Dr. Dog coming to Starr Hill

Philadelphia rock quintet Dr. Dog has announced that they will be coming to Starr Hill on May 11. Their evolving pop songbook, heavy with Beatles influences, will next be showcased on the album We All Belong, set to be released February 27.

Over the past few years, the band has opened for a slew of impressive names: The Magic Numbers, The Raconteurs, The Black Keys, The Cold War Kids, The Strokes, and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. This upcoming spring tour has them buddying up with Bobby Bare Jr., but it looks like they might do the Starr Hill show without him.

Tickets are $12 ($10 in advance), but you probably won't be able to get them until after Starr Hill actually confirms the band's announcement.

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This is an open letter I sent out to a gazillion bands on Myspace. If you have friends in bands or who are touring the East Coast, please pass along this letter to them. I am happy to dialogue with anyone about my points.

Charlottesville has been known for a while as a somewhat anomalous place to play. A small college town that doesn't have an art school is not going to be a place many adventurous and/or independant bands would usually play. But somehow, we became a stop. Much of this is because of the efforts of a small group of people: Darius Van Arman and Atsushi Miura at Tokyo Rose; Tom Klepak, Tom Hohman and Colin Matthews at the Pudhouse; Mattheus Frankovic and Jason Andrew at the Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar; Daniel Shea at the Satellite Ballroom; Vicki Long with the Tyrannosaurus Rocks organization. By the efforts of these people and many others, Charlottesville has become a stop on the underground and independant musical circuit.

We have seen a lot of truly amazing shows here, everything from Lightning Bolt and Mr. Quintron and things far stranger at the Pudhouse to a surprise visit by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings at the Tea House. Much of this was done on the cheap and supported by not much more than love. Artists get paid here not only in money but with a bond of sincere friendship. I personally have met several musicians through the scene here that I am proud to call my friends, not only because of their immense talent but also because they are good people. Of course, there have been some creeping assholes as well; I'm looking in your direction, Don Cab.

It is this fairly universal respect for art over commerce that characterizes both the scene in Charlottesville and nationwide. Popular music as we know it would be quite different if it weren't for ground-breaking places like Fort Thunder, the Dischord House, all the way back to the Iggy Pop's Fun House and beyond. All of these places just wanted to be left alone to do their thing, opting out of competition in favor of quiet, frequently self-satisfied, survival. "What we do is secret," as Darby Crash once sang. And that's fine.

Rarely, there will be places like Tokyo Rose (RIP) and the Satellite Ballroom. It is the latter that interests me at the moment. The Satellite is a larger venue, capable of holding 500 people. In this month alone, bands as diverse and exciting as Flin Flon, Chuck Brown (the father of DC's indigious Go-Go music) and Of Montreal will play or have played there. Next month, the schedule wings wildly from Portastatic to Wolf Eyes. Daniel Shea, booker of the Ballroom, is a man of taste and passion, and he's definitely not in this for the money. Which is the reason I write this. This is a plea for bands to consider where they play, and why they play there, and to honestly consider the ramifications of their choices.

Charlottesville is blessed, as I have said, with many places to play music. The vast majority of them belong to a local man, the manager of the Dave Matthews Band, named Coran Capshaw. My views on this gentleman are conflicted, to say the least. He is a good man at heart, this I feel; he gives a lot of money and effort back to the community of Charlottesville, and not inconsequentially, is an excellent tipper. He is clean and sober, not abusive to the people who work for him, and helped create the jam-band paradigm that, among other things, brought you Sonic Youth at Bonnaroo.

Coran Capshaw is the owner of two major venues, the Charlottesville Pavillion and Starr Hill. I am only tangentially interested in the Pavillion; it is a large outdoor venue that hosts very large concerts, and as such, is for the most part outside of the scop of anyone who might read this, although if you ARE a more prominent musician, I would hope that you would take some of the points I make to heart.

Starr Hill has historically been a place where jam-bands, more classically-oriented rock and roll and country bands have played. As befits Mr. Capshaw's (prodigious) musical history, he has a stable of bands that play there regularly, and the demographic of people that go to shows there is consistently older, more affluent, more mainstream. None of those are meant in the perjorative sense. Love of a Led Zeppelin tribute band is just as valid as love of the newest noise band to come down the pike, the sneering of hipsters notwithstanding.

Recently, however, Starr Hill has started trying to make inroads into the demographic that prefers the more independantly-minded bands that have played, in the past, at Satellite Ballroom. While I can't find fauly with that on the face of it, one has to wonder: why? The shows at the Ballroom tend to be smaller affairs, less popular bands. Certainly, they don't pull down the money that shows at Starr Hill do. Rumors have sprung up, which as rumors are may be true and may be not. There have been allegations of poaching of bands under contract at the Ballroom, that the staff under Coran Capshaw's captainship have found out who is playing at teh Ballroom and contacted those bands' management, offering more money to play their venue. Of interest to bands with booking agents is that frequently, rumor states that the booking agent is contacted, with strong-arm tactics inferring that unless one band plays Starr Hill, other bands on the booker's roster will be shut out of playing Charlottesville. These are rumors, but I have heard them from musicians and people who are placed to speak knowledgably.

LET IT BE SAID UNEQUIVOCABLY THAT THESE RUMORS ... AND THEY ARE RUMORS... WERE NOT PASSED ON TO ME BY ANYONE WORKING AT THE SATELLITE BALLROOM. They maintain an admirably high moral stance in all of this. If I personally booked the Ballroom, and found that these rumors were true, I would be moved to irrational acts. The staff at the Ballroom, despite any prodding I may have seen on the subject, remains mum. I salute them for this.

Now, a cliche is a cliche because it's frequently the way the world works, so here's one: I believe that where there's smoke, there's fire. So, touring bands, ask yourself where you wish to play? Look at both venues, and ask around. Surely you know someone in the area, or have colleagues that have played here. Ask them: how were you received? How were you treated? Did you feel pressure to play one place or another? How was the crowd? Do you feel that you made a friend at the venue, with someone in the crowd? Did it seem like they were there just to be there, or were they there because they wanted to hear your music?

Charlottesville has room for two excellent radio stations: WTJU and WNRN. WTJU is a college radio station, vehemently free-form, and their rock programming has both adventurous shows where you can hear Current 93 as well as current J-Pop. WNRN is a more mainstream alternative station, and very popular with the college students. It also hosts the of the better current rap and hip-hop shows I have heard outside of a major metropolis. Both do well, and WNRN has in fact expanded into the Richmond and Lynchburg markets. WTJU's success is less financial than aesthetic; alumni of the station include members of Pavement, the Happy Flowers, David Berman and writers such as Rolling Stone's Rob Sheffield and the Austin Statesman's Joe Gross. The point is that there is room for both. WNRN, although it could adopt an adversarial position towards WTJU, has chosen not to do so, wisely seeing that they don't need WTJU's fans; they are doing perfectly well with their own. WTJU, as far as I can tell, feels the same way. You'll never hear Nickelback on WTJU, and you won't be hearing the Dead C on WNRN, and this is as it should be.

It seems to me that the management of Starr Hill is taking an adversarial position towards Satellite Ballroom, figuring that there isn't room enough for the two of them. Economically, this doesn't make sense. Starr Hill is the tip of a far larger, vertically integrated musical empire; Satellite Ballroom is far smaller, far more modest. Aesthetically, it looms just as large in Charlottesville, but aesthetics, as any number of starving artists will tell you over warm PBRs, don't pay the bills. Starr Hill seems to want a monopoly on music in Charlottesville. Satellite just wants to make enough money to cover guarantees (which, it should be said, all reports confirm that they in fact do).

Please forgive me for rambling, but I leave you with one final question: if, by playing at a venue, you could help the musical culture of a town, would you do so? I argue that ignoring any pressure you may be feeling to play a venue using strong-arm tactics and playing where you want to play will not only help you rest easier at night, but it will come back to you in the form of friendship and the perpetuation of a diverse musical dialogue in the little town that Thomas Jefferson continues to stalk to this day.