Opening Night: The Southern embraces DIY

music-southernNick Zammuto sets up the stage before he and cellist Paul de Jong inaugurate The Southern.

"Welcome to the maiden voyage of this venue," guitarist Nick Zammuto whispered into his microphone to a packed house Friday night before introducing the first song–- song being a relative term here–- that he and his cohort, cellist Paul de Jong performed. The two constitute the New York-based guitar and cello duo, The Books, whose ambitious music was appropriately booked for the opening night of the revamped Gravity Lounge space, now known as The Southern.

The Books belong to a growing population of multimedia artists, meshing their acoustic folk with "found sounds" from film or recording clips– "collage music," according to Zammuto. Beginning the evening with a new piece, a projector screened talking heads superimposed over clip-art images of the universe, a lake, a hand pouring a glass of juice. The heads urged the audience to "Let yourself out of prison," attempting to hypnotize viewers to start a "new beginning" with trippy colors and swirling images.

"I always loved the Gravity Lounge– the best shows I saw in Charlottesville were here," says UVA grad Zane Johnson, admitting to a four-year gap since he's been back in town. "Now maybe they'll bring in more acts like this," he added, raving about the ingenuity of The Books' work.

The unfinished Southern of September 25 had none of the iconic Gravity Lounge paraphernalia. The books, artwork, and clutter were gone–- leaving the performance space sparse, yet intimate.

While the ceilings were uncovered and the entire former kitchen, eating space, and newly constructed second bar was blocked off to attendees, the room was open and allowed attention to completely focus on the stage. Wires snaked across every inch of space on the stage, and both the openers Lymbyc Systym and The Books had to be their own roadies. Ultimately, however, the sound was crisp, and each word rang as if Zammuto was whispering in the listener's ear.

Fans perched on any available space– including the far sides of the stage, next to the speakers. Some ambitious, or lazy, kids sat on the floor directly in front of the stage, evoking those memories of elementary school story time. Despite the crowd– the room was filled to capacity, according to co-owner Lauren McRaven– the space remained relatively cool in comparison to venues like the Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar. And although there was no food or alcohol– only canned soda sold out of a mini fridge– attendees and artists alike were positive about the future.

"It has a lot of potential– it could really go some place," fan Sean Nelson said after the show.

Lymbyc Systym violinist Christopher Tignor agrees. "It was our first time playing in this space, but it was quick and painless," he said of the set-up. "The crowd was really awesome, and that's most of the battle."

With a second show scheduled for Saturday, October 3, co-owners McRaven and Andy Gems may have their work cut out for them. While the "do-it-yourself" mantra could be readily applied to both the empty, half-finished space and the multimedia mash-up of Friday's performance, the venue will need to live up to its potential and deliver some true southern hospitality to continue to attract crowd-pleasing performers.