Get Out! events, shows, things to do
Ashley McMillen: Our own coal miner's daughter
Two years ago, Ashley McMillen showed up at The Local in Belmont for its Monday open mic night with a bunch of original songs. Until then, she'd never performed them publicly. What happened would change her life and launch her into a Charlottesville-based country music career.
McMillen's story begins with such a made-for-Hollywood narrative that it even makes her laugh. Born in Morgantown, West Virginia, and the daughter of a coal miner (she remembers her daddy coming home covered in coal dust, and him letting her put stickers on his miner's cap), she first sang in church and later trained as a classic violinist. But she also "messed around" with the guitar.
And the song writing? Well, McMillen admits that her first lyrics came out of what she describes as a "relationship from hell" with someone who lured her from her hometown to New Jersey.
"Writing those songs was the only thing that kept me sane," she says.
Mining her past allowed McMillen to tap into a rich vein of creativity. Her single "Now I Know," about her relationship with her father, is one of her most popular songs. It's a melodic tune about discovering the love and sacrifices of a father whose love might not have been so clear when he was coming home dog-tired after a day in the mines. Forgiving, soulful, clear-headed, and wise; these are the words that come to mind as you listen to McMillen sing.
Before leaving Jersey, she entered graduate school at Rutgers for a
degree in social work, and later headed south by transferring to VCU. But she lost interest in her studies, decided to take a year off, and moved in with her sister in Charlottesville. She got a gig as a lead singer for a local country cover band, and caught the ear of local musician Michael Clem, who suggested she perform at The Local.
"That first night I went to The Local, I thought, 'I'm totally supposed to be here right now,'" says McMillen.
Others felt the same way.
"When I first heard her," says Rusty Speidel, guitarist extraordinaire and founding member of the acoustic rock act SGGL,"I knew I wanted to be involved. Her songs are great, and it's easy to make them sound good."
Speidel wasn't kidding. In addition to playing guitar in her band, rounded out by musicians Bahlmann Abbot, Stuart Gunter, and Johnathan Chance, Speidel has helped McMillen produce several singles and an EP, and has served as a music business mentor and, he says, a sort of father figure.
"I'm a voice of calm for a very driven person," he muses.
Indeed, while some artists might quietly toil away hoping to be discovered, McMillen isn't afraid to put herself out there. Once she drove all the way to Nashville with $30 in her pocket just to hand a famous producer giving a seminar one of her CDs. She's also become somewhat of a radio personality, with a regular spot on HitKicker 99.7 called "Stump Ashley."
"Listeners select any country song they know, and I try to
sing it," McMillen laughs. "Most of the time I lose."
But her presence on the radio has broadened her audience. In fact, while she has toyed with the idea of leaving Charlottesville for a more country music friendly locale, she's finding all the artistic support she needs right here. And she's quick to praise the local music scene.
"I knew nothing at first," she says," I didn't even know that Dave Matthews was from here, even though I grew up a fan. But honestly, I've never been to a better open mic night than the one at The Local. It's just a room full of talented people, one after another."
Like many before her, McMillen has also been seduced by the mysterious pull that this town has on people. Indeed, she shares a tongue-in-cheek personal theory that the magnetism may actually have something to do with geology.
"I hiked at Humpback Rock when I first came here. It was so beautiful, and it's one of the oldest rock formations in the world," she says. "Maybe that has something to do with it."
Whatever the reason, McMillen isn't going anywhere soon.
"I wasn't living my life the way I wanted to," she says of her recent past. "But I've been given a second chance to live life on my terms."
Luckily for us, those terms have her sticking around town.
McMillen and her band play at the Southern on March 1 at 8pm. $8-$10
God's Ear opens
When playwright Jenny Schwartz's play God's Ear opened off-Broadway in New York in 2008, critics described it as "arrestingly odd" and one that would "fascinate many, even as it exasperates others." Basically, it's about people dealing with personal tragedy in a hallucinatory narrative filled with fractured language. "In a very modern way [Schwartz] makes a rather old-fashioned case for the power of the written word," wrote New York Times critic Jason Zinoman.
February 21-March 2, UVA's Helms Theater, 8pm, $8-$14
Okay, so, it's not the real red carpet, but hey, we're glamorous people and we sure do have a glamorous theater on the Downtown Mall, so put your glam on! Dress up in your favorite gown or that old tux and come on down to see the 85th Academy Awards on Virginia's largest high-definition screen. You'll be helping to support the Virginia Film Festival's Community Outreach & Education Program, plus there will actual paparazzi, food from Glass Haus Kitchen, local beers and wines, raffle prizes, a silent auction, and for you VIPers, a swag bag and access to fun and games way up in the theater's balcony.
February 24, Paramount Theater, 7pm-midnight, $45-$100
Gardening: The Piedmont Landscape Association is hosting its annual seminar. The Paramount Theater. 7:45am. $75
Theater: American Shakespeare Center presents Julius Caesar. Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton. 7:30pm. $24-$35
Reading: Big Blue Door Storytelling Jam. The Bridge. 8pm. $5
Reading: Just Lyricz Open Mic and Poetry Jam. Newcomb Hall Ballroom. 7pm. Free.
Art: Layers by Kiki Slaughter. Les Yeux du Monde. 1pm. $15
Reading: Alden Bigelow will present his new book, Killing Time in a Small Southern Town. New Dominion Book Shop. 5:30pm. Free.
Art: Final Fridays hosted by The Fralin Art Museum. Arts grounds and around. All Day. Free.
History: Ash-Lawn Highland Celebrates Black History Month. Ash Lawn-Highland. 4pm. Free.
Film: PVCC Free Movie Friday showing The Master. Main Stage Theater, V. Earl Dickinson Building. 7:30pm. Free.
Theater: Miller School of Albemarle presents West Side Story. Miller School. 7pm. $8
Art: Bernadette Haus Art. Fluvanna County Public Library. 9am. Free.
Comedy: Paula Poundstone, star of NPR’s “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me.” The Paramount Theater. 8pm. $29.50
Reading: The Big Read Kickoff provides citizens with the opportunity to read and discuss a single book with their community. Free Speech Monument on the Downtown Mall. 2pm. Free.
Food: Barefoot Bucha Tasting. Rebecca’s Natural Foods. 1pm. Free.
Art: "We Bury Our Own," works by Christian Thompson. Kluge Ruhe Aboriginal Art Museum. Open hours. Free.
Kids: Kidvention! Science Festival. Key Recreation Center. 10am. Free.
Culture: Lunar New Year Festival. Sears Court at Fashion Square Mall. 1pm. Free.
Reading: Bruce Wetterau presents his book, Treasure. Bookworks in Staunton. 3pm. Free.
Sports: UVA Men’s Basketball vs. Georgia Tech. JPJ Arena. 2pm. $19-$36
Film: Oscar Experience Charlottesville. The Paramount Theater. 7pm. $45-$100
History: Annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemoration. Alumni Hall. 7pm. Free.
Sports: Derby Dames Fresh Meat Open Recruitment. Key Recreation Center. 6pm. $5
Sports: UVA Women’s Basketball vs. Wake Forest. JPJ Arena. 7pm. $6-$15
Comedy: Improv Mondays. The Hamner Theater in Afton. 6pm. Free.
Reading: Poetry Writing Contest. Milli Joe Coffee and Gelato. 6:30pm. Free
Reading: JMRL Book Club. Louisa County Library. 7pm. Free.
Theater: Mystery Dinner Theater. Devils Backbone. 6:30pm. Reservations required.
Reading: Regional Author Series at JMRL. Central Branch of JMRL. 7pm. Free.
Reading: Proal Heartwell presents his book, Goronwy and Me: A Narrative of Two Lives. Central Branch of JMRL. 7pm. Free.
Sam Bush and Del McCoury at The Jefferson. $37-$40
Jamie Dyer and Cathy Monnes, Dan Sebring at Blue Moon Diner.
Ever Ending Kicks, Cole Sullivan, Hi Noon at Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar. $5
Sonshine Rivers at Wild Wolf Brewing.
Third Thursday Music Series at Trump Winery.
Kristen Bowden at Fellini’s #9.
Red Light Rodeo at Whiskey Jar.
Mary Chapin Carpenter and Shawn Colvin at The Paramount. $39-$69
Weird Mob, Invisible Hand, Naked Gods at The Southern. $8
The Sally Rose Band at Blue Moon Diner.
Bootsie Daniels at Wild Wolf.
Bryan Elijah Smith at Devils Backbone.
Adrian Duke at Fellini’s #9. $5
Judy Chops at Whiskey Jar.
David Tewks with Matt McAllister at C’ville Coffee
The Legwarmers at The Jefferson. $16-$18
Mike Gangloff, Horsefang at Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar. $7
The Bloody Angle, The Kill Circuit, Heavy Burner at The Southern. $7
Melissa Hanson at Wild Wolf.
Mercy Creek at Devils Backbone.
Robert Jospe at Fellini’s #9. $5
Ragged Mountain String Band at Whiskey Jar.
Double Faces, X Band, DJ B-Easy at Main Street Annex. $10
Jazz Night at The Southern. $15
Hogwaller Ramblers at Fellini’s #9.
Dane Alderson and Friends, DJ Williams at Rapture/R2
Sabra’s Honky Tonk at Blue Moon Diner.
Ashley McMillen at Wild Wolf.
Jazz Collective #9 at Fellini’s #9.
Erik the Red at Whiskey Jar.
Jim Waive at Blue Moon Diner.
Tuesday Evening Concert Series at Old Cabell Hall.
Travis Elliot at Fellini’s #9.
Ragged Mountain String Band at Whiskey Jar.New Immunity at Boylan Heights
Benjamin Francis Leftwich, Michael Coleman at The Southern. $10-$12
Blake Hunter (of Trees on Fire) at South Street Brewery.
The Sweater Set at Blue Moon Diner.
Steve Michael Smith at Wild Wolf.
Danny Barrale at Fellini’s #9.
Olivarez Trio at Whiskey Jar.
Venues: Wild Wolf Brewing Company (434-361-0088), The Southern (434-977-5590), Devils Backbone Brewing Company (434-361-1001), The Blue Moon Diner (434-980-6666), The Whiskey Jar (434-202-1549), The Edge at Wintergreen Resort (434-325-8080), Rapture/R2 (434-293-9526), Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar (434-293-9947), Fellini's #9 (434-979-4279), Miller's (434-971-8511), Old Cabell Hall (434-924-3376), Main Street Annex (434-817-2400), Plank Road Exchange (434-823-2001), Random Row Books (434-295-2493), The Jefferson (434-245-4980), Tavern on the James (434-286-3500)
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