CULTURE- The (Cultural) Year in Review

It was another roller-coaster year in musical venues as Gravity Lounge went kaput amid talk of $200,000 of unpaid rent. And then in late September, the IS Venue shut its doors just a day before the Gravity was reborn as The Southern.

Out in the countryside, the first annual Brew Ridge Trail Music Festival was held Saturday August 22 at Devil's Backbone Brewery in Nelson County. And the Crozet Music Festival roared back for a third straight year in early October.

A new recording studio called The Sound opened in August, and something much bigger happened in late November, when the Jefferson Theater reopened after a three-year, $5 million renovation.

And now for glimpse at who played in our town in 2009:

* Alejandro Escovedo: acclaimed Mexican folk singer-songwriter who narrowly avoided a brush with death in the early '00s. 1/26 at Gravity Lounge.

* Ravi Shankar: Indian sitar legend overwhelmingly responsible for the penetration of ragas in the West. 5/1 at the Paramount Theater.

* Steve Earle: moving and occasionally politically aggressive Texas Pete folk-rock. 6/6 at the Paramount Theater.

* Dexter Romweber: archetypal rockabilly swagger which influenced a generation of garage-rockers. 9/3 at IS Venue.

* The Taqwacores: multi-band Muslim punk-rock showcase which aims to tie together established religious ideals and youthful rebellious tendencies. 8/12 at the Bridge.

* Immortal Technique: Brainy and political hip hop from what just might be one of the most successful label-free independent rappers of all time. 9/20 at IS Venue.

* U2: One of Charlottesville's biggest stadium megaconcerts ever from one of the biggest bands in the world. 10/1 at Scott Stadium.

* Vivian Girls: Fuzzed-out all-girl indie-punk trio with an improbable death-grip on the the blogosphere's attention. 10/28 at the Outback Lodge.

* Thievery Corporation: Sprawling-ensemble reinventions of DC's finest electronica tunes. 10/29 at the Charlottesville Pavilion.

* Sons Of Bill and Jason Isbell: Hometown and outta-town country rockers baptize the long-awaited reopening of the downtown Mall's most promising new venue. 11/27 at the Jefferson Theater.

Other crowd-pleasing biggies during 2009 included the reunited Phish, now managed by Charlottesville-based Red Light Management. Plus: Ani DiFranco, George Jones, Joan Baez, Bruce Springsteen (for the second year in a row), Heart, Jackson Browne, Darius Rucker, David Byrne, Daughtry, the Neville Brothers, Ingrid Michaelson, Jimmy Buffett, and although the concert will be remembered for the tragic disappearance of Morgan Harrington, Metallica.


**The year in kid stuff

Speak out

The Virginia Discovery Museum hooked up with The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression to help wee ones and others explore the first amendment. This rotating exhibit, on display through January 9, 2010, offers the Museum's always outstanding hands-on exhibits that teach young Americans the history of free expression and let them play with the principles and challenges of our right to speak freely.


Ivy Creek Natural Area gets kids into the woods with monthly Toddler Time and bird walks, seasonal weed walks and tracking classes, guided school group hikes, photo contests and drawing from nature workshops, 4-H Junior Naturalist Clubs, even occasional star gazing parties with the Charlottesville Astronomical Society. This year, they've added even more programs for young children and families, and a series of day camps that get kids into the great outdoors when they're off from school. And it's all free!


**The year in art

After the earthquake of 2008, when art movers and shakers were shaken and numerous galleries crumbled, 2009 was a relatively calm, even upbeat year for art in the ‘ville. 

A new face and a facelift: In March, Bruce Boucher took over the helm of the UVA Art Museum. Some feared the new director, an expert on 16th century Italian architecture, might prefer all things dusty, but Boucher quickly demonstrated an open mind, a wicked wit, and a heartfelt desire to create a more simpatico relationship between the Museum and the community. The first major accomplishment under the Boucher regime? A $2.5 million summer renovation, which resulted in improved gallery lighting and climate-control technology, along with a new print room that's an educator's delight. 

Boxed in: Perhaps the most engaging exhibition of 2009 was Second Street Gallery's "Impera et Divide." Curated by Charlottesville fave and art renegade Warren Craghead III, along with Portuguese artist Pedro Moura, the March-April show highlighted six international artists who adopt the sequential approach of comic-book art and carry it in unexpected and thrilling directions. 

Click clique: In June, National Geographic photographer Michael "Nick" Nichols, and company served up a delicious third year of "three days of peace, love, and photography" to photo-philes who flocked to town for the Charlottesville Festival of the Photograph. This year's "big three" legacy artists included Sylvia Plachy, Gilles Peress, and the completely delightful Martin Parr, whose self-effacing British humor had his Paramount "InSight" audience gasping for breath between laughs.

Zounds found sound: Two separate exhibitions wowed lovers of the avant-garde with work that combined visual and auditory experiences incorporating cast-off objects. In May, Greensboro, N.C.-based Invisible, a collaborative trio consisting of Mark Dixon, Bart Trotman, and Jonathan Henderson, installed and played "Rhythm 1001" at Second Street Gallery. And in September, New York artist David Ellis and composer Robert Lange created a delightfully animated trash pile called "Bing" at The Bridge.

Re-opened eyes: Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Les Yeux du Monde, which closed its West Main location at the end of December 2008, re-opened in October in a new state-of-the-art building designed by award-wining architect W.G. Clarke. Not only is the gallery ironclad— literally— but so is LYdM's owner Lyn Warren's right to it since it's located on her Albemarle County estate. Here's to no more lost leases!

Experimental art space: Try & Make opened next to Reid's Market in May but called it a day by August. Despite the dismal economic climate, no other galleries closed in 2009, and both the Charlottesville Community Design Center and The Bridge Public Arts Initiative celebrated fifth-year anniversaries. Sage Moon Gallery reestablished itself at Siips Fine Wine and Champagne Bar on the Downtown Mall, and Skylight Studios opened on Second Street.


•• The year on stage

Little Is Good, Too

The biggies continued to wow in '09: the UVA Drama Department hosted The Foreigner, The Language of Angels, and Moliere's Le Medecin Malgre Lui; the Shakespeareans in Staunton pulled out all the stops with The Comedy of Errors, Titus Andronicus, and everyone's favorite Midsummer Night's Dream; and Live Arts was as reliable as ever with Gypsy, Glengarry Glen Ross, and Flyin' West. But two tiny "Black Boxes" deserve mention: Four County Players introduced its 50-seat "Cellar," offering works by local playwrights as well as kids' programs all year long. The Black Box Players community theater entertained audiences with Godspell in October and took us all to Narnia with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. So let's hear a cheer for the little guys, doing their part to keep us smiling, weeping, or clapping along.

Playing On!

When a few inspired (and intrepid) dramaphiles hatched the Play On! Theater at Ix back in 2006 with a kickin' toga party to introduce A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, their maiden show in their almost-finished space, people wondered if the fledgling could take flight. Now, almost four years later, the talented crew and actors have made believers of us all. From Guys and Dolls in the '07-'08 season to Arsenic and Old Lace and Rent this year, the players have proved they're a force to reckon with– and a group that's here to stay. Hooray for perseverance and talent!


••Walking about

Space for (More Than) One

Describing itself as a "newly renovated art space/concert venue/amateur film theater/impromptu studio/potluck dining hall," The Garage has enlivened life downtown with wide-ranging entertainment and fun on Friday (and a few other) nights. Dreamed up and supported by Kate Daughdrill, the tiny single-car garage (it's not just a name!) across from Lee Park on First Street this year hosted art shows (the fabulous "Suitcase Drawings,") folk bands (Dust from 1000 Years), and improv dance performances. 

Socials and Adventures

One consistent entry on every "cultural calendar" this year has been something to do with members of the Outdoor Adventure Social Club, a gregarious and inventive group of folks who do everything from playing mysterious games like "Broomball" to indoor rock climbing, hiking up mountains to stargaze and watch moon rises, skiing, spelunking, hiking, and even taking trips as far afield as New Zealand! (happening in February). Social activities leaven the strenuous stuff, and helpful classes like CPR instruction and "Backpacking 101" keep members' minds sharp and skills honed. There hasn't been a dull moment all year with this crowd.