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Preview: Big Changes Are Underway at Ashland Coffee and Tea

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Sitting inside Ashland Coffee and Tea, it’s easy to bask in the small-town charm. From its cozy, 150-seat music venue, newly renamed the Mainline, a visitor stares out large glass windows that overlook quaint shops and a train track cutting through the center of town.

Today we keep seeing sequined, miniskirt-wearing Ken Hale pedal by on a jacked-up bike like a one-man Mardi Gras parade. But it’s just another Thursday in the town locals call the Center of the Universe, a place where everybody stops to say hi.

That sense of a tight-knit community is something the new owner of Ashland Coffee and Tea, Gian Pimpinella, says he wants to keep - while also shaking things up a bit.

After taking over last summer, Pimpinella has brought in a new booker, Beth Tubb, who is diversifying the music performed at the club while aiming for younger audiences. They’ve remodeled the venue to include plush new chairs, new signs and sound improvements, an extension of the bar, and more open space to dance along the sides of the stage. The adjoining cafe, NewFound Gathering Place and Eatery, is completely renovated and features a new menu focusing on local items.

Some people wanted to keep it as more of a listening room, “but they were in the minority,” says Tubb, a 49-year-old singer, percussionist and flutist for the MelBays who lives in Glen Allen.

Having grown up in an old, Oregon Hill grocery family — her great uncle was the Miller and Rhoads Santa — Tubb married into a musical family. Her brothers-in-law include Ricky Tubb from the band Horsehead, and Mike Tubb, who was in the Dads with Bryan Harvey before dying last year.

“I’m approaching this as someone who understands what musicians’ need as well as the community,” Tubb says, characterizing her work as a “concierge Mother Hen” of sorts.

Musical genres will include indie rock, folk, singer and songwriter, bluegrass, pop, blues and jazz. Most intriguingly, they’ve added a monthly global sound series with the help of Tubb’s old friend, Jim Thomson, known to Richmonders as a founding member of Gwar and Bio Ritmo.

Thomson’s Electric Cowbell is a Washington-based record label specializing in boutique vinyl releases. He also operates under the moniker Multiflora Productions, which works to expand the reach of “genre-bending roots-to-the-future music” through artist management, event marketing and releases.

Thomson says he’s always looking for tour routing off Interstate 95 for international touring acts and other groups from the Washington immigrant community.

“I plan on presenting genres like Ethiopian jazz, African, Latin, Appalachian blues, music with Arab and Muslim cultural roots,” he says. “I loathe the term ‘world music,’ and ‘global’ barely works. My focus is on new music.”

While they haven’t picked the organization yet, 5 percent of door proceeds from the series will go to a local nonprofit serving immigrants. “We live in a multicultural country,” Thomson says. “This is a gateway to a better world.”

Similarly, Tubb adds that other proceeds are going to local music support groups, and she hopes to hold nights where musicians eat together and network. Also in the works are plans to enable remote broadcasts from the venue and preview feature shows. Another reoccurring live series already booked will feature Richmonder Harry Gore playing the venue every third Thursday of the month as Harry and Friends.

Owner Pimpinella, a Connecticut native, says he thinks the latest growth in Ashland has been conducive to supporting new life in local venues. The nearby Ashland Theater has been undergoing renovations, serving as host to live shows and plans for a grand opening event in November, for example. While Tubb will be booking shows only on Thursdays through Saturdays (and eventually Sundays, she says), she hopes to draw more area college students and music lovers of all stripes from the Richmond area.

Richmond musician Paul Ivey is working to bring Wreckless Eric back to the venue, as well as potentially booking Tobin Sprout of Guided by Voices.

“It could potentially be great. I like [Tubb’s] ideas about making it a sort of musical community center,” he says, though noting that many musicians active in the Richmond scene don’t drive. “Night Idea is doing their release show there, so we’ll see how that goes.” S

Richmond's Afro-Zen Allstars perform at the Mainline on Friday, Feb. 3 from 8 p.m.-10 p.m. Cost: $8 to $10 (at door).

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