Early in June I walked my dog, Sister, to the playground at the School for Creative and Performing Arts. I had forgotten that it was graduation time; I was surprised to see the student chamber orchestra tuning up out on the rise of the soccer field, dressed for commencement exercises the women in long dresses, the young men in black jackets and ties. No "Grunge" here. Musicians don't usually dress like rock stars (though I've seen some pretty snappy stomps lately on Greg Schaber). Eventually the good players land in a big band or as a part of some other professional stage show, and for them it's gray pants and a navy blue blazer or a tuxedo. I knew one saxophone player, a reformed smoker, who wore black underwear for tuxedo gigs so the holes he'd burned in his pants didn't show.
Thus, suitably attired, the CCM musicians were standing around tuning their instruments, putting rosin on their fiddle bows. The air was sweet and cool, and the western sunset was beginning to look shell pink when I stopped to listen. I like Chamber music, the stately violas and cellos, the deep double basses cushioning the violas and violins, the instruments closest to the human voice. The instruments are so polite it makes me think of an air kiss between club ladies.
One of the young women stood off to herself, under a big sugar maple tree, practicing the Quaker song, "The Gift to Be Simple," and her auburn hair glinted in the last light of the sun. I could see that music has already defined her life, in big ways and small. She had ease, concentration and skill, but the competition among classical musicians is fierce. Will she have to scuffle? Will she marry? Will she have children? Most certainly she will know sorrow. A musician needs a rich inner life (and a guardian angel).
Later, I walked up to 14th St. to see Volk, the new summer venue for the avant garde in Over-the-Rhine. It was right next door to the ultra hip Lightborne Studios, where movies are edited and soundtracks assembled with digital precision. (If you ever walk past Lightborne, stop for a minute and look through the front window at the stunning staircase designed by architect, Ken Jones). By contrast, "Volk," which is right next door, is a stripped-down warehouse complete with concrete foundations and a loading dock. I was instantly comfortable there. The evening I went, Scott Wood had prepared a karaoke-style musical event for one night only, to kick off Volk's "Spoken Word Series." It was called "Sing Along with Scotty Wood's Greatest Hits."
There is a photograph of Scotty Wood behind the cash register at Kaldi's. In it he is sitting on a rocking horse, dressed in a pink tuxedo jacket, a ruffled shirt, orange hair, nails painted the color of blood, and he is holding a very chilled martini glass as if he were going into battle with it. The day that Kelly Wanstrath took that picture, I was there. I had just moved to Main St, and since I had never seen any men with painted fingernails, I was thrilled to be taking a walk on the wild side.
I soon learned that, while Scotty is permanently outrageous (think of Cole Porter wearing a dog collar), he is an excellent songwriter, and each of his pieces is crafted like a scene from the notebook of an urban guerilla. Scotty had prepared a guitar track and a rhythm track and was playing disc jockey while his friends performed his songs, often with hilarious results. The first was "Coke Slut," which featured a bizarrely dressed pregnant woman (sculptor Greg Schmidt in disguise), then eventually "Somebody's Gonna Get Arrested," which featured two punkers in police uniforms, dancing and waving nightsticks furiously. At one point they grabbed Scotty from his turntable and kicked him menacingly, but it was just real enough to be funny; not real enough to hurt.
Mike Schottelkotte was a hypnotic "Bitchin' Boy" and an excellent singer as well. Behind each performance, slides of Kelly's Wanstros' photographs of Over-the-Rhine flashed life-size trashed streets, drug users and lots of shots of artist Alan Sauer. It was good cabaret political, bawdy, sophisticated and funny; the art of it was in how personal it felt. (As for me, I used to listen to WGUC around the house, but now I find myself humming the first few bars of "Coke Slut" while I'm dusting the living room.)
You don't have much time to get to Volk since it's closing the middle of July, but Jay Bolotin will be there July 13 at 8 p.m., with his own brand of Cabaret, and Michelle Red Elk and Aralee Strange will play for the closing reception on July 14.