Pudhouse shut: City officials gloat, blame Hook

In The Hook's July 3 music issue, writers Mark Grabowski and James Graham attempted to take in every local music venue. Their ambitious "crawl," however, delivered an unforeseen consequence: City officials have shut down the Pudhouse.

"This will definitely affect the stature of Charlottesville in the music world," says Jeff Melkerson of a band called The Civil War Reenactors. "The Pudhouse was known nationally."

A raw concrete-floored space favored by Charlottesville's edgier musicians, the Pudhouse was part of a warehouse/storage complex along the CSX train tracks in the Belmont neighborhood. For several years a favorite stop for underground bands, the Pudhouse wasn't always low-key. Residents as far away as East Jefferson Street had been complaining about late-night noise there and in adjacent units rented by bands as practice spaces.

City Councilor Blake Caravati lives a few blocks away. While he says he's never heard the music, he's taken an earful from some sleep-losing residents who have. After a noise-denouncing petition was gathered, Caravati visited the Pudhouse, as did zoning inspectors and the police chief– to no avail.

The building, owned by Richard Spurzem, is zoned M-1, light industrial. "You can do almost anything in M-1," says Caravati.

Then came The Hook's music issue, which inadvertently gave the City some ammunition.

"Your article caused the Pudhouse to be shut down," says Caravati. "Little smartypants Hook, with that line at the bottom that said to bring your own drinks."

On July 11, City officials paid an unannounced visit and ordered the Pudhouse to stop holding "illegal assemblies" because it didn't have the proper occupancy permit.

"We appreciate y'all bringing it to our attention they were operating as a club," says City planning and zoning chief Jim Tolbert. "It's a warehouse. It's not designed to be a club. You've got to have bathrooms. And when you're inviting the public in, it's like a nightclub."

How it's defined doesn't really concern Bill Wylie, who lives on East Jefferson Street. "I understand the need to practice," he says. "I'm an artist, too. It's when it's at 2 or 3 or 4am..."

Davis Salisbury is the self-described "sucker on the lease" for the Pudhouse. "The complaints are legitimate," concedes Salisbury, "and for that we apologize."

Salisbury describes Pudhouse relations with police as cordial. They'd come by a couple of times a year, he says, and "we'd turn down the music."

Recently the complaints escalated. Salisbury attributes that to a window jammed open when temperatures soared in the un-air-conditioned space.

"When we were made aware a month ago, we stopped leaving the window open," he says. "We never would have thought it would carry across the tracks."

So how does the noise bounce from Belmont over to East Jefferson? "Physics," answers Wylie. "They're on a hill in Belmont. We're on a hill on East Jefferson."

Wylie has been complaining about the noise since he moved to East Jefferson two and a half years ago. He says the problem isn't as bad in the winter, and he concedes that it's been exacerbated by recent cool nights that spurred neighbors to sleep with their windows open.

He and fellow petitioners want bands to stop practicing by 11pm on weeknights. To band members who work during the day and consider 3am as a good practice time, Wylie responds: "I say that's the only time I can sleep. It's not my problem. I'm a taxpayer, and I have to get up to go to work at 7am."

"These practice spaces have been there for over a decade," counters Salisbury. "It seems like it should have come to a head a long time ago."

There was never a conscious decision to put on shows, says Salisbury. "It just happened. People would get in touch and say they were coming through. Often, we'd try to book them elsewhere."

Bands like Lightning Bolt, Capital City Dusters, and 25 Suaves, which has opened for White Stripes, played the Pudhouse and claimed it was their favorite place to play, according to Melkerson and Hlad.

"Bands that played there played for free– just for the love of music," says Hlad, whose band is Racists of Farmville. "It's all about art for arts' sake, about art that's not fed through the capitalist death machine."

In the wake of the clamp-down, bands are still practicing in the space, but knocking off by 10pm, according to Salisbury. "Effectively," he says, "there will never be another show at Pudhouse."

Salisbury has had offers to do a fundraiser for soundproofing, and he believes the problem can be worked out. So does Caravati.

As for The Hook's role, Salisbury says he doesn't blame the paper– at least, "not overtly." He believes the writers were writing about the space in good faith, but he also points out that nobody from The Hook contacted him.

"We're not bitter," says Salisbury. "We're sad something wonderful has been taken out of the community."

He and fellow band member Tyler Magill challenge the idea that the Pudhouse is a venue because it doesn't sell tickets or alcohol. When bands get paid, it's via a passed hat.

Hook reviewer James Graham describes the atmosphere as a house party rather than a rock show. "We've reviewed shows at the Pudhouse before, and I've never heard a complaint."

Fellow reviewer Mark Grabowski was stunned by the news. "I'm blaming James," he cracks.

"I felt like a bit of a jackass," says Graham. "Not because I felt I did anything wrong, but anytime you're on the causing end of something you're not happy with, you feel like a jackass."

"Ideally," says Salisbury, "I wish people had never heard of it."