Tinseltown fever returns to River City. +7
After all that work in 2011, "Lincoln" earns accolades in its debut, which coincides with the official Virginia screening at the Byrd Theatre. So what if the only star to return to town around the opening is Joseph Gordon-Levitt (and even then, it's for his multimedia show at the National, not the movie). Swarms of Richmonders flood theaters, desperately searching for themselves among the bearded hordes of extras who traded approximately two to three seconds of fame and glory for excruciatingly long days and low pay on set. Hey, it's Steven Spielberg.
Richmond Ballet leaps onto the international stage. +5
Veteran artistic director Stoner Winslett is one of the few female directors of professional ballet groups in the country, and she's cementing her legacy with impressive accolades for the Richmond Ballet in recent years. In 2012 one of the company's leading dancers, Maggie Small, makes the cover of Dance magazine, and the ballet makes its international debut in June at the Linbury Studio Theater at the prestigious Royal Opera House in London. "It was a privilege to see Richmond Ballet, the State Ballet of Virginia, make its international debut in London," Dance Europe magazine writes. "The Company showed themselves to great advantage by presenting such a varied program." Next stop on the prestige train: In June the ballet is scheduled to make its Kennedy Center debut in Washington.
A political cowboy gallops into the sunset. 0
The original red-faced, snuff-dipping, no-parole dynamo who ushered in a new era of Republican control in the General Assembly in the mid-1990s bows out after losing his bid for the U.S. Senate. It's his last race, he announces. This is the same Allen who was on the short list of GOP presidential candidates in 2006, one of the most popular governors in Virginia history and the son of a famous Redskins coach with the same name.
That he would lose to Democrat Tim Kaine, another former governor, isn't really a shocker, which is kind of sad. His downfall starts with that obscure, bizarre, racially tinged "macaca" comment in 2006, during his losing Senate campaign against the clunky Jim Webb. Allen's odd reference to a Democratic tracker of Indian descent? He just couldn't shake it. And that's not to mention Virginia's shifting political winds.
For those who recall the seemingly invincible political cowboy who was destined for the White House — kind of a uncomedic Ricky Bobby — it's a lot to swallow. Or spit out.
Randy Blythe gets jailed, released, and may go back. -8
Richmond's Grammy-nominated metal maestros Lamb of God (they get the awards nod again this year) make violent music not for the timid. But nobody, especially the band itself, knew that when its plane landed in the Czech Republic this year that singer Randy Blythe would be immediately arrested and jailed for a month. It stems from the death of a fan who sustained a head injury, allegedly in a fall after rushing the stage at a 2010 show. Blythe is finally released on $400,000 bail and returns to Richmond, where fans have been participating in sweaty vigils and online campaigns. He tells news media that he'll return to face charges if necessary — and indeed, Czech Republic officials move forward with the manslaughter indictment after months of investigation. Meanwhile, Lamb of God keeps touring to help defray mounting legal costs. It's a case that just might have widespread repercussions in the concert industry, solidifying the stage as a No-Fan Zone.
A hot Richmond musician catches fire. +6
Musician Matthew E. White, previously known for his group Fight the Big Bull, has the kind of year most musicians dream about. His mellow summer debut album, "Big Inner" (get it, beginner?) immediately is praised in all the right places, starting on influential blogs (Aquarium Drunkard, Stereogum) and burning through national press such as Rolling Stone ("Artist to Watch"), The New York Times and most recently Paste magazine's No. 1 new band of 2012. He launches a major tour opening for the Mountain Goats that will head overseas next year, where his album is being released by Domino. What does this mean for White's own hometown label, Spacebomb, meant to be like Richmond's own version of Stax with a house band? We hear there are some extremely promising new releases already in the can.
A First Fridays leader makes her exit. -2
Christina Newton, founder and former director of the nonprofit Curated Culture, which once ran the First Fridays Art Walks, was there from the start and watched the event grow in popularity, facing numerous hurdles with little help from the city. After taking a job as a project manager with the Virginia Association of Museums, Newton announces that she's leaving, with the arts walk management taken over by the Downtown Neighborhood Association, a board made up mostly of realtors and property owners. While some people wonder about the direction to come, the new director of First Fridays, Meghan Barbato, says she's looking at new ideas to draw people to the arts district on other days besides Fridays and a new website should be up soon. "My primary goal is to make sure that everyone's voice is heard, and that all of the players feel included in the ongoing conversations behind the event," she says. "My secondary goal is to widen the audience for the event, and reach beyond the usual folks who come every month."
The city builds a smaller jail ... on purpose. -5
Ground breaks in January on the city's new jail. It's shaping up nicely save for one small problem: The way things stand, it's set to be over crowded the day it opens.
The jail was supposed to be Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones' big success. That didn't pan out for him last year when the bidding process went about as wrong as possible and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People emerged as a vocal critic. This year isn't looking much better.
The city has made virtually no progress on efforts to divert low-level offenders into alternative sentencing programs and the jail's population still hovers around 1,400 inmates — almost 400 more than can fit into the new facility.
The administration is rushing a last-ditch effort to pull through with some kind of solution, but we aren't holding our breath.
Our votes really do matter, and it annoys the hell out of us. -2
Virginia voters relax a little after a brutal, annoying and unspectacular election campaign. No more visits by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (26) or President Barack Obama (19), which end up costing the Richmond-area police agencies that provided security for the events a total of $350,000. On top of that, Virginians are forced to cope with 163,740 campaign ads, the third-highest total in the country, worth $122 million.
State and local races are no better. The contest for 7th District congressional seat between Wayne Powell and Rep. Eric Cantor is noteworthy for its constant barrages of personal attacks.
In the end, Democrats win the day although Cantor is easily re-elected. The bad news: The 2013 gubernatorial campaign is just getting started.
History buffs descend on Richmond ... or do they? 0
So did the tourists actually come? In the wake of the spectacular Steven Spielberg bio-pic on Lincoln and the sesquicentennial of the Civil War in 2011, in which Richmond played a pivotal and tragic role, did they show up? Did they not see Richmond Times-Dispatch publisher Thomas A. Silvestri sport a goofy stovepipe hat at one of his public forums to push the idea that this place is swarming with history buffs?
Figures for 2012 aren't in, but the Virginia Tourism Corp. releases a study showing that in 2011, tourism expenditures top $20.4 billion, an increase of 8 percent over the previous year. Gov. Bob McDonnell is quick to tout the study as major progress.
Things get a little stickier on closer examination. The report doesn't list figures by actual tourists visiting, but by expenditure estimates. Checking those, you see that the hottest places were Northern Virginia (about $6 billion) and Virginia Beach. Henrico did an OK $713 million, but Richmond, at $588 million, ranks behind Norfolk. Battlefield-rich Petersburg pulls in a measly $43 million.
Another problem: Gas prices rose about 26 percent from 2010 to 2011, so that likely accounts for much of the 8-percent rise in expenditures. The increase is solid, but modest, considering that Charleston, S.C., home of Fort Sumter where the war started, saw an 11-percent rise in visitors from 2010 to 2011.
Confederates go marching again. -3
All right, we get it: "Lincoln" couldn't come to the former Capital of the Confederacy without raising a rebel yell or two. But when the Sons of Confederate Veterans descend upon Monument Avenue in February, they leave a few unsettled.
To a cheering crowd of mostly middle-aged white men, Michael Givens, the group's commander-in-chief, gives a speech blaming Lincoln for murder, theft and arson while a giant Confederate flag waves behind.
We're guessing they still haven't seen the movie.
Roseanne Cash leads a record-breaking Folk Festival. +9
When the weather's good, there's no stopping the Richmond Folk Festival. In a year that sees the city's grandest local music festival lose two significant sponsors — Martin's and SunTrust, at a $50,000 hit to the $1.3 million budget — the people respond, turning out in record numbers for the free weekend that offers a variety of music, food, arts and crafts in a stunning setting by the downtown riverfront. More than 200,000 flock to the shows during the three days, contributing around $107,000 in cash to the volunteer bucket brigade. Also, there's the biggest single crowd yet at the Altria Stage (more than 10,000) for a daytime set by headliner Roseanne Cash, daughter of the legendary Johnny Cash, who happens to be in town promoting a charity, Children, Inc. "Cash and her band really couldn't believe the turnout," Lisa Sims of Venture Richmond says. She also notes the benefit of the cooperative fall weather. "We know we're always only two rainy days from disaster, but the community really stepped up this year, and we look at that money as hugely helpful, like a stage sponsorship." Next, Sims says organizers want "to improve the experience so people don't feel crowded," adding "there's nothing to indicate the festival won't continue to grow."
A veteran actress mounts a comeback. +2
A year ago, Irene Ziegler awoke to have a gun pointed at her head. Two masked men entered her home in Charles City County, bound Ziegler and searched the house for valuables. Ten days after her traumatic experience, her husband asked for a divorce.
Then she had a car accident.
But one of the city's most well-loved actresses and writers doesn't let the setbacks stop her. Instead, she mounts a comeback. She moves into the city, begins teaching at the University of Richmond and dives head-first into new work.
In August she stages a reading of her script, "Miss Palmer's School of Penmanship and Civil Behavior." In February she'll appear in Virginia Rep's staging of the Noel Coward favorite "Hay Fever," and audiences can catch her in the University of Richmond's production of "Spring Awakening" in April.
"Art saves lives," she tells us in August, "and I fully expect it to save mine."
Happy has a happy birthday. +4
Happy is difficult to ignore. With his flamboyant clothes, twinkling eyes and eye-catching 1996 Cadillac "Hugmobile," J.P. "Happy the Artist" Kuhn is as much of a local landmark as his brightly colored murals. He's such a fixture that Mayor Dwight C. Jones dubs Oct. 13 — Kuhn's 70th birthday — as "Make Someone Happy Day." To celebrate, Kuhn gets a public birthday bash at the Byrd Theatre.