More than three years ago, when the fates saw fit to actually pay me for spending half my weekends constructing occasionally verbose pieces (always much longer than asked for) on the subject of music, I sh*t my pants, figuratively speaking.
Sure, there were some weeks I wanted to claw my eyes out, when no CDs had found their way to my mailbox and I had to use the two tracks available online and the 50-word blurb to write a 400-word piece (and you wondered why I sometimes begin pieces with a paragraph about a loosely related topic- "So I was on my way to the dentist yesterday..."), the sun was shining outside (like it is today), and all I wanted to do was recline on a blanket with someone soft next to me.
But in terms of work, having a job where the only requirement was to write about local shows and make it at least 400 words long is pretty radical, both in the true meaning of the word and its latter-day usage.
But in about 250 words I'll be done with this Music Editor gig, and moving on to a summer of lounging around before pursuing an academic future– a summer without churning out a thousand words a week, watching a usually mediocre act, and locating a press kit to review– tasks that have waxed and waned in troublesomeness over time.
I'm ready to move on. I've seen about 150 acts, including most of the repeat offenders, and have probably heard most of the rest in recorded form. Most of them– with a few notable exceptions– are now blended together into a rootsy mélange.
Yup, Charlottesville loves its bluegrass, a fact that– while I knew it before I started this Hook gig– was vehemently reinforced each week. And I've seen some good ones: Old School Freight Train's technical mastery, King Wilkie's soulful reaching, and the late/great Hogwaller Ramblers– all those both held my ADD musical interests and made me appreciate the genre in a way I had never before thought about.
Charlottesville's good to folk and jazz as well, and with the University support, classical concerts can be found every weekend. It's less kind to its rock, my genre of choice, and a town like the spacious nothing that is Harrisonburg easily beats it. This is so for a combination of reasons including:
1) The college radio station, WTJU, plays rock music only between 2-4pm and 11pm-6am. This is a university, generally a place skewed to the younger less-rootsy set, and yet the station makes its thirsty audience turn to one of the local modern rock stations or get an iPod, for the sake of playing seven hours a day of classical, which we can get just fine (and I do) on the NPR stations, 88.5 or 103.5.
2) Since the closing of Trax in 2000, there has not been a venue big enough to bring in acts bigger than "employee favorites." Starr Hill, which has a capacity of 450, went from booking Ex-Pavement frontman Stephen Malkmus to a constant reliance on safe acts that bring in the 30-something accountant crowd.
3) We don't even get many smaller touring bands– either few outside artists want to play here, or Charlottesville venues are generally being very insular in the choice of bands they book. Most weeks have a rotating cast of local artists with only one or two non-native spices.
4) With the opening of the Satellite Ballroom on the Corner, things may indeed be looking up for rock fans. It's a good capacity space made for seeing rock shows and the occasional dance party, in a great location, just what this town needs, and those in charge of booking include one Plan 9 music savant. Hopefully they will capitalize on the venue's promise.
Even more the red-headed step-children are hip-hop and soul. As far as I've ever been able to tell, there is no college rock hip-hop presence at all and only two hours a day on WNRN.
Oh, you say, what about Kiss FM, the 10 in a row station? Sure, it's got some hip-hop, but even I, woefully lacking in hip-hop knowledge, know that LL Cool J and Mariah Carey are not exactly on the cutting edge of the genre. And most venues in town seem to be off limits for hip-hop shows except acts that have broken through the musical glass ceiling. I don't think I've listed more than 15 hip-hop shows in the calendar during my entire time in the editor's seat.
Charlottesville is a college town, and without UVA we'd be another Staunton, nice but small. And though the census lists our population around 40,000, this number swells each year with the migratory tide of students. The needs of this group of music lovers and music lovers-to-be, as well as the rest of us perpetual youngsters, are not being served. Somebody should get on that.