King of the Corner?: A room right for rockin'

The Vacationers, Travis Elliott, and the New Jenkins
at the Satellite Ballroom
Friday, December 3

Located in what must be one of the best locations for live music in Charlottesville, the Satellite Ballroom, an extension of Michael's Bistro, could be the next big music venue in town.

It couldn't have come at a better time. This town has been crying for a cheap rock-centric venue that can pull in major acts since Trax closed. And the Satellite Ballroom– snuggled up behind Littlejohn's on the Corner like a large box with a stage at one end and a bar at the other– is well suited for live music.

Friday night was the first evening of rock at the club, and things went off with only one thing missing: an ABC license. This led to the amusing necessity of going up to Michael's for a drink, then back to the club to watch the show, then repeat, repeat, repeat.

Seated except for the bassist, the Richmond-based Vacationers were on first– the group had a kind of '50s vibe combined with the catchier parts of Radiohead's first sojourn into the recording world.

"Kelly's in a Coma," the first number I heard in its entirety, was either a metaphorical or literal story-song, the theme of which is captured in the title. "I don't know what she said / Can't read her mind" sang the group's singer/guitarist using his flexible vocal chords as the rest of the group (bass, drums, and keys) played their professional sounding instrumental work.

After a 20-minute stop at the watering hole, I came down to see Travis Elliott, whose band I've been trying to catch since witnessing one of his solo performances this summer. Combining the catchiest of hooks with a group as tight as any I've seen, Elliott sounds like he has come into his own in the last eight months. Indie-pop crescendos rang out into the night as one song after another left the audience humming the tune long after the ephemeral moment had passed.

In a great set, my #1 favorite was Elliott's "You don't know what you're missing" vocal break, where the lead guitarist followed the vocal line's melody. This little nugget is still in my head.

Last up was the New Jenkins, and though I was pretty tired by this point, I did notice the crowd seemed to swell. The group's pop (with more than a pinch of ska) seemed to get the kids going beginning with "Farewell Song." The five-piece (singer/guitarist, trumpet player, lead guitarist, drummer, and bassist) had a good-time vibe– lighter than the first two acts' straight rock– which the audience seemed to dig.

I was never sure of the actual crowd size as people flowed upstairs and down in search of the drink of the gods or a little musical distraction. But even with this continual crowd movement, things looked spiffy inside, the bands were hot, and it was clear that once the Ballroom finally gets everything together, it'll be the place to be.

Travis Elliott