Looking for a change of pace, I headed to Starr Hill to catch the band Carbon Leaf, which have received considerable press in recent months since they won the Coca-Cola New Music Award at the American Music Awards ceremony.

Not only that, they are also the winners of the Pontiac Summer Sound Off (a prize that included $20,000 and their song "The Boxer" being used in a commercial). Not bad for an electric Celtic rock band from Richmond.

By the time I arrived, the venue was pretty packed with people dancing to the upbeat sounds of the four-piece unit. There was the obvious influence of The Pogues, who crossed Irish folk music with a harder punk edge and built a political movement around their music.

Carbon Leaf trade the punk and politics for morally sound lyrics and an alternative rock flavor. Two words describe this music: happy and uplifting. Lead singer Barry pressed on the perma-grin and led the band through a host of songs ranging from mellow to danceable. At times I envisioned Riverdance performing in unison with the group as they played the more traditional tunes.

The two guitarists (one of whom traded off with a mandolin on occasion) traded licks and accompanied each other with the tightness of a band that has played together for almost a decade.

I ducked out the door just as the band was heading into the final stretch of their set. As I descended the stairs, the sounds of a bagpipe filled the hall. Note to self: CD collection needs more Celtic music.

Next stop: The Crab. The Corner has always hosted a hip-hop night at one of the many establishments there. Because of the sometimes-knuckleheaded clientele that frequents hip-hop parties, they have all eventually been shut down.

The new seafood establishment on the block, The Crab, has decided to take a stab at a hip-hop night. Hosted every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday by Caldera Productions and featuring DJ RJ, the Crab has been an instant success.

When I arrived at around 1am, the bouncers were turning people away because the venue was so packed. By 1:30, people were lined up in the street, turning Elliewood Avenue into a certified block party.

The sounds of Nelly, NORE, and Biggie poured from the turntables, and RJ controlled the flow of the party with professional precision. The vibe was pure and tension-free. Let's all cross our fingers and hope the knuckleheads don't ruin this one.