Of Paramount importance: JPJ's manager takes over theater

Larry Wilson came to Charlottesville in 2006 to manage John Paul Jones Arena.

While the Paramount Theater has had no trouble attracting notable national talent to its stage since its re-opening in 2005, the Paramount board has had a hard time attracting a permanent executive director. Following a tenure that brought crooner Tony Bennett, violinist Itzahk Perlman, comedian Bill Cosby, and $16 million in funds to the theater, president and CEO Chad Hershner resigned abruptly and without explanation in October 2006.

Ten months later, a national search identified Edward Rucker, a Charlottesville resident since 1988 and president and CEO of the Richmond Forum– an ongoing speakers' series that charged rock-concert prices for Richmonders to hear visiting dignitaries. Rucker's tenure saw continued booking success for the venue, with shows from the likes of Dionne Warwick, Judy Collins, and Peter Frampton. And yet, in May 2008, the Paramount once again had to announce a mysterious resignation by their top man, stating in a press release that Rucker had left "to pursue other opportunities," though at the time Rucker could not say specifically what that next opportunity was.

Now, instead of conducting yet another national search for a director, the Paramount board has enlisted the aid of a local entertainment industry heavyweight. No, Coran Capshaw has not added the renovated movie house to his empire. The Paramount is looking to Larry Wilson, general manager of the John Paul Jones Arena, and his company, SMG Facility Management, to take over.

"I'm doing pretty much everything," says Wilson. "We're under an exploratory, 90-day consulting agreement. Then if that goes well, we'll work with the board of directors to reach a more permanent agreement."

That means Wilson is presently doing double duty as JPJ's GM and as the Paramount's acting GM. According to Paramount spokesperson Kristin Gleason, the Paramount gig is no afterthought for Wilson.
"He's typically here few days every week," she says. "He's really tailored his services to fit the venue."

"It's been great," says Wilson. "Working with the board has been fantastic, and hopefully we'll be able to reach an agreement soon. If that happens, SMG will appoint someone to be general manager, and that person would report to me."

Should that eventuality materialize, it would pit SMG's Paramount against Coran Capshaw's Charlottesville Pavilion in competition for the downtown concert dollar. Already, the two venues' scheduled shows have overlapping appeal. Are you a baby boomer who's still digging the sounds of the '60s? The Pavilion has Creedence Clearwater Revival's John Fogerty, but the Parmount has the Band's Levon Helm.

More into classic southern blues and R&B? The Pavilion has a show with Memphis guitar hero B.B. King, but the Paramount just announced New Orleans piano man Allen Toussaint. Rhinestone-studded country more your style? The Pavilion booked Kenny "The Gambler" Rogers, but the Paramount has a double bill with twangy-spangly Travis Tritt and Marty Stuart.

Given the high ticket prices at both venues, and the declining economy driving consumer costs skyward, it may be that Charlottesville concert-goers choose one or the other and not both– (if either!).
Pavilion GM Kirby Hutto remains unfazed in describing his venue's relationship with the Paramount.

"I don't think it means anything for the Pavilion," he says. "The two venues are so radically different in terms of the type of experience you're going to have. The Paramount's not big enough to be going after the same artists, but I think the new shows may show that SMG has a pretty good handle on the market."

Moreover, Hutto says he's confident that local music fans won't have to pick and choose which shows to attend. However, if the Pavilion loses some business to the Paramount, Hutto has his sights set on a much larger geographic scale.

"We're drawing a lot of people from outside Charlottesville," he says. "People are coming from over in the Valley and the outer reaches of Northern Virginia like Gainesville and Warrenton. People come down from there all the time; they say it's easier to come to the Pavilion than to go to Wolf Trap or Meriwether Post Pavilion because they don't have to fight the traffic."

Then there's Capshaw's and Hutto's plans for the downtown Jefferson Theater, which Capshaw purchased from Hook editor Hawes Spencer in 2006 with the goal of converting it into a concert venue.

"We plan to have it open in about 14 months," says Hutto. "That will hit a different niche than the Pavilion or the Paramount– more of a smaller rock 'n roll type theater that's not quite as formal as the Paramount
and appealing to a younger demographic than either the Paramount or the Pavilion."

According to Chuck Taylor, programming director of WTJU and longtime veteran Charlottesville music wag, regardless of how the competition between the Paramount and the Pavilion goes, the bigger problem is the flagging economy affecting both venues.

"In this current situation, when everyone's watching their dimes, people just don't go out as much," Taylor says. "I would hate to be running a venue right now. It's pretty scary in this market."

Ultimately, Taylor thinks that means that both the Paramount and the Pavilion will book increasingly older acts to appeal to people with the money to spend on tickets.

"There's a growing retiree population in Charlottesville," he says, "and you'll continue to see both venues skew to that."

It could take a few years to determine how the gig grab goes, particularly since SMG has yet to book an entire season of shows at the Paramount. But at this point Hutto says the Paramount's new management doesn't scare him.

"I'm more concerned with gas prices," says Hutto, "than I am with what's on the Pavilion's calendar."



Chuck Taylor is a music "wag"? Not to get all grammar-obnoxious, but wag denotes something of a jokester. You all are using is as synonymous with observer.
Regardless, the Jefferson cannot open soon enough!

Paramount snagging big touring acts is no great mystery. You pay, they show up, right? Whether Paramount is in the black is another question.

The Paramount is a non profit---unlike the Pavilion. I read that the Paramount did this so that they can have SMG focus on acts and then have other people focus on the theater's role as community theater, with education, etc.

I say more power to the Paramount.

Oh, and I have to laugh--is it just me, or isn't it obvious that both Hershner and Rucker were canned? I heard they were both total morons in terms of running a business.

I don't know if you were replying to me in saying "non-profit", but I imagine they still want to be in the black in whatever sense the board & donors see it. Capshaw's people have always said that Paramount was overpaying for acts, but I take that with a great grain of salt. My own mini-sorrow is how well Paramount can do with its canned, big name productions. If Live Arts could charge $75 a ticket for its high quality shows, it would never need another fundraiser &/or could pay actors a very good rate! But as in the rest of our economy, people go for the brand names. I'll never get over how many people went to CHS/MLK to hear David Sedaris tell pee-poop jokes. And waited in line an hour to have their books signed! I mean, he's funny, but not 9000% funnier than the next comic, or say, Stevie Jay. Same thing goes for retail (outside the Downtown Mall, *all* retail has become chain stores, within a vanishing margin of error). So the Paramount's model can work, but occasionally they step over the line of what the board wants and then someone must be fired. Scheduling Pirates of Penzance against our own local company's production (New Lyric Theater) the same week, for example. Look at the timing of the first firing vs. that show (October 2006).

Larry's a class act and I'm glad to see him involved.

The Paramount has booked some great acts and its a great place,unlike the Great White Eysesore.
However, I think venues like it and JPJ should book some music acts appealing to younger people.Its all very well to try and appeal to those of us from the Woodstock era, but today's youth will be the customers of the future.
Now I came along with the rock and folk acts of the 6os and 70s, but that does not mean I don't like some of the newer performers. Lets have Avril Lavigne, Green Day, Coldplay,Aly and AJ, and if she ever gets her life on track again, Britney Spears. And will some venue PLEASE book Melissa Etheridge! Charlottesville would be just the place for her.
Those I mentioned are only a few of the newer acts I am sure our young people would like to see, I just mentioned some I liked or was familiar with. (Not a Justin Timberlake fan, btw-the night he played here I was taking in Holly Near at Gravity Lounge). But I have Britney and Avril on my CD rack along with Joan Baez and Judy Collins-which amazes some people. But then I also like the Monkees,whom it was fashionable years ago for "hip" types to sneer at.

I agree. I'd love to see Britney team up with someone like Melissa Etheridge. Maybe the Indigo Girls! Yes!

Come on, SpaceCat! Let's get serious here.

A quick reminder:

Non sequitur comments don't have to be dirty to get deleted.

Thanks for reading,
Lindsay Barnes

So all these venues and what do we get? More mellow rock, more country, more crooners. ***sigh*** Wheres the real rock? The metal? The Punk? 80's hair metal is retro popular now so how about a little Twisted Sister or Poison or Alice Cooper in C'ville? If innsbrook can get them we should be able to.

Good Charlottes touring, as is Papa Roach, Billy Idol is playing Va beach and Joan Jett has played a couple virginia venues this year. Maybe the economy is suffering but I have the money to go to shows, it would be nice to see them in my own town but if that money has to go towards gas instead of into our local economy so be it.

How about Elton John, truly a titan of entertainment? Was glad to see the Pavilion get Rufus Wainwright, and I have already mentioned how we should get Melissa Etheridge. We've had the Indigo Girls a couple times to good crowds( I was front-row at the Paramount for their last show here). And Janis Ian, Holly Near,Tret Fure, and others at Gravity Lounge.
The gay and lesbian community should not be overlooked when it comes to acts to be brought to town.

"Rucker's tenure saw continued booking success for the venue, with shows from the likes of Dionne Warwick, Judy Collins, and Peter Frampton." -HA!

someone else there internally is booking the shows.

Uh yeah. A little Good Charlotte and Papa Roach certainly would improve the quality of acts coming through town. The Paramount can be the perfect venue for particular artists (solo Steve Earle, Jeff Tweedy) and can allow Satellite/Jefferson Theater size acts the chance to vary up their setlists (last Nov's R.E. Keen performance). Now if only we could have a beer in there. The Jefferson will fill an empty void however it seems they're locking themselves into opera for much of the summer.