Prism closes, blames Hook
Tonight's Jay Unger and Molly Mason show at the Prism Coffeehouse will be the last hurrah for the historic music hall, according to a lengthy unsigned open letter briefly posted on the Prism's website on April 21. Although the news may come as a surprise to some, there was a clue that the end the smoke- and alcohol-free venue might be near.
Last week, the Hook reported that the Coffeehouse's planned move to Gordonsville might be in jeopardy, since the two-building parcel (that once housed O'Dell's restaurant) was back on the block as of Monday, April 17.
Although listing agent Stu Rifkin confirmed the $750,000-priced property had been relisted, he said the Prism was still working on a deal with the parcel's' owner.
Now, it seems the Gordonsville deal has fallen through, and the landlord of the Prism's Charlottesville spot, Westminster Church, said last week that the church had already lined up a new tenant. Those combined factors, it seems, delivered a fatal blow to the organization that celebrated its 40th anniversary this year.
Although the letter has now been significantly edited, certain passages stood out.
"After this concert the Prism will suspend its activities as a concert presenting organization indefinitely and concentrate upon organizing and editing the extensive archive of live concert recordings we have made here since 1992," says the unsigned letter, which goes on to thank "those of you who have truly appreciated and supported in any way you could the Prism over the years."
From there, however, the letter goes on to blast a litany of alleged rapscallions including "certain nonprofit radio announcers," Westminster Church, "certain members of the local music community," and perhaps most vociferously, the Hook, which reported the behind the scenes tension and controversy at the historic venue in an April 1, 2004 cover story and in several subsequent articles.
As revealed in those articles, multiple Prism volunteers and former board members objected to artistic director Fred Boyce's management style and accused him and his partner, Kenyon Hunter, of "hijacking" the Prism's board by eliminating open elections. Boyce's temper (supporters might call it his artistic passion)– displayed at one time on a six-minute, expletive-filled answering machine message to a former board member– led some longtime volunteers to leave the Prism.
Although neither Boyce nor Hunter returned the Hook's repeated calls for comment for any of the articles, the letter reveals their disdain.
"The Hook staff has absolutely no knowledge or understanding of this music, or of what the Prism is about, and have simply attempted repeatedly to create an impression of disharmony and controversy where none really exists...."
And as for why neither Boyce nor Hunter returned any of the Hook's calls, the letter offers a simple explanation: "There is no way for us to respond without having to sound defensive, when we have absolutely no reason to be."
In the end, the letter says, the Prism was done in by those who meant it harm:
"We will not be relocating to Gordonsville, as we had planned... it's apparently just not far enough away from Charlottesville for us."
Full text of letter
"This concert will mark the end of the Prism's 40th Anniversary Season and
the last time the Prism or Fred Boyce, artistic director, soundman, etc.
etc. since 1990, will produce a concert at 214 Rugby Rd. in Charlottesville.
After this concert the Prism will suspend its activities as a concert
presenting organization indefinitely and concentrate upon organizing and
editing the extensive archive of live concert recordings we have made here
since 1992. We hope to eventually make some of these recordings available to
For those of you who have truly appreciated and supported in any way you
could the Prism over the years, we say thank you.
To all those who have enjoyed for the past 16 years countless opportunities
to see some of the most memorable, best-sounding and unique concert
performances ever to take place in a room this size (for what are amazingly
low ticket prices, when you consider it), and who have not been obiged to
drive to Washington DC or other areas to find this music... and to all those
who have stayed at home and enjoyed our 12 years of free live radio
broadcasts, we say, "you're welcome."
And to those vociferous few who, for bizzare reasons of their own, have
worked overtime to undermine our efforts and cast false aspersions upon a
very fine and historic organization that has simply tried to do everything
possible to provide, in this commercially-driven age, a good, solid home for
all the misunderstood and under-appreciated types of music that comprise the
essential fabric which underlies practically all other forms, we say: "Get a
life." This particularly applies to certain nonprofit radio announcers who
have, for their own selfish reasons, gone to ridiculous lengths to avoid
mentioning concerts at a local nonprofit venue by artists whose music is a
staple of folk radio programs everywhere. Meanwhile, and in direct violation
of FCC regulations, they enthusiastically and heavily promote for-profit
Venues such as the Prism are hard to find, and for very good reasons: they
are hard to run, hard to maintain, hard to promote and hard on the people
who try. And there is virtually no money to be made doing this. Hence,
music, our highest art form, is most often relegated to inappropriate bars
and nightclubs filled with smoke, noise and alcohol. Places like the Prism
need to be supported or they will go away. We have been saying this for
years, and now it is happening.
We particularly take exception to and condemn the series of outrageous,
hurtful, unfounded and malicious articles that have appeared since April
1st, 2004 in The Hook, a local gossip-rag which has always managed to avoid
writing anything positive about all of the wonderful events that the Prism,
against all odds, has continued to provide to the area year after year. The
Hook cares little, and knows even less, about the musical heritage we have
strived to preserve, strengthen and protect. It is a shame that the Prism
has been forced to operate for so long under these conditions, when there
are so many communities around the nation that would love to have a venue
like this. We are mostly, however, shocked and dismayed by the stunning lack
of appreciation or gratitude from certain members of the local music
community whom we have served so well and often over the years, directly and
indirectly, and who have contributed so remarkably little to the Prism's
ongoing success and vitality. "Ask not what the music can do for you, but
what you can do for the music" is about all we can say.
The Hook staff has absolutely no knowledge or understanding of this music,
or of what the Prism is about, and have simply attempted repeatedly to
create an impression of disharmony and controversy where none really exists
by printing very misleading and pointlessly repetitive articles based mostly
on rumors and hearsay, with what little amount of factual information there
is being distorted beyond all credulity. There is no way for us to respond
without having to sound defensive, when we have absolutely no reason to be.
We have been at a loss to know how to handle this unbelievable, unjust and
surreal mess, other than to just keep doing what we do, which is what we
have been trying to do for over two years now.
Nonetheless, the truth is the truth, no matter how squashed, distorted,
denied or ignored it may be, and we have faith that it will eventually come
out. We can only hope and believe that, to most people, our work speaks for
itself, as it should. It is much more difficult to build up than to tear
down, and the people behind this ongoing smear campaign have done
inestimable harm, not only to the Prism and some very nice people who have
worked incredibly hard for its benefit, but to the music itself, which is a
tragic shame. Hopefully The Hook, and Westminster Presbyterian Church, which
is unbelievably out of touch with the wonderful thing that has been
happening just next door since 1990, will hear from those of you who truly
value and understand this music, and the importance of the few, fragile
venues around the country such as the Prism which support it full-time.
We will not be relocating to Gordonsville, as we had planned... it's
apparently just not far enough away from Charlottesville for us.
A fool hath no love of understanding - he is only interested in expressing
his own opinion. -Proverbs
Wrath is cruel, and anger outrageous, but who can stand before envy?
A journalist is someone who guesses her way to the truth and then dispels it
with a flurry of words.
You will know them by their fruits.
So long, Charlottesville!