After a logistical obstacle course, Steven and I drove to Richmond Tuesday to see our friend, David Stith, play with Sufjan Stevens. We had a good dinner at the home of poet Ian Bodkin, fellow MFA candidate with me at Vermont College of Fine Art, and his wife Wendy. Ian made an amazing spaghetti sauce that included turkey and mushrooms–richly textured and aromatic (Thanks Ian).
The National, Richmond, Virginia–one of those old-school performance halls with ornate paneling, gilted woodwork, chandeliers. Inside, everyone was standing packed together listening to David’s opening songs–his voice harmonizing with himself as if he were a one-man choir, through the magic of some kind of instantly recording microphone. Really, you must hear it for yourself if ever you have the chance. Midway through the third song, surprise trombones joined in! I must admit to wriggling with joy at the whispered voices muttering nearby, “Who is this guy? He’s amazing!” Suppressing my desire to scream, “That’s my friend! He gives me tea and writes letters!” I simply answered, “The musician who’s playing? He’s David Stith, S-T-I-T-H.”
Then it was time for the Sufjan experience . . . onstage appeared crazy space-nerd costumes! Silver jackets, sunglasses, women draped with strings of electric lightbulbs, and out came Sufjan wearing real feather wings. The group performed new songs from the album Age of Adz (much of whose material was inspired, David told us later, by the apocalyptic art of Royal Robertson, a self-proclaimed prophet), while strange and mysterious images–lights and human figures–floated on a large screen behind the band. I hadn’t expected the performance-art feel of the concert, and was absolutely delighted. I only wished I was a little taller to see over the tall people in front of me. My tippy toes wore out after while. But not before I’d seen Vesuvius erupt, and confetti rockets, several more costume changes and some pretty fantastic dance moves.
After the concert, Steven and I were happy to see David pop his head back onstage and we caught his eye. “David!” He leaned across the barrier separating the stage from where we stood and hugged us. Then all the other people nearby were jealous and wanted to know how we’d met this famous person. (“Well, it all started way back before David was famous, when we all worked together at Houghton College–a webmaster, graphic designer, and art gallery director . . .” “You are so blessed to know him!” “Yes,” we agreed. “Because not only is David one of the most talented people we know, he’s also very nice”)
One of the best parts of the evening was sitting on the stairs after the National had mostly emptied out, Steven and David and I, basking in the good feelings after an intense artistic, cathartic experience, and enjoying hanging out again–friends sharing what is meaningful.
A video someone took that night: