Best of C-VILLE 2017: Entertainment

Best Musician: Erin & The Wildfire (Photo: Ron Paris)

The average human’s attention span is a little more than eight seconds (a goldfish’s, by comparison, is nine). Between trivia, TV and tapping your toes at all the best venues, it’s a wonder anyone’s entertained at all. Even still, here’s what’s been holding your focus lately.


Erin & The Wildfire

Runner-up: Tequila Mockingbird

Honorable mention: Oratorio Society of Virginia

Nary a week goes by that Erin & The Wildfire isn’t getting an in-town crowd movin’ and groovin’ with bluesy originals like “Snake Oil” and “Blame the Rain” and raucous covers of diva classics like “Respect” and “Rolling in the Deep.” From headlining sets at The Ante Room to the big stage at Lockn’, from wedding venue dance floors to dead-on impersonations of acts like No Doubt and Katy Perry at The Southern Café & Music Hall’s annual Mock Stars Ball, this band is everywhere. And when Erin & The Wildfire heads out of town to play, Tequila Mockingbird fills that bluesy funk rock-reggae groove nicely.


The Jefferson Theater

Runner-up: John Paul Jones Arena

Honorable mention: Sprint Pavilion

The Downtown Mall’s Jefferson Theater hits the sweet spot when it comes to shows—small enough to afford a view of the band but large enough to attract popular acts like Charles Bradley, Car Seat Headrest, Neko Case and Margo Price…and the occasional Michael Jackson or Bruce Springsteen tribute band. But what happens when superstars like Paul McCartney, Dave Matthews Band and Miranda Lambert come to town? They play John Paul Jones Arena, where there’s room for 14,000 and space for splashy set pieces.

Cash to spare? A membership to Common House will run you $150 per month (plus $600 just for joining). Photo: Andrea Hubbell

Curated club

Only the best for the city’s creative class

Whether you have your own skeleton key to the club’s members-only entrance or you know someone who knows someone who’s watched the sunset from the rooftop terrace while sipping a chamomile and whiskey, there’s no denying the amount of interest (and envy, perhaps?) that Common House has sparked in this little town.

Beautifully designed (even gave it a shout-out soon after it opened) with focal points including a Shou Sugi Ban-backed bar, Common House co-founder Josh Rogers says it finally feels like everything’s falling into place—or “humming now”—at the 300-member club that he and partners Derek Sieg and Ben Pfinsgraff took five years to dream up.

“It’s maybe a little like watching your child grow up in hyper speed,” Rogers says. “We’re so overjoyed about even the smallest things when they really start to work.”

Highlights so far? “When people who never knew each other become fast friends, or the cross-pollination of ideas in the co-work space when it’s crowded,” he says, also nodding to the beginning of a father-daughter breakfast tradition on Fridays, jamming to Michael Jackson LPs and members who have started to use the Bridge Room’s secret booze ordering system.

If you’re eager to join the group of Charlottesville’s creatives, and your pockets are deep enough, the club is accepting new members for an initiation price of $600 per person with $150 monthly dues. Drop by the West Market Street location for a tour—we know you want to.


IX Art Park

Runner-up: Second Street Gallery

Honorable mention: The Fralin Museum of Art

With its unusual collection—a giant foam butt, a sparkly gold stationary unicorn bike and a St. Thomas Aquinas statue made out of bumpers, to name just a few—IX Art Park is like an Island of Misfit Toys for accessible sculpture. Oftentimes we have no idea how or why these things end up at IX, but for those of us who want to keep Charlottesville a little weird, the sculptures there—plus the music events and the indoor gallery shows each month—do the trick. For something a little more traditional but no less engaging, there’s Second Street Gallery, one of Charlottesville’s most versatile, showing work from international artists like José Bedia, a Cuban artist known for his large-scale abstract paintings of spirituality and indigenous cultures and artists from our own backyard, like local conceptual landscape photographer Stacey Evans.


Shenandoah National Park

Runner-up: Carter Mountain Orchard

Honorable mention: Blue Mountain Brewery

Load up your pack, hop in your whip and drive just 30 minutes west to Shenandoah National Park for the best day trip, where you can hike to waterfalls, climb Old Rag Mountain and keep an eye out for the Shenandoah salamander (a species found only in the park) and the oldest rocks in Virginia (some of them are a billion years old. Truly). But really, it’s too much beauty for a single day, so we recommend you go often…or plan a multi-day cabin stay or camping trip. For something a little closer but still chock-full of natural beauty, get those mountain views while picking peaches and apples at Carter Mountain Orchard.

David Reid advises approaching everything with an open heart, so he stands on the Downtown Mall waiting for hugs from like-minded strangers. Photo: Eze Amos


Divine intervention

Bring your heart and share a hug

In a shady spot near the center of the Downtown Mall, David Reid stands with his feet apart, a black wool blindfold tight around his eyes and his arms spread wide.

“It doesn’t matter who you are, what you look like or why you’re here,” he says. “Just bring your heart and share a hug. That’s what it’s about.”

Two and a half years ago, on a chilly week between Christmas and New Year’s, Reid says he was meditating when he received orders to offer free hugs. That winter, he made a sign to illustrate his mission and grabbed an eye cover, and he’s been doing it blindly for about two hours, three days a week ever since.

Photo: Eze Amos

“It’s our eyes that do a lot of the judging, that see how someone is different from us, but our heart doesn’t do that,” Reid says. “For someone who, for instance, was raised black in this country, to approach a white man and give him a hug on the open street and not be judged for who he is is a minor miracle.”

And standing with his eyes covered has taught him that, in life, we’re all blind to what comes next. “If we simply, behind our blindfolds, greet everything with open arms and open heart, it changes the way we interact with life and the way life interacts with us.”

Though Reid says he couldn’t begin to measure how many hugs he’s given since he first started offering them on the mall, he estimates “thousands and thousands.”

“I never keep count. I just give them away,” he says. “All I know is that virtually every time I am out there, and sometimes many times in a single day, someone will say, ‘Please don’t stop doing this.’”

Recollecting one of his most memorable days on the job, Reid says early last summer, he heard a group of Spanish speakers—talking in a dialect he had never heard—walking down the mall. They stopped in front of him and one person translated his sign to the congregation.

“Oh, this is to make the world better,” he then heard the voice say. And, one-by-one, the entire group of 15 took turns giving him “totally dedicated, heartfelt, enormous hugs.” And once they finished, they circled him and, together, gave him a group hug. The voice then told him they were a delegation from Cuba and were visiting UVA for an event.

The group passed and about 45 minutes later, he heard the same variety of Spanish approaching him. When this next congregation stopped, the same thing happened again, Reid says, but this time, it was the second half of the first delegation, who had no idea that the other group members had already met him and done the same thing.

“There weren’t words for it,” Reid says. “It felt for a moment like this is what you’re really here for. This is why you’re doing this. …This is about human to human—a love that transcends what we ordinarily classify love as and that binds us all together.”


Mellow Mushroom

Runner-up: Firefly

Honorable mention: Wild Wing Café

Did you know that only female mosquitoes bite? (Male mosquitoes feed on flower nectar.) Or that the man who founded video game game-changer Atari, Inc. also founded the Chuck E. Cheese Pizza Time Theatre chain? That’s the kind of random knowledge that’ll help you win Wednesday night trivia at Mellow Mushroom on the Corner. Same goes for Geeks Who Drink trivia every Tuesday night at Firefly in Woolen Mills, where you might be expected to know the name of the Jetson family dog or tell the difference between ’90s boy bands during an audio round.


Live Arts

Runner-up: American Shakespeare Center (Staunton)

Honorable mention: Four County Players

“That’s why we want to go to the theater, right? …To see stories that make us feel less alone in the world,” says Live Arts Producing Artistic Director Bree Luck, and by staging teen-filled productions of Pippin and feminist playwright Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls, this community theater favorite does just that. Over the next few years, Luck plans to make the theater’s productions even more inclusive, too. For those theatergoers who want to be transported into an entirely different world, there’s the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, where plays by the Bard and his contemporaries are constantly proven to be relevant, engaging and delightful, even centuries after they were first performed.

In cat, deer or ghost-like forms, artist Jack Graves’ Pananimals have us scratching our heads. Photo: Martyn Kyle

Hello, kitty

Jack Graves’ Pananimals exude simplicity in nonsense

They evolve under the cover of night. They live in the shadows. They stay silent and are transparent, almost invisible—yet, they leave an indelible impression and invigorate the imagination through their nonsensical composition.

The mysterious Pananimals, drawn simplistically in chalk on the city’s walls, buildings and sidewalks, are as enigmatic as their creator, graphic artist Jack Graves III.

“Pananimals take cat, deer and ghost-like forms, but always have an elongated female or androgynous face,” says Graves. “They never speak, but communicate through thought bubbles.”

Call them modern street art or graffiti, Graves’ sketches illustrate a story and Charlottesville is the artist’s manuscript. Graves’ affable images tease the eye and invite observation—one can’t help ponder their meaning.

“When I first drew them, it was 2008, and I wanted to make a simple, compelling character,” Graves says. “I later added ZXCV to further their esotericism. ZXCV is derived from the most simple-looking symbols of the Latin alphabet, which I liked formed together. It sounds cool when spoken or worded out. They mean nothing apart…simplicity in nonsense may create great importance when repeated.”

Graves’ elusive, playful narrative is left to interpretation as he draws volume from silence through the collective voice of his ephemeral creatures.


Violet Crown Cinema

Runner-up: Regal Stonefield Stadium 14 & IMAX

We were curious to see how this one would play out, since until recently there were only two movie theaters in town. Violet Crown —the home of indie flicks and limited-release showings plus multiple film festivals throughout the year—is tops, likely for its cushioned recliner seats, small theater size and in-theater bar and restaurant. For the IMAX-inclined among us, though, there’s the Regal, where you’re more likely to get a ticket to a showing of the latest box office smash.


Downtown Mall

Runner-up: Bang!

Honorable mention: Brazos Tacos

Charlottesville isn’t exactly a haven for singles, but if you’re lucky enough to go on a first date here, the Downtown Mall is the spot to take a stroll and find out what your potential honey is into—dinner, a movie, coffee, comic books, records, a live show, books, weird pawn shop finds…the possibilities are endless. And if you run out of options on the Mall proper, head a few blocks over to Bang!, where the list of more than 25 martinis can help get the conversation started.

Gorilla founder and artistic director Anna Lien says the theater will continue to define its place as a diverse, inclusive player in the acting community. Photo: Martyn Kyle

You’re welcome

Gorilla Theater focuses on inclusivity

Six years ago, Gorilla Theater Productions began its history with Jean Anouilh’s Antigone, a variation on the Sophoclean tragedy of the same name in which a young girl buries her brother despite the royal edict of her uncle. GTP cast the play with kids and teens, and immediately set the tone for its approach to inclusive community theater.

But keeping a fledgling company alive in an area like Charlottesville requires focus, so founder and artistic director Anna Lien got organized, assembling a group of seven board members to produce GTP’s year-round season, from costumes and props to the website and, most importantly, mission.

“We got brave,” Lien says of the company’s reinvention, noting productions like Spring Awakening, which discusses sexuality, and Polaroid Stories, which has a predominantly LGBTQ cast. “It’s high-risk, and that’s why we stay small and agile as a theater and a company; we can easily adapt and roll with the punches and try new things at the drop of a hat.”

Lien says that casting—organized into a teen troupe and an adult troupe—has remained non-traditional (females often play male roles, teens play adult roles).

As with Antigone, Lien says, “It’s teens handling adult plays, but performing as fully fledged actors rather than trying to simplify something.”

And diversity is a mainstay on stage. In fact, since the company boldly underlined its goals of ongoing education and acceptance, the Allied Street black box was certified as an LGBTQA+ safe space, which will become even more relevant as the company continues its community outreach.

“By partnering with other artists and sharply defining ourselves,” Lien says, “we’ll see the momentum keep moving forward.”


Tony Bennett

Runner-up: Jason Elliott

Honorable mention: Shawn Decker

Anyone who knows anything about college basketball knows that Virginia Cavaliers men’s coach Tony Bennett is one of the best in the NCAA—his “Pack-Line” defense and “Block-Mover” offense, plus his adherence to a code of conduct (even when it means dismissing a promising player for breaking team rules), have ushered the team into a new golden age where tourney play—and the excited atmosphere it brings to town—seems inevitable year after year. He might be Charlottesville’s favorite local minor celeb, but he’s not the only one: Jason Elliott, a health counselor at the Virginia Department of Health, spokesmodel for Greater Than AIDS’ SpeakOutHIV campaign and a former Mr. Pride of America, also calls C’ville home.


WNRN 91.9

Runner-up: HitKicker 99.7

Honorable mention: C-Ville Country 92.7

Charlottesville’s always bragging about its status as a music city, and it’s true that many of us often have music in our ears. WNRN’s modern-rock programming, with a heavy dose of folk and bluegrass, is where Charlottesvillians turn their dials for the earworm of the day. But this is Virginia after all, birthplace of country royalty Patsy Cline and June Carter Cash, and HitKicker 99.7’s devotion to country music isn’t letting us forget that anytime soon.


Clap back

Angelina Jolie’s leg, J-Lo’s nipple, if Hillary Clinton had become president… Twitter is filled with endless phony (and often funny) accounts. It was only a matter of time before “Clapping Man” Michael Jones—who notoriously tours the Downtown Mall clapping about, er, something?—joined the mix.

The account, @manclapping (which we’re fairly certain Jones isn’t behind), began in late September of 2016 with 10 “CLAP!”s and, from there, began doling out applause for everything from tourism revenue increases to updates on 5th Street Station’s completion. Lately, there have been only claps without provocation. Because some things are better seen and not heard, here is one of our—CLAP! CLAP! CLAP!—favorites.


Kevin Graham (Hot 101.9)

Runner-up: Tom Morgan (HitKicker 99.7)

Honorable mention: Kendall Stewart (106.1 The Corner)

WNRN 91.9 may have nabbed the top spot for best local radio station, but Hot 101.9’s DJ Kevin Graham is the one with the most fans. Middays from 10am to 3pm, this self-professed “HUGE…like HUGE” Michael Jackson fan (he claims to own more than one life- sized MJ cardboard cutout) has you swaying in your office chair to top pop hits from every era. Runner-up Tom Morgan, of HitKicker 99.7’s “Morgan in the Morning,” is the go-to for the early crowd who needs a pre-work energy boost.


Norm Sprouse (NBC29)

Runner-up: Henry Graff (NBC29)

Honorable mention: Kasey Hott (NBC29)

When looking at the Best of C-VILLE forecast each year, we do a lot of guessing as to who will land where, but there’s pretty much a 99 percent chance of Norm Sprouse landing at the top, and it’s easy to see why—from weather to anchoring, he’s a true pro. Sprouse’s NBC29 colleague, reporter Henry Graff, who’s covered everything from Michelle Obama’s White House vegetable garden to local crime and extreme weather, is a fixture on this annual list, too.

Sign of the times: Aileen Bartels’ knit posters are becoming a local symbol of the resistance. Photo: Amy Jackson

Unwavering weavings

The city’s secret yarnbomber has a message for all

For some, last year was a hard one —a voraciously fought presidential battle that ended in disappointment, outrage and, in many cases, a feeling of helplessness. Inspired by some abstract crochet artwork hung in Belmont Park, Aileen Bartels decided to fight back the only way she knew how—by knitting.

“I thought, if you can hang knitted art in public, why not use that medium to spread a message?” she says. So she began creating signs of resistance—knitted sleeves with anti-Trump messaging—that she’d hang in public spaces.

“I’ve attended protests, donated money where I thought it would help and have called my member of Congress about issues, but the knitting really helped me feel that I was doing something constructive,” she says. “It’s therapeutic.”

She tied her first sign—a black and yellow piece that read “Resist Trump”—to a tree near the bus stop at the corner of Avon Street and Druid Avenue around New Year’s Day and, since then, has hung 12 in and around Charlottesville, five in Washington, D.C., and one in Buffalo, New York.

“At the Women’s March, I tied a small yarnbomb that said ‘NO TRUMP’ to a tree when we were walking to the march,” Bartels says. “Hours later, when we were walking back, we noticed that someone had attached a little cloth sign with a safety pin emblem and the word ‘solidarity’ to my yarnbomb. I thought that was awesome.”

In total, she’s made about 20 (with two in the works as of this writing), which she hangs on public property in broad daylight. No one is really interested in what she’s doing, she says. “It took a few minutes to staple a large RESIST sign to a telephone pole at the corner of Fourth and Market streets downtown on a Saturday afternoon, and not a single passerby said anything.”

Bartels says the project is a great way to use up leftover yarn, but that she hopes it starts a small movement of resistance signs around the country—whatever the response. “In my opinion, if people get upset about my signs, I know they’re successful.”


Tom Tom Founders Festival

Runner-up: C’Ville Pride Festival

Honorable mention: Porkapolooza

Attracted by the allure of entrepreneurship, creativity, civic leadership and, perhaps, those blue and purple buffaloes all over the place, people flock to the annual Tom Tom Founders Festival lectures, pitch competitions, block parties, cocktail contests, tech mixers, mural projects and more every April around Jefferson’s birthday. The colorful CAT buses zipping around town? You have Tom Tom—and some local artists—to thank for them. Though Tom Tom Founders Festival happens once a year, there are other annual events to look forward to, like runner-up C’Ville Pride Festival. One teen told us that C’Ville Pride is an opportunity to celebrate queerness, to “remember that you have a family and community in which you belong and participate as your whole self; a community in which you are remembered and celebrated and relevant.”



Runner-up: Fry’s Spring

Honorable mention: North Downtown

It comes as no surprise to us (nor readers) that the city’s most eclectic neighborhood—in residents, attractions and architecture—takes the top prize here. With a “downtown” area that boasts some of the city’s best restaurants and charming painted streets that wind their way to picturesque parks, Belmont is a no-brainer. Across town, Fry’s Spring—so named for two springs that once ran through a wealthy landowner’s property, which comprised the current neighborhood’s borders —boasts a family-friendly vibe amplified by popular historic site, Fry’s Spring Beach Club.

Photo: Bill LeSueur

Two-wheeled wonder

Wheelie Kid tricks his way into our hearts

Juwan Jones—or, as many of us know him, Wheelie Kid—has been busting sick tricks on his bike all over town for years. Jones, who graduated from Charlottesville High School in 2015 and now works at a local grocery store, says he’s been riding for most of his life, whipping down West Main Street, coasting across the JPA bridge and over the hills of Cherry Avenue, pulling jumps, wheelies and other tricks wherever his bike takes him. He’s usually wearing big plastic headphones, but occasionally he wears a matte black helmet with a mohawk of black spikes down the center.

Jones’ favorite trick is the stand-up wheelie, where he’ll pull back on the handlebars while standing up, launching the front wheel into the air and keeping it there, without pedaling, as he rides. For those who stop to wonder in awe—“How does he do that?”—Jones will sometimes throw up an index and pinkie finger as he rocks and rolls along.


Downtown Mall

Runner-up: Charlottesville Albemarle SPCA

Honorable mention: Chris Greene Lake Park

For those of you without canine companions, a stroll on the Downtown Mall will easily satisfy your pup fix, from yorkies tucked into purses to a brindle mastiff named Mozart. But, for every Fido or Fifi you spot on the mall, there’s one at the Charlottesville Albemarle SPCA that you could take home.