Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Benny's: Now, Then, and Before (when it was Earl's Grill in the 1940s) - and the BennyFit for Hospice, Sept. 12th

Below is an article from yesterday's Style Magazine about Former club owner Benny Waldbauer and his hopes that a Sept. 12 benefit he’s co-sponsoring will help fund hospice care in the Richmond area:

Benny and the Vets

An ’80s club owner finds a communal reason to celebrate his namesake.

by Brent Baldwin
Former club owner Benny Waldbauer hopes that a Sept. 12 benefit he’s co-sponsoring will help fund hospice care in the Richmond area: “It’s about living right now.” Photo by Ash Daniel

The same Saturday night that Richmond CenterStage unveils its grand vision to the public, hundreds of others will be rocking out to commemorate a cause not many people like to think about: our mortality.

Benny’s was a legendary, if short-lived, punk-rock club from the early ’80s across from Monroe Park near Virginia Commonwealth University — famously known for a late-night party featuring Iggy Pop, fresh from his Mosque riot.

In recent years the former owner of the club, Benny Waldbauer, had grown tired of people asking him to throw a reunion party. But when Facebook exploded, the calls became difficult to ignore. Waldbauer, 55, didn’t want to make money on the event — or lose money, for that matter — so a couple of months ago he devised a BennyFit show with several beloved old-school Richmond bands. Proceeds from tickets and an art auction would go to a grassroots effort he cares deeply about: bringing hospice care for the terminally ill and their families to the Richmond area.

“It’s crazy that we don’t have one in Richmond,” says the upbeat Waldbauer, a nurse who’s worked for Bon Secours Hospice for the last decade.

Most hospice care occurs in residential settings, but Waldbauer says he’d love to see a community hospice house serving Richmonders. He went to Bon Secours for guidance and was told it was in the early stages of deciding whether to build a new hospice house. Together they agreed that BennyFit proceeds would go toward a communal, meditation rock garden for the new hospice — a place where, Waldbauer says, “the families of patients can come meditate and hopefully musicians can set up and play for them.”

Terry Mohr, chief executive of Bon Secours Richmond Foundation, says that a freestanding hospice house has been a dream of their donors for 20 years and finally started gaining traction about a year ago.

“We should know by the end of the calendar year whether it’s feasible or can be supported in the area,” Mohr says, adding that if a hospice doesn’t wind up being built, Benny’s earmarked funds will be applied within the Bon Secours system.

So far, the Sept. 12 benefit has sold more than 300 tickets and received a wide array of art and memorabilia for auction (such wide-ranging items as guitars, original art, posters and fliers, and black and white photos by Bobby Grossman, Cindy Hicks and Thurston Howes). The silent auction is viewable online ( and items will be available the night of the show.

Ron Smith, also known as Cuz’n Wildweed, is stage manager for the event and one of the many volunteers for the effort. “A lot of us are at that age where we’ve had a parent or loved one deal with hospice,” Smith says. “And we’ll be there one day ourselves. I can’t think of anyone who needs this kind of support more than poor, starving musicians.”

Waldbauer is quick to add the connection he sees: “The attitude about rock ’n’ roll and hospice is the same: It’s about living right now!”

Smith also says there will be a special, final surprise guest that night “known for their raw power and lust for life.” Could it be the tribute act of the year, or something more? It’s a little dicey to speculate. But we do know the event will be emceed by two former local celebs, Chuck “Rockin’ Daddy” Wrenn and Barry “Maddog” Gottlieb (now of San Francisco) — guys that used to run a call-in hotline for concert listings, preInternet days. Local DJ, columnist and promoter Chris Bopst also will be on hand. S

BennyFit for Hospice will be held on Saturday, Sept. 12, at the Playing Field at 7801 W. Broad St. Tickets are $10 and available at Plan 9 Music and The show begins at 7 p.m. and dress code is checkbook casual.

Lined Up

The bands performing at the benefit include:

White Cross: Yes, that White Cross, the legendary local hardcore band that was mentioned in the documentary “American Hardcore.” WC played with Minor Threat back in the day.

The Ortho-Tonics: More of an avant-garde, art fusion band with members who include Phil Trumbo, a Grammy winner behind Pee Wee Herman’s TV show, who will be flying in from Seattle for the event.

Beex: One of the longest running rock bands in Richmond, still kicking ass and taking names 30 years later despite the loss of longtime vocalist, the late Christine Gibson. Her husband, Tom Applegate, proudly carries the flag.

The Good Guys: Popular local band remembered for its dance heavy mix of ska with British invasion rock.

The Diversions: One of D.C.’s top rockabilly bands — “drummer Ralph Segal is the traffic copter guy at the top FM station in D.C.,” Smith says.

Dirty Secrets: Local legend, WRIR DJ and Plan 9 hall of famer, Buzzy Lawler brings his Stonesy-British rock to the stage where it belongs.


Advertisement for Benny's from Throttle, 1981.

I moved to Richmond in the late summer of 1982 and lived at what was then called VCU's "New Residence Center" at 711 W. Main St. in Richmond. The dormitory is now called the "Gladding Residence Center." It was one block away from Benny's, a small club located at 611 W. Main St. that often had punk rock (and other) bands play. I remember they had "Private Idaho" french fries. I only went in Benny's a few times to see bands but I am sure the first band I saw in Richmond was in there - a punk band from Philadelphia whose name escapes me. That was probably in August of 1982. The image above is from Throttle, vol.1, number 5, Sept.-Oct. 1981 - held in Special Collections and Archives, VCU Libraries. The ad. lists some of Richmond's best 1980s bands. I did a quick check on Google and found this link to a video of Beex at Benny's in 1982..

The images below are held by VCU Libraries' Special Collections and Archives. These were negatives we had to scan to get the black and white positives - all taken by Foster Studios on June 17, 1948. They show Earl's Grill which also stood at 611 W. Main St - the location of Benny's some 33 years later.

VCU had the building demolished in the 1990s to make way for their Engineering Building. Click on the images for a much larger view.

-- Ray B.
Earl's Grill at 611 W. Main St., 1948.

Closer view.

Interior looking towards the back -
the stage in Benny's was at the very back wall.

Interior view looking towards W. Main St. and Monroe Park.

Close-up view of the bar.
Benny's also had a bar in the same location.


Scott said...

Before my time here. Earl Smith was telling me today about the weekly feeding of the pirahanas.

Anonymous said...

Ralph Segal? Never heard of him.

Anonymous said...

Richmond va has allot of good history.t