Given live music’s humbled reputation in Richmond, we always value the chance to have a conversation with important and respected figures from every genre. Earlier this week, Anderson Tilley, our Senior Musical Inconvenience Correspondent, had the opportunity to sit down with the infamous pole (nicknamed “Polly”) from The Broadberry that routinely blocks the view of the stage for concertgoers everywhere and conversed about music, memories, and more.
Tilley: Thanks for taking time to chat with us. And I just want to make sure, you prefer Polly, right?
Polly: Thanks for having me, and yes, I do prefer that. I’m typically referred to as “that fucking pole” or in similar names that have negative connotations, so I adopted Polly as a way of mentally getting around that.
Tilley: Right. So how long have you been a literal fixture in the music scene?
Polly: Oh hell, I go way back to the 1980s when this building was a shack called The Cellar Door and we had everyone from The Ramones to Roy Buchanan to Pat Benatar. Those were some great days, to see bands that were in their youthful prime putting out what would be, like, a musical legacy around the country.
Tilley: You probably got to see a lot of local bands back then, too.
Polly: Absolutely. I think we had a GWAR show here and there, along with Avail at least once. Problem with Gwar is that all of that fake blood and slime they spray into the audience gets on to me, and the venue staff doesn’t care too much about giving me a fresh coat of paint. I guess for them it’s part of the venue’s aesthetic, but it’s still frustrating having all of those stains on top of the beer stains from people who can’t hold their booze in a crowd.
Tilley: I’ll bet. And you’ve been at this one same spot in the venue the entire time?
Polly: Yes, I’ve been attached ground to floor in this very spot for damn near 40 years now.
Tilley: That’s got to be rough in some ways, no? Because while you have this amazing view of the stage every night, you can’t really go anywhere else. Does the life of a metal pole on the floor of a music venue tend to get repetitive or monotonous?
Polly: In some ways it does, but over the years I’ve come to really appreciate the fact that I’m really an integral part of the venue. Like, sure, I’m integral in the literal sense that if I didn’t exist then a portion of the ceiling would risk collapse on concertgoers on any given night, but also in a metaphorical sense, too, in that the shows just wouldn’t be the same if I weren’t there impending someone’s view of the lead singer or bassist.
Tilley: So you clearly acknowledge that you routinely block everyone’s view during concerts, for which there are countless complaints to the venue about. What do you say to all of that?
Polly: I get it, I do. If there was another pole in front of me, blocking my view of the stage, then sure I’d be pissed, too. But the way I see it, I’ve got just as much right to see the show as someone else, especially if I’m doing the heavy lifting of supporting the entire roof from caving in. Sort of like the really tall guy that’s in every audience. Does he not also have a right to see the show from whatever spot in the venue he wants?
Tilley: That’s an interesting perspective to have on it.
Polly: I try to keep diplomatic. Sure, in a perfect world we could just line everyone from shortest to tallest at concerts so everyone would have a clear, unobstructed view of the stage. But that’s unfortunately not the way it is, and it’s not my fault that I’m stuck here. I try to politely tell patrons near me that they can always take a small step to the right or the left if they want a better view, but they always ask me to move instead. Damn kids end up looking at their phones throughout most of the show anyway. I almost take pleasure in getting in their way, if they have an attitude. I’ve probably ruined countless photos (laughs) but that’s their problem, not mine.
Tilley: I guess I can understand that. Have you ever wanted to go see shows in other places? Or really just leave the venue for a bit?
Polly: Yes, all the time. You probably don’t need me to tell you how frustrating it is being bolted down in the same place for decades. But apparently the city’s building inspector is a dick and would have a huge problem with me leaving to go have fun for a week or two, so here I stay.
Tilley: Like I said, I’ll bet it’s rough sometimes. Back to music though, have there been any recent shows that have stood out for you?
Polly: I’d have to say Melvins, without a doubt. That was a wild one. For heavier shows like that, I really like that I’m right up there near the action, with the mosh pit and all. Just a lot of good energy. At one point, I think it was during ‘Honey Bucket,’ some poor kid got thrown into me and almost got knocked unconscious. Damn, that was such a fun night.
Tilley: Ah, I remember seeing a flier for that somewhere. Do you have specific upcoming shows that you’re excited for?
Polly: I’m really excited about The Mountain Goats, I’ve been a fan of theirs for over 10 years. And I love Jenny Lewis, she’s got an amazing voice and has amazing lyrics. If I get emotional and start leaking tears on the people in front of and below me, let me just apologize right now.
Tilley: Hah! How considerate of you. How about any shows that you haven’t been a big fan of?
Polly: There’s always a few each year that I’m not big into. We get a lot of the jam bands that used to play The National, and those tend to drag out a bit and go by slow. Maybe it’d be more fun if I were on drugs like everyone else, but, you know, I’m a pole, so there’s not much I can do on that front. I also feel a bit awkward at the weddings since I don’t feel like I’ve been properly invited, but it’s still a bit heartwarming to have a front seat to the ultimate act of true love. That being said, it’s not uncommon to have a really stressed couple that’s on the verge of a breakdown, and then they see that I might be blocking the view the bride’s mother has of the big moment, and that ends up being the final straw and then a big fight between the bride and groom erupts. I always wonder how those relationships turn out.
Tilley: Sounds wild indeed. Polly, we know you’re busy getting ready for the next show, but one last thing we wanted to ask: what do you want to see in the future of music?
Polly: I’m very much pro-artist and want to see artists of all genres have protections and rights that their non-artist counterparts should have, so I definitely hope to see more action in that direction. I’d also love to see them getting properly compensated for their work. When a band puts on a good show, I’ll sometimes try to coerce a nearby fan to go to the merch table and buy me a copy of their record. Lastly, I know there are other poles out there like me, that are stuck in awkward spots in venues, and that are resultingly on everyone’s shitlists through no fault of their own. I’d like to advocate for the safety and protection of my brothers and sisters that are in threat of being torn down. It’d be great if we could unionize, or something, which I know is a long shot, but it’s still a shot, nonetheless.
Tilley: Those are all interesting and valid ideas, thanks for sharing them. Polly, it’s been absolute pleasure chatting with you. We’ll unfortunately see you at the next Broadberry show we report on.
Polly: Damn right you will, see you next time!