Going ‘Round and ‘Round: Kids ride the painted ponies when the Virginia Discovery Museum installs a beautifully restored historic carousel just outside its door on the East End of the Downtown Mall in July. The kiddy carousel was a gift to the museum and offers free rides during museum hours.

X-treme Read: Juggling ladies, a live boa constrictor, creative writing classes, a Scrabble tournament, Latin rhythms... Jefferson Madison Regional Library goes to X-tremes with their summer reading program designed to lure kids into books with fun-tastic events and activities that last all summer long. 

Holiday Magic: Hand-made dolls and gnomes, beeswax candles and crayons, and dozens of other imaginative and earthy items for sale make the Charlottesville Waldorf School's annual holiday craft festival on the first Saturday in December our favorite fair of the season. Kids craft their own holiday wreaths, candles, and gift items, and the homemade goodies in the café are worth leaving home for. 

Egg-citing: In April, young seekers scour the Charlottesville High School Athletic Field to find the thousands of candy eggs and special prizes hidden on the grounds for Charlottesville Recreation and Leisure Services' annual Easter Egg Hunt. Kids 12 and under come home with baskets full of Easter joy.


Lively Live Arts: Once again, the happening spot for all things theatrical. From serious drama (Helen, Macbeth) to house-rocking musicals (Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Urinetown, Ain't Misbehavin'), Live Arts has it all this season. Grateful patrons pack the annual fundraising Gala, still one of the best parties of the year, and the after-gala party wows the jazzed crowd. Coming up in 2007: Thom Pain, The Pillowman, The Violet Hour. The Good Times are Killing Me, and more.

American Shakespeare Theater: Othello, The Tempest, As You Like It, Macbeth– the Staunton theater company formerly known as Shendandoah Shakespeare dazzles year after year, in 2006 snagging the attention of the Wall Street Journal in their September 15 edition.

Paramount Power: The Paramount draws sell-out crowds for big-name shows from Paul Anka to Trisha Yearwood, Dorothy and the Dinosaurs to The Pirates of Penzance– lots of fun for old and young alike. And the fun's just beginning: the 2007 season promises Whoopi Goldberg, Ricky Skaggs, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Lily Tomlin, the Chieftains, and more.

Living Wage Protesters: The biggest performance of the year award goes to the "UVA 17," the unpolished cast of the unscripted show that was this year's Living Wage Campaign. Best supporting actor awards go to UVA Prez John Casteen, who refused to give in to protesters' demands, and UVA COO Leonard Sandridge, who had the gang arrested for trespassing. The protestors' April 12 "takeover" of Madison Hall captured national attention, and their May 21 trespassing trial provided even more local high drama. 

The Lesser-Known Greats: A round of applause to the lesser-known but truly outstanding performance venues in the region. Piedmont Virginia Community College consistently offers great entertainment this year, from New Lyric Theatre's Pirates of Penzance to Antigone (Jean Anouilh's version). UVA's Drama Department stages Waiting for the Parade, Scapin, and Arms and the Man. The Four County Players present Boy Gets Girl and The Velveteen Rabbit. And of course, this year's weekly City Council meetings, starring an always-impassioned group of actors, puts on one fascinating improv show after another, week after week, free of charge.


Festival of the Book: This year's Virginia Festival of the Book (VABook!) sets an attendance record: 26,433. Festival highlights (each with attendance of 500 or more people) included "Making History: John Hope Franklin and Rita Dove," "Festival Luncheon: Judith Viorst," "Independent Media: Amy Goodman," and "Words and Music: John McCutcheon and Barbara Kingsolver, hosted by David Baldacci." Keep your reading glasses polished– the 13th installment is set for March 21-25, 2007.

Readings and Signings: Every week seemed to bring big name authors like Stephen King and Lee Smith to town, but we hardly needed the imported talent with local luminaries like John Grisham, Barbara Ehrenreich, Archie and Amelie author Donna Lucey and Harper Lee biographer Charles Shields all holding events about their new books. Authors read, sign and speak at the Paramount, New Dominion Book Shop, Barnes & Noble, the Miller Center– even at The Seasonal Cook, where author Mollie Brown discusses and demonstrates the best of Mrs. Rowe's Restaurant Cookbook. Uptown, downtown, around town, a year of word feasts.

"Macaca": The little word that sunk a big campaign. As everyone now knows, Senator George Allen taunted UVA fourth-year/Webb campaign worker S.R. Sidarth with the term, and the rest is history. Whether the reference was to Sidarth's haircut or was some other obtuse image, it seemed Allen wasn't being terribly nice to the young man. Months later Allen still couldn't shake the word from his public image, and so it went. And so went Allen.

Free Speech Wall: Free speech for all on the Downtown Mall– this year saw the official dedication of the Charlottesville Community Chalkboard. As reported in the Hook blog (4/20/06): The slate wall was clean when the ceremony began, but celebrity presenters Mayor David Brown, John Grisham, Boyd Tinsley, George Garrett, and Dahlia Lithwick soon added the following bons mots:  "Is the war in Iraq worth all the oil we will never get?" (Grisham); "Vote May 2 for Taliaferro and Norris" (Brown); "Remember the troops" (Tinsley); and "Close Guantanamo" (Lithwick).

Virginia Quarterly Review: Our humble hometown literary review knocks the socks off the big-city mags this year, garnering six nominations for National Magazine Awards, making it the second most-nominated magazine (behind the Atlantic, which received eight, and ahead of The New Yorker, Harper's, New York, and National Geographic, all of which received five), and winner of two– for General Excellence and Fiction. 

Frost Poem Discovered: In another literary– or at least public relations– coup, the Virginia Quarterly Review this year publishes a long-lost handwritten poem by Robert Frost, discovered by UVA graduate student Robert Stilling. The discovery makes national news, from NPR to Katie Couric's CBS newscast.


Dancing Around Town: This year was dancing heaven for the light-footed, as more venues for dancing appear all over town. Fry's Spring Beach Club sponsors weekly country dance night, the Senior Center offers regular Wednesday dances, featuring everything from ballroom and swing to Latin and country, the Satellite Ballroom holds an every-other-Thursday Salsa/Merengue/Bachata night, and Terry Dean's Dance Studio throws Friday night social ballroom dance parties. The Outback Lodge Salsa Club has made Charlottesville a hotbed of salsa action– the group recently celebrated its 250th dance night!

On the Run: The still-reigning #1 place to live in US is pulsing with runners– some with the heart to actually endure a road race, and all with the heart to get moving for a good cause. The Women's Four Miler raises funds for breast cancer research (as does the Run for Life 5K), the 2nd Carl Tribastone Memorial 5K benefits organ donation/transplantation, the Kiwanis Independence Day 5K gives proceeds to Camp Holiday Trails. Then there's the 11th Annual Blue Ridge Burn 10K/5K Trail Run for the Southern Environmental Law Center, the AIDS Walk (so it's not a race or a run, but still), and the Boar's Head Turkey Trot, benefitting UVA Children's Hospital. Fit and philanthropic, that's our town.

Food-a-riffic: Food fans find more reasons to relish Charlottesville this year, as Jim Winecoff, owner/chef of Mona Lisa Pasta, and Terre Sisson, of Charlottesville Wine & Culinary, team up to teach home cooking techniques and time-saving tips with a gourmet flair. Then there's The Seasonal Cook's "How to Entertain" cooking series, featuring classes such as How to Host a Sushi Party. And Ecco Italy joins The Seasonal Cook to offer events like "an evening in Rome," with wine, food, and discussion of what was "hot and happening" in Rome. Closer to home, this year sees the formation of a new group devoted to promoting conscientious growth and consumption of local food; E.A.T. Local grew out of a Spring 2006 UVA class, "Planning for a Sustainable and Secure Community Food System." 

JPJ: Finally, the John Paul Jones Arena opens to wild acclaim and attendance. Highlights this year include the Cirque du Soleil, the Dave Matthews Band venue kick-off concerts, Disney on Ice, the Ringling Bros. Circus, and of course UVA basketball. Coming next year: Billy Joel and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, for starters. Call it a local success for all involved– just don't call it "the Jack"!

Virginia Film Festival: This year's Hollywood on the Rivanna spectacular features God– well, in theory anyway. But celluloid God Morgan Freeman shows, as does Big Star Robert Duvall and Pretty Famous Actor Liev Schreiber. With 32 sold-out events and a record-setting 14,699 attendees, the Festival is a smash. Locals especially rooted for homeboy director Derek Seig's Swedish Auto, and the local music scene documentary Live From the Hook. 


Of Montreal (seemingly every Wednesday at the Satellite Ballroom): This strangely proggy indie pop act seemed to show up at the Satellite Ballroom almost as often as Bennie Dodd does at Coupe's! 

Feist (February 7 at the Satellite Ballroom): This sultry pop songstress dropped jaws by very matter-of-factly delivering her top-notch performance. Business as usual... 

Yo Yo Ma (February 23 and 24 at the Paramount Theater): Judging from the public reaction, the cello legend was probably the biggest musical force Charlottesville saw all year. Judging from the ticket prices, there's no doubt about it. 

GZA, Ghostface Killah, Method Man (February 27, April 9, and October 31 at Starr Hill): Starr Hill showed its commitment to hip hop by bringing 33 percent of the Wu-Tang Clan to town in 2006. Here's hoping for Cash Money in '07! 

Wilco (April 23 at the Charlottesville Pavilion): This is how we knew the Red Light machine meant business with the 2006 Pavilion season. 

Soko (May 11 at Gravity Lounge): Local pianist Mike Sokolowski finally emerged from seclusion to release a carefully crafted album several years in the making. 

Agents Of Good Roots (June 9 at the Charlottesville Pavilion): The Richmond almost-weres reunited a decade later for Fridays After Five. 

Soulive (June 26 at Starr Hill): Unforeseen cancellation of a Richmond gig left the jamband's schedule wide open for the evening, resulting in a free late-night show at Starr Hill. Moral of the story: if you snag a nationally renowned rock band at the last minute and make the show free because you haven't been able to do any promotion, they will come. 

Gillian Welch (August 5 at the Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar): A surprise show by the bluegrass star somehow packed the intimate little psychedelic nook thanks to last-minute guerilla non-publicity.  Thank heavens for MySpace. 

The Flaming Lips (September 12 at the Charlottesville Pavilion): The goofiest band in pop left the Pavilion as trashed as the Nickelodeon stage after an episode of "Double Dare." They looked better than they sounded, but that's forgivable when you send your singer bouncing out into the crowd in a giant inflatable bubble.

DMB (September 22 at the John Paul Jones Arena): 16,000 people can't be wrong!

DMB (September 23 at the John Paul Jones Arena): 16,000 other people can't be wrong either! 

Widespread Panic (September 26 and September 27 at the Charlottesville Pavilion): The meandering rockers took two days to get all their stream-of-consciousness jams out, giving local hippies a place to congregate for two nights. Hey, at least it's not Dark Star Orchestra...