CULTURE- Year in Review- There's just so much time for it all...
The year in music
Our big venues continued to bring in names so big they have other names like the Boss, the Red-Headed Stranger, and Captain Fantastic. Yet the news was mixed when it came to our smaller clubs. Satellite Ballroom closed its doors after a brief, but rockin' three-year run, but the old Starr Hill Music Hall is now Is, and Gravity Lounge continues to bring in prominent up-and-comers. But no news hit harder than the death of one of Charlottesville's favorite musical native sons.
After 34 years, Springsteen returns to Charlottesville
On November 11, 1974, Gerald Ford was in the White House, moviegoers were lining up to see the disaster blockbuster Airport 1975, and the world had yet to hear of a scrawny 25-year-old New Jersey songwriter named Bruce Springsteen when he played Memorial Gym. Thirty-four years later, John Paul Jones Arena was a big step up as Springsteen and his E Street Band played a sold-out show on April 30. The band was still grieving the death of longtime keyboardist Danny Federici, but the Boss and company gave the crowd an energetic two-and-a-half hour set.
Jay-Z lifts the de facto hip-hop ban
Following two high-profile instances of gun violence following hip-hop shows, rappers and DJs could hardly get a gig in Charlottesville in 2008. That changed when the world's best-selling MC Jay-Z booked an October 26 gig at John Paul Jones Arena, supported by the man behind the year's #1 hit single, T.I. With a nine-piece band and the biggest screen seen this town has seen since the Rolling Stones, Jay-Z thrilled the 13,000 in attendance, and fans returned the favor when they followed the performer's plea to "please get home safely."
Satellite Ballroom closes
The economic downturn had its casualties in the local music scene. Most prominent among them was Corner venue Satellite Ballroom, which closed after a three-year run. Ultimately, though, its owners came out ahead when CVS Pharmacy came to them with an offer they couldn't refuse, and conventional wisdom holds that promoter Danny Shea will retain his indie sensibilities when he begins to book shows at the refurbished Jefferson Theater, scheduled to reopen in the fall of 2009.
Starr Hill becomes Is
With the demise of one local venue came the revival of another. In September, the old Starr Hill Music Hall re-opened under new management as "Is," complete with a tapas restaurant where the restaurant used to be called "Si." They've already started booking Charlottesville-based bands to the new/old venue, but we'll see whether the new place survives in 2009 given that these aren't the best economic conditions in which to open a new club– not to mention the fact that it's impossible to Google.
Pavilion continues to sell out
A mounting financial crisis didn't keep fans away from the Charlottesville Pavilion. Boomers turned out in droves to the Downtown amphitheater to see sold-out shows from Willie Nelson and Crosby Stills Nash, and the kids packed the place for Feist, My Morning Jacket, and Modest Mouse. It remains to be seen whether the trend will continue in 2009 with concert tickets increasingly becoming a luxury for belt-tightening music fans, but for now, summer in the City of Charlottesville means tunes of all kinds at the Pavilion.
Gravity Lounge catches increasingly big fish
One venue that appears to be feasting amid the famine is Gravity Lounge, as they continue to book bands of increasingly higher celebrity caliber. In addition to a return by Rock 'n Roll Hall of Famer Tommy Ramone in Uncle Monk, they landed gigs from English singer-songwriter Teddy Thompson, husband-and-wife indie darlings Mates of State, and roots rocker Bonnie "Prince" Billy. Until the Jefferson Theater re-opens, it looks like Gravity Lounge will continue to be the go-to venue for national up-and-comers.
Van Halen derailed on eve of JPJ show
For the first time in its brief history, the John Paul Jones Arena had to schedule three different dates for the same show. On February 22, fans of '80s rock gods Van Halen were pumped up to see the re-united original lineup (minus bassist Michael Anthony). Then came word just hours before showtime that the gig was cancelled. Then, with rumors of fissure among the infamously contentious members swirling, the rescheduled date of March 11 was cancelled due to guitarist Eddie Van Halen "undergoing a battery of comprehensive medical tests" according to a spokesperson. Then, finally, Eddie, Alex, Wolfgang, and Diamond Dave took the JPJ stage on May 2, a mere two-and-a-half months late.
Sons of Bill become clients of Coran
They're the most famous S.O.B.s in this town, and if Coran Capshaw has his way, they'll soon be even bigger than that. After appearing prominently in our "Under the Radar and Dreaming" issue in 2007, local country-rock outfit Sons Of Bill got a big boost for their young career when the Capshaw signed the quintet in March to his Red Light Management company. They join local pop sensation Sparky's Flaw and some guy named Dave who has a band as the only Charlottesville-based acts under Capshaw's management.
ATO signs a Beatle
Capshaw saved the biggest news for last, however. In November, his ATO Records released the latest CD from an outfit called The Fireman. If that name doesn't ring a bell, then maybe you know The Fireman by his real name: Sir Paul McCartney. That's right, with the release of Electric Arguments in November, Charlottesville is now doing business with a Beatle. No word yet whether McCartney will be putting out albums under his real name on ATO, but the odds are good, considering that his previous label, the Starbucks-created Hear Music, folded this year.
LeRoi Moore: 1961-2008
However, with the sweet came the bitter for Capshaw and Dave Matthews Band. In August, saxophonist and founding member LeRoi Moore passed away from complications due to an all-terrain vehicle accident that occurred on his farm outside Charlottesville in June. He was 46 years old. Roughly 1,000 family members, friends, and fans filled First Baptist Church Park Street for his funeral on August 27. In an emotional eulogy, Matthews eulogized his friend as a "a good soul, but he was a tortured soul," and that Moore's greatest legacy was "the most astonishingly honest music that could knock you over, and it would sink right to the middle of you."
The year in art
The year of the Rat was like a round of Rock 'em Sock ‘em Robots that left the ‘ville's art world reeling. (And a few major players ended up crying, "Hey, you knocked my block off!")
At the tail end of 2007, Jill Hartz, longtime director of the University of Virginia Art Museum, was unceremoniously handed her walking papers. And in May, Second Street Gallery showed widely admired director Leah Stoddard the door. As triple ‘Hoo Elizabeth Turner (if you don't know, don't ask) stepped in as interim director at the UVA Art Museum, Rebecca Schoenthal took over the arty reins at SSG.
As went Jill Hartz, so went the Museum's innovative New Media Gallery, which had made my top-five art list for 2007. Out with the new, and in with the– well, we don't quite know yet.
In May, the UVA Art Museum censored the sculptural exhibition, "Sedentary Pleasures: Uncommon Stools," by proctologist and UVA alumnus Dr. Irwin Berman, by refusing to display the commissioned work "The Great Seal of Virginia," which featured a stool piled with orange and blue dog turds. (Les Yeux du Monde scooped up the poop.)
One of the few bright flashes of 2008 was the June return of "Look 3: Festival of the Photograph." National Geographic photographer Nick Nichols helmed another "three days of peace, love, and photography," this year bringing to town Mary Ellen Mark, Joel Peter Witkin, and James Nachtwey for on-stage interviews and stellar exhibitions. While Mark assured several local high school couples lasting fame as subjects of her prom portraits, Nachtwey left a lasting impression with his powerful images and inspiring commitment to illuminate pain in the world– in hopes of ending it.
Finally working in positive space, UVA's studio art department moved into its new über-industrial digs, Ruffin Hall, in August. The price tag for the state-of-the art workspaces, offices, and hip Herman Miller furniture? A cool $26 million. (And the building still leaked!) Meanwhile, the Architecture School unveiled two new additions designed by faculty members William Sherman and W.G. Clark.
In something of a July French Revolution, the wee tot wares of Petit Bebe took over what had been the downtown domain of Les Yeux du Monde, which eventually established a temporary location on West Main. As 2008 ends, owner Lyn Warren will close the gallery, although LYdM will live on through arty events, Warren says. Also shuttering their shops: Sage Moon and Migration: A Gallery.
Not K.O.'d, Piedmont Council of the Arts moved into the McGuffey Art Center, and the Charlottesville Community Design Center re-established itself under the Market Street Parking Garage— not to be confused with The Garage, a brave new art space that opened in, yes, a garage on North First Street.
The year for kids
Yes We Can!
Virginia Discovery Museum's Peppy Linden won't take no for an answer. When the Smithsonian balked at bringing the traveling exhibit "New Harmonies: Celebrating American Roots Music" to a children's museum, VDM's executive director persevered, convincing the colossus that things are different in Charlottesville. Adding their own hands-on features for wee ones and 17 live performances by both local and legendary artists, the Little Museum that Could gave music lovers young and not so young a great chance to get to know their roots.
The folks at Jefferson-Madison Regional Libraries know that to hook kids on books, you gotta get ‘em in the door. And, boy, do they have the lures! With support from the Friends of the Library, JMRL's eight branches offer tons of fun year 'round for tots to teens, including programs such as Game Night, the "Knitwits" intergenerational knitting group, the Anime Club, Wonderful Wednesdays after school programs, crafts classes, nature programs, writing workshops, children's performers– oh, and books, too.
It's hard to believe it's been 20 years since Francis Furlong and Stephen Riesman set up a stage in an old book factory and started performing puppet shows with handmade marionettes from the Czech Republic. The Old Michie Theatre was brought to life along with those puppets and is still going strong in its current location on Water Street with theater classes for young players, live performances, and perennially popular puppet plays, such as "The Elves and the Shoemaker," that help us mark the holiday season.
Come and Play
Among the more than 300 presenters at the 14th annual Virginia Festival of the Book is Sesame Street's "Maria" (a.k.a. Sonia Manzano) who thrilled young fans as she talked about life on Sesame Street, shared her books (No Dogs Allowed and A Box Full of Kittens), and posed for pictures with adoring admirers. The Festival also featured dozens of events for children and their families, including their annual day-long Storyfest events.
The Science Museum of Virginia took visitors on a trip around the world without leaving the state. With popcorn in hand, armchair adventurers met nomads in Tibet, canoed along the Amazon, explored the Namib Desert with migrating dunes a thousand feet tall, took a spin with dog sledders in Greenland, and discovered what life is like for lions, hippos, elephants, giraffes and cape buffalo in the Okavango Delta in Botswana– all in the larger-than-life luxury of the IMAX theater.
The year on stage
The old stand-bys– Live Arts, the University of Virginia Drama Department, Ash Lawn Opera, and the American Shakespeare Center folks in Staunton– continued to offer high-quality productions through the year, but it was the music and political ends of the spectrum that produced the biggest performance coups of 2008.
The porno trial
While Bruce Springsteen floated everybody's boat when he took the John Paul Jones arena by storm April 30, and while maestro Jay-Z thrilled hip-hop fans, Staunton Commonwealth's Attorney Ray Robertson put on a different kind of show in a Staunton courtroom in mid-August, with a supporting cast of Rick Krail and Tinsley Embrey, on trial for misdemeanor obscenity charges. For three and a half hours, the jury was treated to performances of a kind not usually seen in these parts, as they viewed films called Sugar Britches and City Girls Extreme Gangbangs.
Paramount gets booked
This was the year that saw the Downtown's Paramount Theater in a deal with the management team that books the John Paul Jones Arena. And the Paramount enlivened the performance scene with Peking acrobats, the St. Petersburg ballet theater, Martin Short, and the Montana Repertory Theater's traveling production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (Maggie the Cat in a one-night stand).
Politics as unusual
Of course in an election year, the greatest performances are political, and 2008 was no exception: not only did eventual winner Barack Obama do a star turn at the Pavilion October 30, following a September 2007 visit to the Paramount by Hillary Clinton, but Dennis Kucinich stopped by the Albemarle County office building, and Ron Paul visited, if only in spirit, as a huge blimp touting his candidacy floated over the town before being slashed.
There's never a lack of things to do in Central Virginia, and 2008 was no exception.
Edwin Roa and Amberlyn Sasser run Zabor dance studios on 2nd St. SE behind Live Arts. They, together with the teachers at Terry Dean's Dance Studio on Seminole Trail, Shergold Studios on Rio Road, and the staff at the new Dance Oasis on Seminole Trail, make sure no Charlottesville dance maven is without a place to cut a rug almost any night of the week. With the local Swing Dance group that meets at the Greek Orthodox Church on McIntire Road, the international dancers at the Senior Center, and various specialized classes like belly dance and hip-hop, anyone who loves dancing had a wealth of possibilities in 2008.
People who prefer more strenuous movement than dancing had a world of choices in 2008 too. From the famous women's Four-Miler on Labor Day weekend to the annual 10-miler through the streets of Downtown to the hitting-its-stride Marathon, the Boar's Head Thanksgiving Turkey Trot, and various other specialized fun and fund-raising runs, foot soldiers could find a place to test their mettle almost any weekend of the year.
A recent addition to the foodie scene this year is the Charlottesville Cooking School, Martha Stafford's popular new kitchen in the Meadowbrook Shopping Center. Not only offering classes in cooking, but also free with advice and tips about buying and eating local, she joins other cooking devotees in the pursuit of all things culinary.
One look at its website reveals why the Outdoor Adventure Social Club is a gold mine for people with time on their hands and the desire to mingle. From hikes to "wallyball" to classes and even serious forays to destinations like Patagonia and the Grand Tetons (coming up in March and July 2009 respectively), the OASC is one way to see the world– or just the local area– and have fun doing it.
Whether circling the city on the Rivanna Trail or exploring nearby national parks with the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club every Saturday, nature-loving hikers had plenty to keep them busy– and keep their mind off the dismal election season, the war, and the economy– in 2008. People who'd rather talk about nature than actually trek through it had options with Sierra Club lectures and monthly Rivanna Conservation Society luncheon discussions.
The year in books
Virginia Festival of the Book
In 2008, the popular Virginia Festival of the Book brought sexy back with the inclusion of a Tantric sex workshop and a discussion with UVA sexpert Anita Clayton, who dished the goods with "Ready and Satisfied: Women, Motherhood and Intimacy in Later Life." Of course, the Festival also scored U.S. poet laureate Charles Simic, veteran newsman Roger Mudd, mystery writer Walter Mosely, and M*A*S*H guy Mike Farrell. Remarkably, the schedule included 365 authors and 155 events.
In November, New York University law professor Annette Gordon-Reed won the National Book Award for nonfiction for her groundbreaking study of Sally Hemings and three generations of her extended family, The Hemingses of Monticello. Among the more surprising revelations in this book, Gordon-Reed's second scholarly work on Thomas Jefferson, is that Hemings was actually the half-sister of Jefferson's wife, Martha.
Regrettably, Eugene Abram Foster, the scientist turned historian who single-handedly upended over a century of denial by scientifically linking the family trees of Thomas Jefferson and Hemings, didn't live to see Gordon-Reed's latest claim, as he died in July at the UVA Medical Center.
Gordon-Reed had just published her own Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy when Foster's work appeared November 1998 in the weekly scientific journal Nature. Combining historical accounts and DNA evidence, Foster concluded that at least some of Hemings' children must have been fathered by the third president, confirming 19th-century allegations while debunking Jefferson family protests to the contrary.
"It established that the story the Jefferson family consistently told for 150 years was not true," says Gordon-Reed, referring to a tale that Carr nephews had fathered Hemings' very Jefferson-looking children. "DNA testing," she says, "ruled out the Carrs."
That legal thriller writer guy
In addition to serving as judge for the Hook's fiction contest for the second year in a row, local author John Grisham also managed to release another book, The Appeal, his first legal thriller in three years, and win a libel suit filed against him by Potontoc County, Oklahoma, district attorney Bill Peterson for the way Grisham portrayed Peterson in his non-fiction best-seller, The Innocent Man.
"It's always nice when you win one," said Grisham. "This happens almost every year, but usually it's someone who has written either a book or an unpublished manuscript that's somewhat similar to something I wrote 10 years later. It's part of the price of doing business at this level."
So long, George
Beloved UVA professor and author George Garrett passed away on May 25 after an 18-month battle with bladder cancer at the age of 78. Despite having a resume that included 11 novels, eight short story collections, eight books of poetry, as well as plays, essays, screenplays, biographies, numerous awards, and an appointment as Virginia's poet laureate, Garrett was known for his generosity and lack of pretension.
As UVA president John Casteen remarked at a memorial service for Garrett, "He took his work seriously but never took himself seriously."
However, Garrett's good friend and fellow writer R.H. Dillard summed it up best when he spoke of Garrett's loyalty. "When George took your hand in friendship," said Dillard, "he did not let go."
My name is ‘Dr.' Earl
The indefatigable creator of The Waltons television series added another feather to his cap. Make that cap and gown. Schuyler native Earl Hamner was presented an honorary doctorate by his alma mater, the University of Cincinnati, at its June 14 commencement, where he was the speaker.
"You know, my head has swollen to the size of a watermelon, and I go around insisting people call me ‘doctor,'" joshes Hamner in a phone call from Studio City, CA, where he still goes to his office every day. Every day? "I'm 85, and I can't stop," he says.
So long, Wallace
The literary world was rocked when writer David Foster Wallace fell victim to his demons this year and hanged himself at his home in Claremont, California in September at the age of 46.
Wallace was regarded as a somewhat wild comic genius, particularly for his novel, Infinite Jest, which ran over a thousand pages and used highly unconventional narrative techniques. New York Times writer Frank Bruni called Wallace the Jim Carey of the literary world, and appropriately enough, "a creator so maniacally energetic and amused with himself that he often follows his riffs out into the stratosphere, where he orbits all alone."
In March, author Alan Pell Crawford released his new book, Twilight at Monticello: The Final Years of Thomas Jefferson, a stunning revision of the popular modern image of Jefferson's retirement, which shows the Sage of Monticello shattered by incapacitating disease, financial ruin, and domestic violence that literally brought him to his knees. The book was the subject of a Hook cover story this year by writer Rick Britton, entitled "Unhappy grandpa: The rough retirement of Thomas Jefferson."
In September, the WriterHouse opened at 508 Dale Avenue. Founded by a group of writers seeking to create a community and support system of writers, WriterHouse offers workshops, writing classes, and space to writers for writing. Find out more at writerhouse.org