Summertime in Richmond is a delight (well, except for the humidity) and one of its most delightful treasures is Dogwood Dell, an outdoor theater nestled in the shadow of the Carillon. The Dell offers amazing entertainment, including music of all kinds, plays, dance and more…and it’s free. Best of all, Dogwood Dell somehow defeats that nasty old humidity. The breeze off the James River, the canopy of trees, a combination of these: all I know is that when it’s miserable outside everywhere else, when the show starts at the Dell, the audience is anticipating a good time…and they’re cool.

Dogwood Dell is “little sister” to the Carillon in age so let me introduce you to her big brother. In 1922, after The Great War (WW I), Richmond formed a committee to establish a memorial to those killed in the war. The original plan was a three acre site in Byrd Park but the notion of a bell tower took hold and it wasn’t until October 1932 that the Virginia World War Memorial was dedicated.

My great-uncle Leon was killed in France, sadly bestowing the title of Gold Star Mother on my great-grandmother. She was an active member of this organization and a hostess at the dedication. Her husband Harry and the family, including my father, were drafted into duty as needed, including selling keepsake pins as a fundraiser for financially-strapped mothers who had lost sons in the war. I have some of those pins and I believe that the depiction of the monument, a lithograph, was based on my great-grandfather’s photographs. I can think of no other reason for his photo collection to include so many views of the Carillon.

The Carillon bell tower’s sixty-six bells originally played fifty-three notes with the highest thirteen replicating notes for better sound. Renovations in the 1970’s included recasting the bells and now fifty-three bells play fifty-three notes. Concerts are held on patriotic holidays as well as other events and are a joy to hear.

Since the end of World War II, a cherished tradition of the Nativity is performed on the Carillon steps. It’s entirely composed of volunteers, with generations of families participating. Everyone should go at least once to be part of Richmond at its best.

Dogwood Dell is celebrating its 56th year and doing it in style. Last night’s Cyrus McCormick and the Reapers played to an enthusiastic audience, some of which (like me) had been there at their premier performance forty years ago. KOS played last weekend and was as amazing as ever. I do miss the big band music that was their signature style in the beginning but their renditions of classic beach, Chicago and other big brass numbers still mean one thing…my definition of rich would be to have KOS play at my party.

Salsa, drums, gospel, bluegrass, you name it, we got it. Dell theater productions are always good. Last year I helped with set painting for Hairspray and I appreciate the staff’s hard work even more after bending over with a paint brush in the noonday heat. But it was worth it when the ‘sellout’ crowds roared their approval. Well, they would gladly have paid but the Dell’s performances are always free. It’s the best entertainment value in Richmond.

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