Hang on. Don’t ready those Rant-dialing fingers yet. We really like this place, and there are at least a dozen reasons why. Herewith, a brief list of the areas where Charlottesville goes above and beyond what anyone could expect of our humble town. It’s not what’s missing, it’s what’s here.
We know of no other 40,000-person city that has hosted as many major acts as we have. Even if you throw in Albemarle County’s 90,000 people, it’s still astounding that everyone and everything from Cirque du Soleil down to the Monster Truck rally and High School Musical: the Musical has breezed through town. And that’s just the John Paul Jones Arena. James Brown, the Rolling Stones and at least one-third of the Wu-Tang Clan have all hit up Charlottesville, and an indie legend or two can usually be found on any given weekend at a place like Gravity Lounge or Satellite Ballroom. You get the idea. Charlottesville doesn’t have a civic center or a large population, but we still attract some major acts. Why? Because we’re just that awesome.
We’ve got a massive outdoor concert space, an arena, a stadium and dozens of smaller, intimate performance spaces in our bars and clubs. Any given David Bowie persona would be able to find a spot to perform in Charlottesville today. A place like Harrisonburg, which is almost exactly the same size as Charlottesville, just doesn’t stack up, unless Ziggy Stardust would be cool with playing a set at the Red Lobster.
The No. 2 public university in the U.S.
Berkeley may have the edge on UVA according to U.S. News and World Report, but No. 2 just means you work harder, right? Indeed, UVA has spent the last 188 years working hard, and it’s not just the flip-floppin’, Polo-wearin’, frat dude crowd that feels the benefits. Interested Charlottesvillians can enjoy a classical music series in one of the area’s best-appointed halls, listen to Lyndon Johnson complain about the crotch of his Haggar slacks through the Miller Center’s massive presidential tapes archives, look at an original copy of the Declaration of Independence at the Small Special Collections Library and check out the largest collection of Aboriginal art outside of Australia over at the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Museum, possibly all in one ambitious day. Oh, and the campus looks O.K., too.
A Democrat-controlled City Council
It’s editorializin’ time! Charlottesville has always been a beacon of blue in a sea of red, and our local government is no exception. So not only can you play told-you-so about Iraq with your red state friends, you can probably get an official told-you-so letter drafted on city stationery. And now that the national tide is turning on everything from the war to the environment and the Democratic Party is cool for the first time since Clinton left office, it looks like Charlottesville is just ahead of the curve. As usual.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site
And it’s one of only three manmade, post-Colonial World Heritage Sites in the United States. The one-two punch of Monticello and UVA, in the estimation of the United Nations, is tied with the Statue of Liberty and Independence Hall in terms of American cultural and aesthetic significance. And the Jeffersonian architecture and ideals that put Monticello and Mr. Jefferson’s University on UNESCO’s short list in 1987 are certainly a daily reality in our enlightened, right pretty town.
Plenty of blank plate space
As in, big squares of porcelain framing 2”-diameter, $40 plops of food, with maybe a swirl or two of sriracha for color. Which is all just to say that Charlottesville has some fine dining. The outrage of not having a Friendly’s or a Denny’s is thankfully offset by our otherwise slightly more upscale choices, and in the last decade, Charlottesville has become home to an ever-growing assortment of international cuisines. Even abandoning the seeming snootiness of the Downtown Mall for cheaper pastures provides a quite meaningful glimpse into what makes us us. Nowhere but Charlottesville could you find a Bavarian schnitzelhaus sharing block space with a Thai restaurant and a local fried chicken joint.
Fine sports facilities
From the Boyd Tinsley Courts at Boar’s Head to the McIntire Park Golf Course, Charlottesville has no shortage of places to hit a ball or shoot a hoop or ollie a hoverboard or whatever it is those crazy kids are doing these days. Our facilities are so nice, in fact, that we’ve got best-selling authors doing the landscaping (see: Grisham mowing the softball field at STAB when his daughter attended). We’d like to see Bangor, Maine say the same. Word on the street is, Stephen King is a total nonstarter in the gardening world.
Yeah, there’s the usual: Sissy, John G., Howie Long, Dave Matthews Band. But Charlottesville was also home for years to Jessica Lange and Sam Shepherd and the likes of Rob Lowe and most of Pavement. Throw in UVA and we can count National Book Award winner John Casey, former Poet Laureate Rita Dove and novelist Ann Beattie (not to mention commuters like NAACP chair Julian Bond) among our ranks. So yes, that smug look on your face when your out-of-town friend acts like a starstruck schmuck after you two see Sissy Spacek at Whole Foods is completely justified.
A pedestrian mall
In 90 percent of Virginia cities, “downtown” means a three block stretch of quaint but failing storefronts and maybe a couple wrought-iron lamp posts. Charlottesville’s downtown boasts one of the longest walking malls in the country, with more than 120 shops and 30 restaurants, as well as office and living space. The Downtown Mall has certainly lived up to its promise—hell, it does so with First Friday alone. But the other 353 days a year don’t hurt either.
With almost 300 registered nonprofits in just the city, Charlottesville is home to some mighty giving, civic-minded people. Social and environmental concerns are kind of our thing, and we’ve got the manpower and cash to back it up. There are hundreds of charities and dozens of environmental organizations in Charlottesville, and they all seem to get by either on the largesse of our citizens or on government funding allocated in the interests of our citizens. It can’t all be for the tax write-offs.
The country’s fastest growing wine region
O.K., so it’s really Virginia in general that’s the fastest growing wine region, what with wineries also sprouting up around the Chesapeake Bay and up in NoVa, but it was Charlottesville and Albemarle that lit the spark. On returning from Europe, Thomas Jefferson noted our landscape’s similarities to the wine-growing regions of Italy and France and gave grapes a shot. In fact, by the 1870s, Charlottesville was known as the “capital of the Virginia wine belt,” according to wine historian Leon D. Adams. Almost 200 years later, in the 1970s, Gabriele Rausse finally got the idea to work, and these days, Virginia wine is almost as renowned as the Napa Valley stuff.
One of the country’s best alternative weekly newspapers
The one in your hands right now. Eighteen years and running. It’s all for you, Charlottesville.