A Guide to Richmond, Virginia for the Musically Inclined
GWAR by Jesse DeFiorio
Richmond, Virginia -- Richmond, Virginia is the city where Patrick Henry declared, “give me liberty or give me death.” During the Civil War, it was the capital of the Confederate States. Two US presidents are buried beneath it in Hollywood Cemetery. And GWAR, Municipal Waste, Lamb of God, Strike Anywhere, and Pig Destroyer are just a few of the city’s hometown heroes.
The southern city with vibrant history is a musical treasure trove. While Virginia Commonwealth University’s art school has bred a specific stereotype of music lovers -tattooed, experimental, and full of RVA pride - the scene extends beyond the metal, thrash, and hardcore outfits that have found worldwide success after forming in it.
The perfect destination for a music aficionado, Richmond is full of places to experience everything from metal, to folk, to jazz. Here, we compiled the city’s prime musical spots to visit while you’re there, along with some of the best annual festivals to help you time your trip.
Via Richmond Folk Festival
Every October, the National Council for Traditional Arts produces the Richmond Folk Festival, an offshoot of the National Folk Festival. Located on the James River, the free, three-day festival highlights traditional music, dance, crafts, food, and storytelling of world cultures. (October 10-12, 2014)
This summer will mark the 5th annual GWAR-B-Q, the bloodiest event ever to take place at a water park. The 2014 incarnation, however, will take on a more serious, somber mood, in light of the recent death of GWAR lead singer David Brockie. In the past, the shock-rockers themselves have headlined the event, and while the lineup is in limbo, the show will go on this year with a memorial for Brockie scheduled the day before the fest. In the spirit of the band, though, expect the GWAR-B-Q to be a full day of beer drinking and guitar-shredding insanity in memory of Oderus Urungus. (August 16, 2014)
If the GWAR-B-Q sounds more like a torture chamber than a relaxing summer’s day to you, then you might prefer the Richmond Jazz Festival. Taking place every August in Maymont Park, a sprawling expanse of green grass that originated as a Victorian Country Estate, the jazz fest brings in local, national, and international performers for a weekend of smooth sounds, wine tastings, and international cuisine in an idyllic setting. (August 8-11, 2014)
Even if you can’t make it to a festival, there are plenty of venues around Richmond to satisfy any type of music lover’s needs. Between the following spots, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding a concert to see every night of your visit.
By Robert Windel via The National
Richmond's mid-sized venue, hosting touring bands like All Time Low, Chromeo, Rob Zombie, and Bastille, as well as local events like RVA showcases, Battle of the Bands, and club nights. The National is on the high end of the standard 1500-capacity venue spectrum, with an inclined floor, seated balcony, video screens, and seven full bars. If you’re trying to snag a front row spot, skip the line and eat at Gibson’s Grill next door, and you can get in 15 minutes before doors officially open. (708 East Broad Street)
Seeing a show at Strange Matter is kind of like living a scene from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, in that the walls are covered in videogame parodies of classic art historical works (Super Mario’s Last Supper, anyone?) and there are working arcade games in the back. Not only does the venue put on killer hardcore, punk, and indie shows almost every night, but it’s also probably the best vegan-friendly restaurant in the city - every greasy, cheesy, delicious monstrosity on the menu can be made vegetarian or vegan. And, of course, they have a bar. So Strange Matter consolidates your night’s essentials - music, drinks, and munchies - all into one awesome location. (929 West Grace Street)
The Canal Club is a sort of catch-all for touring indie bands, local shows, and small festivals like the United Blood Fest, or the Annual Mid-Atlantic Beard & ‘Stache Championships. The Club’s regular events, however, cater to those more inclined to rave than mosh, from a weekly Sunday night dance party to a touring schedule of EDM performers. (1545 East Cary Street)
With the motto “a social oasis," The Camel is your go-to spot for chilled-out music listening and conversation. Most Sundays, the small, art gallery-esque venue hosts themed brunches, like Reggae Brunch or Blues Brunch, and most nights you can catch a couple of local bands or touring singer-songwriters. (1621 West Broad Street)
Located just off the path of the First Fridays Art Walk, you can swing by Gallery 5 after perusing records at Steady Sounds and Turnstyle. Upstairs, you might find local arts and/or crafts for sale, but downstairs is a bar/stage/hangout spot where musical performances from the classical to the experimental might be taking place on any given night, often for free. Like other RVA spots, seeing a show at Gallery 5 feels like hanging at your friends’ not-quite-legal house venue, with the exception that everything here is legitimate. (200 West Marshall Street)
If you decide you like Richmond so much you want to take some of it home with you, here are some spots where you can snag some musical souvenirs.
Via Vinyl Conflict
Plan 9 is the monolith of Richmond record stores, stocking new and used records of all genres, as well as CDs, DVDs, and RVA merch. Their selection is hit-or-miss - the large space and aisles make it feel one step away from an FYE, but bins of used records can occasionally contain gems. If you’re visiting Richmond for the first time, hit up Plan 9 on your stroll around the shops and restaurants of Cary Street. (3017 West Cary Street)
If you’re visiting Richmond for its punk and hardcore scene, Vinyl Conflict is essential. Punk, metal, and hardcore music is stocked on vinyl, CD, and cassette, next to zines, t-shirts, and DIY accessories like patches and studs. From Agnostic Front to Zatsuon, Vinyl Conflict has everything in the punk rock alphabet. (324 South Pine Street)
Steady Sounds’ record selection is diverse, but small enough to be manageable, from popular new releases and vintage classics to harder to find genres like krautrock, darkwave, or afropsych. Stop by for their “Vinyl Happy Hour," every Wednesday from 3-6pm, when all new records are 20% off, or during First Fridays, the monthly art walk in Steady Sounds’ neighborhood. If you can’t make either of those, try to catch an in-store performance or a comedy show, the latter of which is held weekly in the loft space upstairs. (322 West Broad Street)
Just down the street from Steady Sounds is Turnstyle, RVA’s go-to spot for drum & bass, house, breakbeat, techno, and EDM records. The boutique carries everything a budding DJ needs, from record cases and DJ bags to a selection of sleek sportswear and graphic tees. In-store parties are regular occurrences, and the First Fridays Art Walk is just an excuse for the store to pump up the jams. Whether you’re looking to add to your DJ playlist or you’re just trying to get your dance on, Turnstyle is a worthy stop. (102 West Broad Street)
Don’t let the smell of incense and Beatles posters on the walls fool you - Deep Groove has a new record selection as extensive as its vintage picks. Expect to find Diarrhea Planet next to The Doors, and Lorde next to Led Zeppelin. Stop to talk with owner Jay Leavitt, and he might give you some insight about the hundreds of concert tickets and backstage passes displayed beneath the glass of the checkout counter. Deep Groove is Richmond’s most welcoming record shop, perfect for hardcore collectors and beginners alike. (317 Robinson Street)
This is by no means the exhaustive list of Richmond’s musical offerings. Plenty of smaller festivals take place annually, new local bands get together every five minutes, and DIY concerts are put on in basements all over the city. Not to mention Richmond's dynamic art scene, the stunning views of the city from public parks on the James River, or the fact that it’s a foodie mecca. This guide is just to get you started - check out these places, and pick up flyers and zines as you go to wander further down the rabbit hole of Richmond’s diverse music scene.