Best of C-VILLE 2018: Entertainment

Photo: Aaron Farrington

Chamomile & Whiskey

Runner-up: Erin & The Wildfire

Honorable mention: Abbey Road

It was over a cup of tea and a fifth of Evan Williams that Koda Kerl and Marie Borgman decided to form Chamomile & Whiskey in the winter of 2011. Since then, the band —which also includes banjo, bass, drums and electric guitar in addition to Kerl’s guitar and Borgman’s fiddle—has released two albums and toured extensively, playing its signature bluegrass folk and earning accolades for its drunken Irish sound to tune-smithing. Erin & The Wildfire, with its rock-soul-funk sound, is this year’s runner-up.


The Jefferson Theater

Runner-up: Sprint Pavilion

Honorable mention: John Paul Jones Arena

An extensive renovation in 2009 returned the Jefferson to its former glory as a stage for famous performers like Harry Houdini and The Three Stooges, restoring its architecture while modernizing the space for a new audience. Almost 10 years later, it still shines thanks to its two full-service bars, sophisticated lighting system and five-star acoustics owing to the high ceilings and sloped floor. Last year saw acts from Tig Notaro to Yonder Mountain String Band to Yo La Tengo take the spotlight. In second place, another venue in the Coran Capshaw empire: Sprint Pavilion, where crowds love gathering during the warmer months for concerts en plein air.

Rapper LaQuinn may not perform much in Charlottesville, but you’ve likely seen him (er, his posters) all over. Photo: Amy Jackson


Signing up

Rapper LaQuinn catches attention for his posters

Chances are, you’ve never seen Charlottesville’s most visible rapper.

He doesn’t perform much in town and he spends most of his time making music. And yet, he’s all over the city, at the Emmet Street/Barracks Road intersection and on the train trestle at Fourth Street SE. He’s on telephone poles all down Cherry Avenue and on tidy patches of grass on Grounds.

Wherever you look, LaQuinn is there. Not LaQuinn himself, in the flesh, but his name, written in bold, black Sharpie on neon green or hot pink paper or on a plastic lawn sign, urging you to visit his SoundCloud page or YouTube channel and listen to his music.

LaQuinn Gilmore (who goes by the mononym LaQuinn) has been putting up signs advertising his music for about a year now. He figures nobody wants to look at an ad on Facebook or Instagram—people will scroll right through it—but everyone’s going to squint at an unusual sign pasted to a lamppost near a stoplight.

LaQuinn makes every sign by hand (no Xeroxing involved), sometimes with help from his 10- year-old daughter, and the two of them put up most of the signs themselves. One of LaQuinn’s friends helps out on occasion, and between the three of them, they’ve hit every neighborhood in town and have spilled out into the county as well. LaQuinn prefers to put up fliers when the city is quiet, early in the morning or late at night—early morning is definitely preferable, he says. It looks less suspicious, though there’s nothing suspicious about his intentions: He just wants people to hear his music.

Since he started putting the fliers up, LaQuinn says he’s gone from a few hundred to a few thousand listeners on his SoundCloud and YouTube pages, which to him is evidence that his grassroots marketing campaign is working just as he’d hoped. He loves waking up to see 75 more followers on his pages.

“It’s been in me” from day one, LaQuinn says of music. His uncle, the late Johnny Gilmore, is one of Charlottesville’s most storied musicians, widely regarded as the best drummer in town. LaQuinn remembers him tapping out a beat on the table while the kids rapped about cereal and cake.

LaQuinn’s music is a mixture of rap, R&B and pop, and he’s constantly putting out new music online. His songs cover a wide range of topics, from love and loss to Big Brother; from how the town’s changing to accommodate UVA students instead of longtime residents to the importance of raising public awareness of children and teens who are abducted. And some songs are about “just having fun.”

This is why it makes LaQuinn sad to see his signs torn down. He hopes that when a flier disappears, it means someone’s taken it home to find his music online, and not that they’ve torn it down out of malice. LaQuinn puts hours and hours of time (and a chunk of cash) into making the posters and the music alike. “I just want people to be more open, more knowledged out here,” he says.

It’s why he’s continuing with his signs. “It’s like a huge treasure hunt,” he says, offering up a clue to spot the still unseen ones: Look up.—EO


IX Art Park

Runner-up: Second Street Gallery

Honorable mention: The Fralin Museum of Art

You won’t find placards with explanations of the artist’s vision here. Nor will you feel the need to be especially quiet, in reverence to the work—just ask the kids you’ll inevitably find running around (see Best Kids’ Park). No, IX Art Park encourages more than your typical art gallery allows, because IX itself is pretty darn atypical. It’s not everywhere you find a living jungle gym or a bench made from borrowable books, after all, and that’s exactly why it takes the prize. In second place, Second Street Gallery challenges its viewers, too, with provocative work from contemporary artists, as well as lectures, tours and workshops.


Shenandoah National Park

Runner-up: Carter Mountain Orchard

Honorable mention: Richmond

In fall of 2017, the National Park Service announced a huge increase in entrance fees. At Shenandoah National Park, that would have meant a $40 bump per vehicle, to $70 from $30. The proposal, however, was met with public outcry and the NPS’ final deci-
settled on a $5 increase during peak season, ensuring that the 200,000-acre park (500 miles of hiking trails included) could continue to be enjoyed by many each year. Second place stop Carter Mountain boasts fruit orchards, donuts, wine and a country market, plus a view over Charlottesville proper.


Mellow Mushroom

Runner-up: Random Row Brewing Company

Honorable mention: Firefly

There are a few things to know if you want to succeed at Mellow Mushroom’s Wednesday night trivia (besides the answers to the trivia questions, that is, which can range in topic from art and literature to math and sports): First, get there early. The action starts at 9pm, but true players show up by 8. Next, follow @MellowCville on Twitter to get the night’s theme for a team name. And last, don’t forget to order pretzel bites. …Wait. We don’t need to tell you this—you’re a bunch of know-it-alls anyway. You probably even know that, across town, Random Row’s Sunday trivia night with Geeks Who Drink also keeps crowds guessing.

Though she’s an introvert, artist Lee Alter has been teaching painting classes for more than two decades. Photo: Sanjay Suchak


Paint the town

Lee Alter eyes the next step in her journey

Lee Alter might be the quintessential Charlottesville artist, and not just because she draws at Bodo’s for an hour every morning. Not just because her portrait of local jazz legend John D’earth hangs in her studio in McGuffey Art Center, or because her work has been shown at Hamiltons’ at First & Main for 19 years. Not just because she’s lived here since the mid-’70s.

It’s the thousands of locals who have been her students who really bind her to this place. You can’t go into Christian’s Pizza without seeing one of Alter’s fliers for the watercolor classes she teaches to kids and adults. When she’s out, people often approach her with thanks for her influence on their kids’ lives. “They’ll say, ‘You helped her do her own thing,’” she says.

Alter seems to have found her way to art, and to teaching, through luck and intuition. She grew up near Boston and went to Northeastern University, where she was continuing her childhood study of dance, when she wandered over to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and walked the hallways of the art school there. “I thought, ‘I’m at home,’” she says.

She began making art and discovered, through the praise of teachers, that she had talent. Painter Kaji Aso taught her the loose, wet-on-wet watercolor style that’s still her signature, and she drew and painted on her own when she couldn’t afford to take classes. At age 20, she scored her first art show by walking into a Boston café and asking if she could put up some work.

By her mid-20s, she was living near Charlottesville and involved with a Divine Light Mission ashram. As the years passed and her three daughters were born, she traveled an artistic path that was intertwined with a spiritual journey—meditation, Jungian psychology, Sufi and Tibetan traditions are all reflected in the large paintings displayed in her studio. One shows the ancient ouroborus, a snake eating its own tail, in an abstracted circle that’s also reminiscent of the Zen ensō—a circle painted in a free, uninhibited way. It’s a symbol of eternal return. “There’s no beginning and no end,” she says.

But the walls of her studio reflect personal history, too—the first drawing she did back in Boston, the first drawing made by her daughter Anna Alter (now a successful children’s book illustrator), photos of her grandkids. It’s clear that family is important to Alter. After a divorce, she became a full-time massage therapist to support her kids, and refused a grim prognosis when she was diagnosed with melanoma. “I have kids to raise,” she told her doctor, and after six surgeries, she healed. Around that time—the mid-’90s —she had a dream that contained a message: She should start teaching art, as a way to give back.

“I’m an introvert,” she says. Teaching wasn’t easy. But, she says, “it just took off.” She’s been teaching ever since, taking an approach that privileges individual vision. “I believe everybody has something artistic in them,” she says. “If you just let go, it can come out of you. Some teachers will say, ‘No, the sky can’t be red.’ I refuse to critique these kids.”

After more than two decades of teaching, she is considering a move to Northampton, Massachusetts, to live near Anna and her family. Alter is still evolving along with her art. “Something has shifted and changed,” she says. “I love helping people, helping kids, but it’s time for me to go in a different direction.”

She knows she’ll miss Charlottesville. “It’s hard to leave a community like this,” she says. Minus those Lee Alter paintings on the walls at HotCakes, minus the fliers pinned to bulletin boards, minus the kindly teacher in the basement studio at McGuffey, Char-
lottesville will miss her, too.—EH

Photo: Martyn Kyle

Live Arts

Runner-up: American Shakespeare Center (Staunton)

Honorable mention: IX Art Park

Known for pushing the boundaries of what it means to be a local performance space, Live Arts impresses again this year with its commitment to forging community and theater. With the hiring of its new producing artistic director, Bree Luck, came a vow for the 2018-2019 season to reverse an oft-seen ratio: This year, nearly 80 percent of the productions are written or conceived by a woman or person of color, because theater—like community—should welcome everyone. Over Staunton way, ASC gives thespians an authentic experience, bringing to bear the Bard’s best work in a replica Globe theater.


Violet Crown Cinema

Runner-up: Alamo Drafthouse Cinema

Honorable mention: Regal Stonefield Stadium 14 & IMAX

What do we want? Booze! When do we want it? At the movies! That seems to be the mantra this year, at least, as Violet Crown and Alamo —two theaters where you can drink while you watch—take the top prizes. Downtown at Violet Crown, grab some avocado spring rolls or a chicken pesto pizza with your Barboursville Pinot before settling into your cushy reserved seat (hint: The front row reclines!). At Alamo, raise your order card for a Bee’s Kiss—rum, honey, vanilla ice cream, Honeycomb cereal—and bottomless popcorn.


Hot 101.9

Runner-up: 91.9 WNRN

Honorable mention: 99.7 CYK

The feather in Monticello Media’s cap (along with honorable mention 99.7), Hot 101.9 hit the Ruckersville airwaves in 1990 and, in the years since, has kept listeners engaged with contemporary pop hits from morning to night. Get a jumpstart when you wake up from the morning zoo—Elvis Duran and company—followed by best radio DJ Kevin Graham (see below) and then “PJ in the PM,” PJ Styles’ afternoon offering from 3 to 7pm. If you turn the dial to 91.9, listener-supported WNRN gives you a little bit of everything, from blues and rock to country and alt-Latino.

A former conservatory performer, these days Benita Slater makes the Downtown Mall her stage. Photo: Sanjay Suchak


Beautiful music

Benita Slater plays to heal

On a cool Tuesday morning, Benita Slater is playing a spirited rendition of Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood” outside of the Paramount Theater on the Downtown Mall. A family gathers to watch. With coaxing from his mother, a small boy ventures to Slater’s tip “jar,” a repurposed tissue box, and places a dollar bill inside. “Thank you!” Slater says, beaming, as the family walks away. “Have a good day!”

The saxophonist’s mission is simple, and as beautiful as her music: “It’s really just about making people smile,” she says. “I notice a lot of stress around here. People look so sad sometimes, so I enjoy playing for them to cheer them up.”

Though Slater may seem like a fixture on the mall, her musical journey has been much more varied than just playing in Charlottesville.

“I went to the Peabody Institute for Music,” she says. “I’ve been playing for about 20 years.”

Over the last two decades, the saxophonist has played as a soloist and in orchestras for many prestigious events and people, including the emperor of Japan, Slater says.

Despite her obvious skills, health and transportation issues have gotten in the way of playing in the city. Slater suffers from multiple sclerosis—she was in a coma two years ago—so she feels lucky to be able to perform at all.

Ever the crowd-pleaser, Slater tries to play everything—from Disney tunes like “Beauty and the Beast” to classical pieces from her conservatory days. More than anything, she says, she just wants to make people happy.

“[Saxophonist] David Sanborn once said to me, ‘Music is a healing art,’” Slater says. “I think that’s true, and that’s what I keep in mind when I’m playing here.”—DG


Kevin Graham (Hot 101.9)

Runner-up: Sherry Taylor (Z95.1)

Honorable mention: Tom Morgan (99.7 CYK)

Kevin Graham is your guide to midday listening, hosting Hot 101.9’s 10am to 3pm slot. Not surprisingly, he’s also your pick for wedding DJ (see Weddings). Safe to say, the man is pretty immersed in music, and has been for a while: He started DJ for All Occasions back in 2004 and serves couples from here to Fredericksburg. In the runner-up spot, Sherry Taylor wakes up early to play you the hits from 5 to 10am. This includes Impossible Trivia, a segment during which the 25-year radio pro asks listeners questions like “We spend about 18 minutes a day thinking about what?” and “Statistics show you’re likely to make more than $2,000 extra per year if you have what trait?” At least we know where to listen for the answer.


Josh Fitzpatrick (NBC29)

Runner-up: Norm Sprouse (NBC29)

Honorable mention: Kasey Hott (NBC29)

Following the great blizzard of March 2013, a young Josh Fitzpatrick decided he’d like to study meteorology. Snow was his favorite type of weather and he wanted to learn more about it. Cut to November 2017 when, after 10 years as a meteorologist in West Virginia, he joined the NBC29 weather team. A few months later, runner-up Norm Sprouse (and a perennial winner in this category) scaled back his own role at NBC29 from an on-air weatherman to a more behind-the-scenes position.


Tom Tom Founders Festival

Runner-up: Virginia Film Festival

Honorable mention: Charlottesville Dogwood Festival

A week-long festival around Thomas Jefferson’s birthday (and, coincidentally, festival founder Paul Beyer’s, too) that’s focused on the tenets of the third president —entrepreneurship, innovation and culture among them—Tom Tom introduces to town movers, shakers and tastemakers. Spring 2018 brought legendary newsman Dan Rather to the stage. But the fest isn’t out of mind the rest of the year either. The foundation also hosts Tomtoberfest, a block party in Market Street Park with live music, food trucks and vendors, each September. Taking the silver medal is the Virginia Film Fest, an annual celebration of all things movies, with four days of exclusive screenings and, often, celebrity sightings.

Can you smell what The Rock is cooking? You may be able to; he lives just down the road. Photo: Armando Gallo via Zuma Studio


Hidden figures

Maxine Jones, Donna Tartt, The Rock. What do they all have in common? It may come as a surprise, but all three celebrities live part- or full-time in Charlottesville. Unlike Dave Matthews or John Grisham, however, these stars have remained relatively under the radar in town—until now.

Out of Vogue, En Charlottesville

A founding member of R&B girl group En Vogue, Maxine Jones now spends her days somewhere in the city. Little is publicly known about her residence here, other than that she lives with her family. Though no longer a part of En Vogue, Jones is planning to release a solo EP sometime this year.

Writer’s retreat

Donna Tartt is known for writing instant bestsellers such as The Secret History and The Goldfinchand for taking her sweet time penning each one. A more under-wraps fact about Tartt is that she drafts her epic novels on a farm outside the city. Like many writers, she tends toward seclusion, but she has been spotted enough times to merit mention.

The man, the myth, the muscle, The Rock

Probably the best-known celeb on this list, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has also had the most trouble keeping a low profile. The wrestler-turned-actor owns an idyllic property here, where he plans to build a private workout space—Johnson was approached by overexcited fans when he tried to visit the now-shuttered Gold’s Gym. This experience was documented on his Instagram, alongside more peaceful photos of Johnson with his horses and fishing.—DG


Downtown Mall

Runner-up: Belmont/Carlton

Honorable mention: Fry’s Spring

Cost of living notwithstanding, the Downtown Mall (and surrounding North Downtown neighborhood, which is what we suspect readers were going for here) offers modern conveniences—a grocery store, a movie theater, coffee shops aplenty—across eight historic city blocks. And is it a coincidence that the best neighborhood is also the best place to discover a doggo (see below)? We think not. Runner-up Belmont/Carlton offers some of the priciest real estate in the city, but readers say it’s worth it for the creative community, divine dining and walkability to nearby downtown.


Downtown Mall

Runner-up: Chris Greene Lake

Honorable mention: UVA Grounds

No doubt you’ll be delighted to make the acquaintance of Mozart, the friendly Mastiff who turns heads whenever he traverses the mall. Or Roo, the beagle-Chihuahua mix who sometimes shops with her owner at Urban Outfitters. You’ll want to stop and dole out a few pets to labradoodle Jockamo and say hello to Gizmo, the corgi who lives at Blue Whale Books. It’s clear the mall is a spot for paws. Traditionalists might spot Spot at Chris Greene Lake, where he loves splashing away a case of the zoomies.