The show is off and running, with an enthusiastic crowd very much on board.
It’s one of the final performances of a band with a 16-year tradition in Richmond, led by a big firm lawyer with an impressive list of corporate clients and a respectable record of professional leadership.
Tonight, however, Jim Guy is a leader of a different kind. He’s dressed in a red ringmaster coat and black top hat, singing and playing to a full house at Rare Olde Times, an Irish pub tucked at the end of a suburban Richmond strip mall.
Guy is leader, strummer and singer for Uisce Beatha – pronounced ISH-keh BA-ha – a band with roots in traditional Irish music but tongue firmly in cheek on other musical endeavors.
He plays guitar, accordion and harmonica, as well as a handheld drum and Irish pennywhistle.
With his wife, brother and friends filling the bandstand, the performance is like a rowdy family reunion, and the audience jumps in at well-known cues. If the clapping on “Finnegan’s Wake” doesn’t follow the band’s pace – or fails to stop on time – Guy has the band repeat the refrain until everyone in the room gets it right.
The song can take anywhere from eight to 30 minutes, Guy said.
The repertoire is Irish and Scottish folk songs, sprinkled with classic rock numbers in a folk style. A traditional air – “Mary Mack” – turns into Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall.” Then it returns to Scotland.
A deeply respectful “Danny Boy” – with the tenor talents of brother Dan Guy – might be followed by Warren Zevon’s desperate ex-pat rocker, “Lawyers, Guns and Money.”
After some banter with the audience, Dan is suddenly performing The Who’s “Behind Blue Eyes” in the voice of the Muppets’ Swedish Chef. The audience rocked with laughter.
Other nontraditional numbers include Arlo Guthrie’s “Coming into Los Angeles,” Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” and the Beatles’ “Ticket to Ride,” introduced by bassist Gray Granger as an “old English folk song.”
“The quality of the entertainment is more important than the quality of the music,” Guy said he was told by the late founder of Rare Olde Times, Andy Jennings.
Thursday tradition ending
For 16 years, the band has been a regular Thursday night attraction at the pub, but the group is taking a victory lap with a few last performances before Guy puts the project on hold.
A big part of that decision was Guy’s election as chair of the Board of Governors of the Virginia Bar Association, a position that leads in two years to the VBA presidency. Guy will have a lot more to do outside the office than serve as ringmaster to a musical circus.
“As I’m looking at the demands of being an officer of the association and being president eventually, I’ve got to capture some time,” Guy said.
Guy heads the Energy Industry Team at the Richmond-based firm of LeClairRyan, with a focus on representing retail electric cooperatives in a multi-state region.
Guy, 49, said he turned to utility practice as an alternative to the “mind numbingly dull” business of traveling the state seeking relief from stays in foreclosure cases.
He found a niche in the 1990s and “just kind of stayed in the same place,” he said, adding, “It’s been awesome.”
Guy also is head of the firm’s utility regulation team and he runs LeClair’s Innsbrook office.
“I wear a lot of hats here. I don’t want to throttle back on things that are client-related,” he said in explaining his decision to press “pause” on his musical life.
It’s not the first time Guy has had to make adjustments.
Battling cancer in public
Just 10 years ago, Guy was presented with a diagnosis of throat cancer – at an advanced stage. Statistics said he had a 15 percent survival rate.
“Some people accept a diagnosis like that with quiet dignity. I am not one of them,” Guy said.
Guy made his struggle against the disease a public matter, for those who cared to share. As he underwent treatment, including removal of the tumor and rebuilding of his esophagus, Guy posted updates on an online blog – a diary of his cancer treatment.
“I liked the blog format because people could control their access to it,” he said. No one was confronted with a disturbing email update in the middle of the day, he said.
The blog “took on a life of its own,” Guy said.
His doctors “threw everything at me,” including aggressive radiation, Guy said. The treatment left him unable to concentrate for a time, and he grew frustrated as he tried to return to work. His doctor even suggested a career change.
Through it all, he said his law firm was supportive and he returned to his practice.
“I was really astonished how much I missed,” he said. “I was surprised to find how much of my identity was wrapped up in being a lawyer.”
Section leadership at VBA
Guy proved to himself and colleagues he was back on track when he took the helm of the administrative law section of the VBA.
“We were able to restructure the section and boost membership. That was like the yeast for me. That was the beginning of my second career,” Guy said.
Guy later served with distinction on the VBA’s law practice management section. “I’m proud of the work we were able to do,” he said.
The cancer is gone now, but could return, he said.
“I really don’t like the term ‘survivor,’” he said. “It both overstates and understates the relationship I had with cancer. I don’t have cancer now, but I still have a relationship with cancer,” he said.
Music a means to help
Another outlet and contribution for Guy is a nonprofit called the HARPS Foundation, which offers performance opportunities for children and youth and seeks to use the harp instrument as a catalyst for personal growth, community service and social change.
“We’re using the harp as a force multiplier to save the world,” Guy said.
He became inspired to help found the organization when his teen-aged daughter became proficient on the concert harp, playing with an ensemble at Carnegie Hall.
But the Irish band is also part of charity work for Guy. Uisce Beatha (the name is Gaelic for “whisky”) has regularly appeared for community and charitable events, including the Irish Festival on Richmond’s Church Hill.
“It’s been great for us, having lives outside of the band, to make that part of our citizenship and stewardship, contributing in a different way,” Guy said.