FOOD-THE DISH- Starr to Satellite: Off the Hill, into the Ballroom

Mel's gets a new sign! A new look for an old favorite on West Main.

As music mogul Coran Capshaw takes another step toward complete control of the local music scene, West Main Street loses another restaurant. As announced last week, Capshaw's Starr Hill Presents is partnering with the folks at the Satellite Ballroom to book and promote acts at their Corner location, and is closing down the Starr Hill Restaurant & Brewery and its upstairs music venue on West Main. 

This means that Capshaw, who manages the Dave Matthews Band and has sizable interests in Bonnaroo and LiveNation, now controls a musical trifecta: a small, a medium, and a large venue.

Satellite Ballroom is the small (500 people for a standing event, 350 seated); the under-renovation Jefferson Theater is the medium (just under 1,000); and his opened-in-2005 Charlottesville Pavilion is the large (at about 3,500 seat-and-lawn capacity). 

This range of venue sizes means that Capshaw can reduce his reliance on the approximately 1,000-seat Paramount and keep all his bookings under his own roof, with the exception of extremely large shows that remain the province of the John Paul Jones Arena. However, as Starr Hill Presents / Red Light Management spokesperson Jamie Sisley points out, Capshaw often partners with LiveNation to bring major acts to JPJ. 

Last week, a member of the staff of Starr Hill– the eight-year-old West Main Street venue that has hosted the likes of They Might Be Giants (which wrote a song about the place!), Soulive, and Chris Daughtry– told the Hook they received word of the closure about two weeks ago. A press release issued June 28 confirmed that the July 7 concert featuring local rock band Navel will be the last.

"We were always friendly with Satellite," says Sisley, "and the opportunity to collaborate came along. This should help us bring some great artists to town." Sisley says there are no plans to add a restaurant to the Ballroom space, and he puts in a plug for Just Curry, a popular eatery directly behind the Ballroom. "I eat there all the time," he says. 

However, according to some observers of the local music scene, Starr Hill and the Ballroom have been in heavy competition for the last two years, vying for similarly sized acts. Still, the official word on the partnership has the air of an engagement announcement.

 "Our staff is delighted to be joining forces with Starr Hill's team," gushes Satellite Ballroom booker Danny Shea. 

Although Starr Hill brought in musical stars, the approximately 450-person-capacity upstairs location– accessed by a pair of stairways– often raised eyebrows among safety-conscious patrons. By contrast, the Satellite Ballroom occupies a ground floor location behind Michael's Bistro in what had once been part of Charlottesville's long-operating Anderson Brothers Bookstore. Hook columnists have issued varying opinions of the Ballroom over the years, lauding its December 2004 opening but pleading later for a better sound system.

Sisley says the Ballroom location offers a larger, more centrally located venue than the Starr Hill location. He also says they plan to make significant upgrades to the sound system and other production capabilities over the summer.

Unaffected in all this is the beer bearing Starr Hill's name, as the award-winning brewing operation moved west in 2005 to the former ConAgra food processing plant in Crozet. But no longer will there be the option of enjoying a Starr Hill draft in its signature establishment.

The employee with whom the Hook spoke says that Starr Hill, which opened in the fall of 1999, has been sold to become– of all things (given that it's located across the street from Wild Wing Café)– a sports bar, although no such confirming announcement has been made.

Three scheduled July Starr Hill shows– Souls of Mischief, Israel Vibration, and Ben Kweller– have already been relocated to the Satellite Ballroom. The Navel farewell show has as its openers Book of Job and the Eli Cook Band.

Mel's gets new sign

As travelers along West Main may have noticed, Mel's Diner has a fancy new sign– a bright orange, light blue, and white affair that pictures a plate with a bite missing. According to owner Melvin Walker, the old familiar sign hadn't changed in longer than he can remember, and he remembers it long before it was Mel's. "It used to be a cleaners, and I remember that sign from when I was a kid in the 1960s," he says. 

If not for a bit of well-earned good fortune, the old Mel's sign design might have remained for another few decades. On Martin Luther King Jr. Day this year, folks at the Abundant Life Ministries awarded Walker its annual Beloved Community award. "I've always done a lot to help them out," says Walker, " cooking food for a program where they feeds kids."

The award came with an unusual gift: a new sign design. The ministry raised about $900 for the sign, and Ben Foster of Hightech Signs matched that amount, says Walker. Foster had some trouble with the Board of Architectural Review, who wanted the skeleton of the sign, with its lighted arrow, preserved. But Walker says the new sign was finally finished about two weeks ago. 

"I'm getting lots of compliments on it," he says.   

Incidentally, when Dish parked along the street on West Main on June 29 (around 9am) to visit with Walker and photograph his new sign, making sure to stay within the parking boundaries, a cyclists (you know who you are) shouted, "Get out of the bike lane, Ass****" and gave Dish the finger as he passed.

No community service award for you, my friend! But perhaps a lesson learned: be careful who you flip the bird to, or you might end up in the Dish!