I love that there are kids growing up in Norfolk/Hampton Roads right now that will never know this place without the NEON district.
It is, and will be, an indelible part of their childhoods, asking their parents to take the route from here to there that goes past the murals; part of their high school years, taking selfies by the art, first kisses under the neon lights; college students at ODU, NSU, TCC being able to sneak away to a neighborhood where they can be as weird as they want to be; and then as adults, being called home to the lights, flickering isotopes reminding them that NFK will always be here waiting.
images | Matthew Pitts
Work | Release is a huge part of what is making the NEON one of the truly special neighborhoods in all of the Commonwealth. In a neighborhood with a world class art museum in the Chrysler, the region’s paper of record, the Virginian-Pilot, one of the premiere performance art spaces in the country in the Glass Studio, and so much more, it’s hard to call any one establishment the keystone, but Work | Release is absolutely vital to the neighborhood and creative community: a fulcrum between ‘high art’ and street art; a home for everyone from those dressed in Gucci to fans of Gucci Mane; a catapult to the next level.
Work | Release proved something important last night. They brought in a genuine national act, of Montreal, and executed the hell out of the event. Everything was smooth: getting in and out, the sound, the bartenders and the servers, the transition between bands, and the crowd itself, which was not just smooth but looking sexy as sin.
Last night was amazing. And I honestly don’t even like of Montreal all that much.
The band does know how to put on a show. Even for such a relatively small room, they seemed to bring the whole stage act, with multiple dancers, super fun projections, and enough energy to fill the length of Granby. They played what felt like a long set, including the hits and crowd favorites such as “Gronlandic Edit,” “Bunny Ain’t No Kind of Rider,” “Suffer for Fashion” and “Wraith Pinned to the Mist and Other Things.”
“Those are their standard hits that get the floor bouncing,” said Major and the Monbacks’ Nate Sacks, one of many local music scene luminaries who were in attendance. “Very Bee Gees meets Bowie… mostly Bowie. If they don’t play those songs it isn’t a complete of Montreal show.”
While the gig was officially a sell-out, Work | Release and the promoters–the excellent Josh from LAVA Music Festival–made a keen, fan-friendly decision to not fill the room to the brims. The majority of the crowd was pushed close to the stage, leaving plenty of space for codgers like me to catch some air on the periphery. It was super cool to scan from the band, to kids with Xs on their hands up front jumping, and onto the back where local leaders of business and culture framed the room, backlit by the lights of Olney.
“This is making me feel young again,” somebody told me.
“This reminds me of the Boathouse,” someone else said.
“This reminds me of when this neighborhood was just a bunch of warehouses and we’d break in and party on the roofs.”
“This is *the spot* right now.”
Just a half block away is the building that houses AltDaily, Pilot Media HQ. It was a bit thrilling to see the tour bus pull up in the afternoon. I don’t think I’m revealing a secret that many in local media see the Hampton Roads market as a stepping stone; things like this are what help creative professionals see the metro differently, possibly as home. And when a city is home you report on it differently. You’re less likely to chase a scandal that might make page 1, and more likely to work on stories that help build up your community from the ground on up. A sense of place, this sense of belonging, is not brought about by cruise terminals or conference centers. It comes when locals who love this town–the Charlies, Careyanns, Brothers, and Merediths–put their heart and soul into a project, open the doors, and invite the world to join their party.
“Let’s pretend we don’t exist,” Kevin Barnes sang. No thanks. Work | Release, the arts district, and all of us, we’re here, and we’re not going anywhere.
For more of Work | Release, click this. For more Matthew Pitts photography, click this. For more shows booked by Josh & LAVA, click thisthis.