ANNUAL MANUAL- Tough crowd: Small venues see hard times

This time last year, Starr Hill Music Hall had stopped being a linchpin of the Charlottesville live music scene and venue for a diverse array of touring artists (Kenny Chesney, Method Man, They Might Be Giants)– it had shut down. The Hook wondered in the 2007 Annual Manual who might fill the void left by the West Main club's closure, and 12 months later, not only does the void continue to gape, it's become a black hole, sucking up Charlottesville's only other club venue that consistently attracted national talent: the Satellite Ballroom.

Not that you would have known in April 2008 that the Satellite Ballroom was headed for a fall. In the wake of Starr Hill's closure, the promotional arm of that recently closed venue partnered with Satellite to begin booking shows, and with it earned the full force of Dave Matthews Band manager and music mogul Coran Capshaw's pull in the music industry. Soon, the Corner club was hosting such indie hotshots as singer-songwriter and Decemberists frontman Colin Meloy, neo-soul barnburners Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, and perennial hipster faves Yo La Tengo. 

And then, suddenly, the announcement came that the club– along with adjoining Plan 9 Records and the Just Curry restaurant– would become a CVS Pharmacy. 

Maybe it's the declining economy. Maybe big ticket acts like the Police, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, or Red Hot Chili Peppers playing the new John Paul Jones Arena have stretched fans' concert dollar too thin. Maybe CVS just made an offer that couldn't be refused. Whatever the case, Satellite Ballroom is no more, and no other local club has the capacity to book the big indies. 

Not that Charlottesville is completely missing out on rockers under 50. The Flaming Lips, Feist, Modest Mouse, Rufus Wainwright, and Neko Case have all played the Charlottesville Pavilion, not to mention Ryan Adams, Aimee Mann, and Jeff Tweedy on the Paramount Theater stage. But these venues lack the sweaty intimacy of Satellite analogs like Toad's Place in Richmond, the Norva in Norfolk, or the 9:30 Club in Washington. 

But fear not, rock snobs: there is light at the end of this tuneless tunnel. In 2006, Capshaw acquired the Jefferson Theater (from the editor of this publication) with the intent of reinventing the nearly century-old downtown movie house as an elegant hall with a club feel by ripping out the seats closest to the stage to create an open floor where concertgoers can twist and shout.

Still, it's been two years since the Jeff changed hands, and Capshaw and company say it won't be ready until fall of 2009 at the earliest. Perhaps, to borrow from the band that made Capshaw a multi-millionaire, to hope for Charlottesville to attract the country's up-and-comers anytime soon is just "Too Much."