The C'Ville sound

Local performance venues enhance Charlottesville culture, offer support to indie artists

London, Paris and New York City are three of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. What do these cities have in common? The answer is art. Broadway, 5th Avenue, the West End, the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées — these areas of creative expression astronomically enhance the cultural richness of the communities they serve.

Charlottesville’s affinity for live music and local performance venues provide the same artistic intensity. While world-famous, multi-million dollar venues obviously get the most recognition, small, independent venues and organizations are the foundation of the larger arts industry as a whole.

Though these smaller, independent venues don’t attract the international buzz of their Broadway counterparts, they offer a distinct culture experience for the loyal community members who frequent them. Charlottesville’s venues, a small but powerful chain of theaters and performance spaces, never fail to offer a small-scale version of the talent and culture developed by the larger artistic hubs across the globe.

The Jefferson Theater on the Downtown Mall has grown increasingly popular as the town itself has grown in esteem and reputation. According to Lindsay Dorrier, head of the theater’s marketing department, the venue was founded as a silent movie theater and performance venue in 1912. After hosting legends like Harry Houdini and the Three Stooges, the Jefferson was renovated into a movie theater and stayed that way until about 25 years ago, when its metamorphosis into a musical performance venue “stripped the interior down [to] its original architectural beauty.”

Since its founding, the Jefferson has been a hotspot for entertainment and fun, and the theater’s ability to progress in step with the overarching arts industry is a testament to its importance in Charlottesville.

Dorrier said the venue is “a vital cog in the local music scene.”

With the ability to host 800 audience members, the building serves as a happy medium between its low-key neighbor, The Southern, and the massive nTelos Wireless Pavilion.

“We are about quality of life and making this community a more lively and entertaining place to live,” Dorrier said.

The Jefferson, The Southern and the Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar, another Downtown favorite, function as gateways for budding bands and artists hoping to grow in talent and their respective fan bases.

You Won’t, a musical duo hailing from Massachusetts, has performed for students and community residents alike in Charlottesville.

“[Charlottesville] is known as a good music town so we’d like to build a following there,” members Josh Arnoudse said.

Their sound is quirky — far removed from todays pop culture scene — but Arnoudse said genre does not play a heavy role in the success of lesser-known bombshells like You Wont.

“High-quality small venues will attract high-quality upstart acts to your town,” he said.

The affinity for live music often transcends the boundaries of genre, especially in the local, independent scene where many people choose to attend performances on a whim. A mentally and emotionally open audience is a fantastic opportunity for under-the-radar artists like You Won’t to build a following.

DC-based 80s cover band the Legwarmers traveled a rough path and now has a hugely successful circuit in Charlottesville, Richmond and elsewhere in Virginia. Local keyboardist Matty Metcalfe, currently heavily involved in the Charlottesville music scene, has performed here frequently in the past three years.

Another obstacle faced by groups like the Legwarmers is accruing revenue — in an age of 99 cent singles on iTunes and music often freely available online, small groups and local artists have to rely on fans to spend money on show tickets in order to raise money.

“Live music is the primary revenue stream for most artists,” Dorrier said. “[W]ith the ever decreasing amount of money generated by selling recorded music, [live performances] are essential for the music industry to remain viable.”

Having a vibrant concert scene is crucial for small groups, Dorrier said.

“It’s always a good sign when there is a healthy mix of larger concert halls and smaller venues,” he said. “For it to sustain itself, a musical culture and community needs a healthy balance of each … [and they should be] places to go where people consistently have positive experiences.”

In this respect, Metcalfe said Charlottesville fits the bill.

“[Charlottesville] has such a tried and true reputation for rabid live-music enthusiasts and this reputation is well-deserved,” he said.

Published March 4, 2014 in Arts and Entertainment, tableau

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