Giving Up the Ghost | Music | Style Weekly

“It all looks good and well until the fire and the destruction.”

Prabir Mehta laughs a bit describing his last show fronting Prabir and the Substitutes, which took place at the 2009 edition of Ghost of Pop. Then again, destruction and creation are often two sides of the same coin, and when it comes to the Ghost of Pop, Mehta is both alpha and omega.

He brought the annual celebration of Richmond musicians’ “mutual love for major chords and melodies and harmonies” into this world in 2005. Now he’s bringing the series to a close after one last Gallery5-hosted hurrah, scheduled for Friday, Dec. 9 and Saturday, Dec. 10.

The series grew out of a transitional moment for Richmond, when the city’s renown for punk and metal was yielding to a new wave of players with sonic sensibilities that weren’t so heavy. “Richmond had a very, very, very established hardcore and punk scene,” Mehta remembers. “We had big bands, always, come through Richmond and from Richmond. But at the time, we didn’t have a lot [that] were a result of this late-1990s, early 2000s movement of music.” He had friends who were similarly inspired by the pop-leaning indie rock revival, but they weren’t sharing bills as much as he would have liked. “We were very isolated,” he says.

Once Mehta resolved to break that isolation, Ghost of Pop grew organically. Year one came together with a rented stage and the Rachel Nevadas, Mehta’s band at the time, performing alongside a handful of other groups. Before he knew it, performers from the first year were asking if there was going to be a second. “I hadn’t really planned on doing it again,” he says, “But I was like, ‘If you guys want to, we can try it.’”

Now in its 16th year, the event — always held at Gallery5, with just a couple of years off — has been a constant amid change, hosting band debuts, farewell performances, record releases, and yes, a little fiery destruction when it was time bid adieu to Prabir and the Substitutes. “The goal of that show was to make it so that we would never play again,” he says of the group that brought together future members of the Trillions, Palm Palm and the Head and the Heart. “Some things were lit on fire, many things were broken. We destroyed our stuff, because it was the symbolic end. It was over.”

Mehta’s current group, Prabir Trio, will take the stage this year ahead of the Friday headliner, Deli Kings. “They’re amazing,” Mehta says, “I feel very good about closing out with Deli Kings, because they’re comprised of a few folks from a few different bands, and they are living proof of what this Richmond community can produce if you just let it do its own thing.”

Second night added

For the first time, however, Ghost of Pop will extend to a second night, with a Saturday lineup that nods to the event’s tradition of top-notch talent covering well-known artists. There was the Sweater Band, which performed Weezer songs in 2007, and the Druthers, which brought a taste of British punk groups like the Clash and the Sex Pistols to Gallery5 in 2011.

Coincidentally, the cover set Mehta remembers most fondly also had a suggestive name and roots in Britain: a tribute to James Bond film themes called Rocktopussy. Members of that group included Treesa Gold, a bandmate of Mehta’s in Goldrush, and Kevin Willoughby, who will play drums with this year’s closer, Led Zeppelin tribute group Zepp Repp. “That was one of my favorite memories,” Mehta says of Rocktopussy. “When they did ‘Live and Let Die’ with the full horn section and strings and everything, I was just like, ‘This is insane that we have this much talent in this town, and these people are willing to play on a dinky little stage that I threw on for a silly little festival that I dreamt up when I was 25.’”

Joining Zepp Repp on night two will be 1996, Mehta’s brand new project featuring alternative rock songs from that year, as well as a tribute to Oasis and an opening set of Neil Young covers from Chris Branch. Starting with an acoustic performance isn’t something Mehta would have considered in year one out of concern around audience interest, but as time has gone on, he’s seen a shift in attendees’ tastes. “I like the fact that the audience around the festival has also evolved and become more open to hearing things that they wouldn’t have initially … Richmond has changed a lot around Gallery5 and Ghost of Pop.”

The venue itself has changed as well. Staging Ghost of Pop has never been easy, but Gallery5 is in a stronger position than ever to host shows, from better lights and a grander stage to a smoother process of getting ticket holders through the doors. “Just from the sheer infrastructural level,” Mehta says, “I think that the Gallery has made leaps and bounds improvements in presenting performers.”

Proceeds to help Gallery5

While the concert’s proceeds have traditionally gone to HomeAgain, which helps local families and individuals experiencing homelessness, funds generated from the finale will go to the Gallery. “It’s because of Gallery5 that Ghost of Pop has happened for this many years,” Mehta says.

Timing-wise, Ghost of Pop’s run at Gallery5 overlaps neatly with Mehta’s involvement with the Jackson Ward art and event space. Mehta is set to step down as board chair in April of 2023, and ending Ghost of Pop is part of providing closure on his way out. “I’m sure I could take it to the Camel or Hardywood or Broadberry or wherever,” he says, “but it’s for this place, and it’s for this time … You may lose a pet someday, and we’ll lose loved ones and family, and trees and bushes around us will cease to exist. It’s OK for things to stop, and it’s time for Ghost of Pop to stop.”

It’s worth noting that the Ghost of Pop wouldn’t have its name without Mehta’s embrace of bygone eras and musical figures — and of Charles Dickens.

“I love the idea of the Ghost of Christmas Present, and Future and Past and all that stuff,” says Mehta. “The ghost of the Beatles and Weezer still haunt me to this day, every time I pick up a guitar. The ghost of Ray Charles and Tom Petty still haunt me every single time I touch an instrument.”

Time will tell what spectral echoes the Ghost of Pop has set adrift and when they might come back around. In the meantime, it’s not too late to help the series shuffle off this mortal coil in style.

Ghost of Pop will take place at Gallery5 on Friday, Dec. 9 and Saturday, Dec. 10. Doors open at 6 p.m. both nights. Tickets for individual nights are $15. A weekend package is $20. For tickets and the full lineup, visit

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