t taken up the challenge of this more fragile of the tubers, which tends to caramelize and burn during mass production.
     But for a snack food maker that’s used to taking its time, this is a sweet and profitable niche.
     Welcome to the world of Route 11 Potato Chips, a small Virginia chippery in the rustic Shenandoah that has been cooking up Kettle-style cult favorites for more than 20 years.

You can read "Route 11 Finds Success..." by clicking right here.

And for more on Route 11 Potato Chips, go to this spot.

Photo by the mighty Jahi Chikwendiu!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Virginia Living Magazine: The Last Bison

Virginia Living Magazine doesn't normally post my regular Virginia Music column online -- it's one more reason to subscribe! -- but one of the installments from last year is now available for net perusal.

It's my column on the Chesapeake-based folk group, The Last Bison, titled "Journey to Inheritance."

In an eye-grabbing video for their song, “Setting Our Tables,” members of The Last Bison are shown dreamily cavorting in bucolic forests and shimmering lakes, moving in reverse, emerging ghost-like from splashed waters and leafy fields, armed with cellos, violins, banjos and xylophones. It’s an apt pastoral setting for a woodsy, seven-piece folk ensemble that is truly in its own little world.
But that world is getting larger fast.

Click here to read "Journey to Inheritance."

Click here to read some of my other Virginia Living Magazine pieces available online.

For more on The Last Bison, go right here.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Writer of the Year Nomination

This doesn't happen everyday.

I've just learned that I have been nominated for the 2014 "Writer of the Year" award by the National City and Regional Magazine Association. 

This is for work published in Hampton Roads Magazine -- now Coastal Virginia Magazine -- last year.

Special thanks go out to my editor, Melissa Morgan Stewart, for not only putting up with me, but for having the confidence to nominate me. Thanks Melissa!  To read some of the articles I have written for HR and CV, click right here.

The National City and Regional Magazine Award winners will be announced in May at their annual conference.  I'm going to be impossible to live with now.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Coastal Virginia Magazine: Rock of Ages

The latest issue of Coastal Virginia Magazine is where you'll find my feature article on Norfolk's The NorVa

The former Vaudeville house and movie theater became a rock club 13 years ago and was recently celebrated by Rolling Stone Magazine readers as the best live music venue in America. 

The story begins:
At an age when most buildings are getting torn down or argued over by preservationists, The NorVa theatre has been reborn as “the best live music venue in America.” Not bad for a 96-year-old brick old-timer with a wraparound balcony, a history of good times and many stories to tell.
In the 13 years since it became a music venue, the sounds of many of the world’s most popular and influential performers have reverberated around these acoustically padded walls. But embedded in the exposed brick and rustic corners of the place Rolling Stone magazine readers named the best live music venue in the country this past July, you might also hear the faint ghost yells of kids at a matinee screening of “Captain Midnight,” the tip-taps of old hoofers doing a dance routine for a half-filled house or the phantom squeaks and grunts of a heated racquetball match.

Coastal Virginia Magazine: The President's Analyst

Coastal Virginia Magazine -- formerly Hampton Roads Magazine -- has posted my feature article on former CNN political analyst and Portsmouth native Dr. Bill Schneider. 

The professor, author and commentator (now with Al Jazeera America) talks about his forthcoming book on national voting trends, how demographics have changed Virginia's politics, the future of the Tea Party and much more.

It's always been hard to tell if Bill Schneider is a Republican or a Democrat.
The veteran TV personality, author and educator likes it that way. “I take pride in the fact that people are always saying to me that they aren’t sure what my political views are,” says Schneider, a Portsmouth native.
During his 19 ½ years as CNN’s senior political analyst, Schneider won a Peabody and an Emmy, among other awards, for his thorough and nonpartisan television reporting. His ability to read deep into polling data and to forecast voting trends spurred The Boston Globe to call him “the Aristotle of American politics.” The bespectacled analyst has a new book coming out next year that charts his own personal journey through politics while documenting what he calls an emerging new coalition of American voters.
“I got the heat from both sides when I was at CNN,” he says. “I would get complaints whenever I would say anything critical of President Bush or of President Clinton. I would get complaints from one side or the other that I wasn’t being fair. When I got complaints from conservatives, they called me a rotten, filthy scoundrel, and if the complaints were from liberals, they would say, ‘Oh, it just breaks my heart to hear you criticize Bill and Hillary Clinton.’”

Read the rest of "The President's Analyst" by clicking right here.