Richmond, Virginia (July 19, 2019) – Tonight celebrates the 21st anniversary of Avail’s “Over The James” album. The Richmond Virginia based band played their last show around 12 years ago so when this show was announced it immediately generated an internet frenzy in the United States and other countries about the possibilities of other shows.
Today’s show is one of two for the weekend. The first show sold out in minutes online, a second performance was added only sold at the local box office which also sold out in just a few hours.
It is July in the South and it is one of the hottest weekends of the year. The air is so thick It feels like you could cut it with a knife. I arrive at The National about 30 minutes before the night starts and there are hundreds of people already inside the venue.
I grew up here in Richmond, and I along with most of my close friends have hungout and interacted with Avail ever since they moved moved to Richmond in the early 90’s.
The “Avail House” was located in the Richmond Fan district on West Grace Street just a few blocks from the VCU campus. It was the site of many a house show. Every room was taken, Someone even lived in one of the closets for something like $45 a month.
We all went to shows, supporting each others bands, tattoo shops and local social causes like Food Not Bombs. We were all the same age range with similar backgrounds and the fact that we shared the love for punk and hardcore was only a bonus.
There have been a few other band members in the past but tonight’s lineup for the “Over The James” reunion are Tim Barry on vocals, Beau Butler on backing vocals/punk rock hype man, Joe Banks on Guitar, Justin “Gwomper” Burdick on bass and Erik Larson on drums.
It is 8pm and the first band taking to the stage is local hardcore punk group Asylum. The National’s deep red stage lighting saturates the band who are all wearing black as they play through their set. Lead singer, Kasey Simcoe’s vocals have a perfect screaming pitch to accompany the driving rocking riffs playing behind her vocals. The intense sounds fill The National with throaty angry vocals that have the energy of familiar past punk and rock anthems that sound Motorhead-esq at times. Richmond’s Vinyl Conflict Records released their self titled album in 2014 and compares the band to the likes of punk band Discharge.
The buzzing riffs of the bands guitarist Forest Mallonee cross between punk, metal and rock, making Asylum’s sound unique yet familiar. The band plays a short set but is well received by the crowd that is still filling the venue.
As the stage is being reset for the second band. I notice the venue is looking nearly full now. I can not walk 5 feet without seeing people I know from in town and even other states around the country as far away as California.
The National is doing a great job keeping the room cool with the air conditioning system which sometimes doesn’t happen at some venues when you have factor in a full capacity crowd of a sold out show and 100 degree heat.
Next up is local hardcore thrash heroes Iron Reagan
Iron Reagan always brings a good time. Fast thrash riffs fill the room as heads bang on stage and throughout the venue.
Frontman Tony Foresta’s request for a circle pit during the set was promptly delivered as the band lays down a metal feast to get the crowd moving.
The stage is chaotic as the long haired band members whip their hair furiously to the rhythm of their intricate riffs. The band consists of Tony Foresta who also sings for Municipal Waste, bassist Phil “Land Phil” Hall, former Darkest Hour drummer Ryan Parrish, and Hellbear bassist Rob Skotis. A highlight for every Iron Reagan set for me is the bands instrumentals because we get to see some great synchronized guitar mayhem.
The songs are super tight as Tony navigates the stage in front of their dual skeleton riot police backdrops.
During the set, Tony introduced Richmond music scene icon Taylor Steele to sing the song “Glue” by legendary 80’s straight edge Boston band SSD (Society System Decontrol). Everyone is surprised and stoked because Taylor has not performed in years since he sing for his past well known bands Four Walls Falling, Joy Burner and Pledge Allegiance. It sounded great, unfortunately Taylor twisted his knee as the song began and fell at one point, but still was able to finish the song.
“Gotta stick together
Gotta stick together
Gotta stick together
Gotta stick together
Like Glue Like Crew“
The National is filled with tons of familiar faces. Bands members, company owners, families and friends. We knew this was gong to be like some sort of friends reunion because this would be the event to bring people back to Richmond who may have moved away.
There is a large amount of 40 somethings at this show, but also patches of younger groups.
17 year old’s Nick Erickson and June Kambourian came with their parents who are Richmond natives and long time Avail fans. I see Beau-Beau from Avail’s wife and kids standing stage right as the stage is being prepared for tonights main event. The air feels electric with anticipation as we remember the “good old times” of Richmond Avail shows at now closed Richmond venues like Twisters, The Metro or Biograph. Shows filled with punks, skinheads, hardcore kids and curious college students who made friends with some of us while hanging out in Shafer Court on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University, an Art School that has attracted lots of counter culture enthusiasts over the years.
After a few brief minutes, the lights drop and the crowd cheers. I see a stage hands flashlight guiding some of the band out to the stage in the darkness. Avail’s Beau Butler enters stage right all smiles and swiftly walks to the front of the stage arms raised and waiving with a huge smile on his face. Beau-Beau is known to be the outgoing social one of the band and this is his element.
Drummer Erik Larson is adjusting his drum kit as the place is about to get set off. It is so good to see the guys all together again after so much time. It is like I just saw them play yesterday, in a hot sweaty club with about 15 naked people men and women stage diving all over us and us not even caring because you know it’s just someone you know.
Yea that was common at Richmond shows.
Joe is plugged in and ready as Gwomper interacts with Erik in front of his drum riser.
Singer songwriter Tim Barry enters the room. Tim has been touring solo in recent years and enjoying a successful folk punk music following.
It is time to get down to business as I hear the words I always would hear whenever Avail was about to perform.
“We’re Avail from Richmond, Virginia”
And just like that the entire club in blasted back in time.
Immediately the band starts to play their song South Bound 95 from the “Dixie Album”. One of there many anthems referring to Richmond and the South that we all love.
“Boredom in the mobile home in nowhere u.s.a. somehow gotta make it home to richmond v.a. when i’m there i want to go but when i’m gone i don’t i’ll make it
Anywhere but here but here is where i’ve got to be anywhere but here i’ve gotta make it to dixie”
Erik is being highlighted by the overhead lights, covered in tattoos, hair flying behind his drum set as Gwomper bangs out bass notes around multiple parts of the stage, Beau is going nuts and releasing all the energy he has been holding in after these months or practicing again. The next song flows into “Over the James” song “Deepwood”. Everyone within eyesight is smiling and singing along. I see Atlanta resident Kim Sparks front row all smile as Tim hops down and stands on the barrier while singing out to the crowd.
Beau stands at the front of the stage giving thumbs up to friends in the crowd while also screaming out backing vocals.
Justin’s bass line pounds through the intro of song “New #2”. Joe is rocking back and forth with his Les Paul while still appearing on mic for backing vocals as Erik blasts the drums keeping the place amped. Beau-Beau is running from one end of the stage to the other breaking into random dances and grabbing a microphone for backing vocals.
The song transitions into one of my personal favorites “Tuning”.
“I saw familiar faces far from those i knew so well couldn’t think of much to say didn’t know how i felt
So i put them behind me and i let them go they didn’t look like they did they didn’t feel like they should”
From the strike of the first chord, people in the crowd have been climbing over the backs of the fans in front of them to get up on top sing along. While others want to see how long and far they can stay up before security pulls them down to exit between the barriers where i am.
The song Nickel Bridge is next, a song titled after a local Richmond toll bridge that connects Richmond’s Southside and Maymount Park area downtown.
Tim starts the lyrics to S.R.O. as Joe’s Les Paul crunches underneath the lyrics. The rest of the band joins in and the entire crowd pops.
“What difference does it really make When your head’s at the foot of the bed? Close the lid tight remain out of sight Easy escape numb the senses”
Beau has a bag-o-props he keeps visiting at the drum riser. Foams finger point hands, a full face black rubber mask, football shoulder pads to a large plastic clapping hand. Every now and then he pulls out a large super soaker and sprays the crowd.
On stage right, there are random friends that have been quietly watching on the side now starting to take the moment stave dive. Beau strikes an almost crucifix looking pose at the front of the stage as the back stage lighting hits him perfectly while he holds his arms straight out. These guys have always been great performers but this long break is helping them deliver something even more special than when we would regularly see them back in the day.
My friends where wondering if the show was gonna be as energetic as before since everyone including themselves have added about 15 years to their lives. Beau was the man to answer that question as he runs and flips into the crowd.
—Okay he warned them first so they wouldn’t drop him but still is was great to see.
The crowd kept him up as security helped him back to the stage.
Multiple times Tim and Beau come down the the barrier to interact with the crowd. Tim is handing out the microphone as fans take over the singing. Justin kept the solid bass lines rollin as he poured his all into the bands set.
Mid show Beau states his daughter had asked him if he was going to be jumping around all crazy at this show. He said, look at her now, she was sound asleep in her mom’s lap on stage at Daddy’s punk show. So adorable.
The set continues but still goes by fast as they blast through more “Over the James” tracks and sprinkle in a few other songs such at Virus and Treading, from the album “Dixie” and F.C.A. from their 1996 “4AM Friday” album
“but we’ll try to get by
as soon as there’s a chance
to clear our eyes
and we’ll finally say goodbye
inside with pride you survive
it wasn’t time wasted
and we forget
four a.m. friday”
The band announces it is their last song as then play another favorite “Over the James” track Scuffle Town.
“There’s kepone in the river
But the river’s still flowing east
Ethyl dozed the planet
In an attempt to keep
The downtown clean
Still it’s a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful day”
Tim expressed, “We can’t thank y’all enough. Seriously thank you so much for everything.
And thank you to everyone in this building who’s working tonight. We appreciate you so much.
The last encore song is “Simple Song” from their “4AM Friday” album.
“Did I trip myself up again?
Did I see more than you did?
Did I trip myself up again?
Did I see more than you did?”
Avail celebrates Richmond, Virginia. They showcase the love for Richmond they and many of our friends hold dear to their heart. Richmond has a wild dark history being the former capital of the Confederacy and we are reminded about it all the time when you pass the enormous confederate monuments driving down the towns Monument Avenue.
But it’s the people that make the city not the statues. And the community that Avail has help build and keep together after all these years is why they are able to sell out two shows on the same weekend 12 years after that stopped performing. Thank you Avail we have missed you and we can not wait to do it all again tomorrow!
Catch them playing select shows this fall at a city near you.
South Bound 95
Treading On Heels
On the Nod
Photojournalist: Ken Penn