While you may know the best, we know the rest, so the C-VILLE editorial staff has thrown some picks into the mix, too. When you get right down to it, your love (and our love) of this place isn’t just about TJ or UVA. As the folks in this town figured out a long time ago, it’s about community—the space we create between town and country and all the moving parts that make the whole. That’s a whole lot to love.
If you heart the arts…
The best thing about crossing another year off the calendar? The party to celebrate! Put these three local anniversaries on your list for the coming year.
In October, Four County Players turns the big 4-0, and will retrace its years, for one weekend only, in a musical highlights revue. 40 & Fabulous, written and arranged by Jane Scatena (who first starred in A Taste of Broadway at Four County in 2010), serves as FCP’s annual fundraiser, with food, wine, and a reception following the performance.
Also coming into its 40th year, Second Street Gallery was the first nonprofit community gallery in central Virginia and is now one of the oldest nonprofit galleries in the U.S. “When we opened in February 1973, there was no UVA art museum or McGuffey Art Center,” said executive director Steve Taylor. “SSG was the art scene, and in many ways was a catalyst for the cultural vibrancy Charlottesville enjoys today.”
In November, the Virginia Film Festival, that annual four-day fall celebration of all things cinematic, turns 25. As festival director Jody Kielbasa put it, “Any time you talk about a significant anniversary such as this one, you want to make sure that you strike an important balance. I am proud to be able to celebrate the great history that has been built here over these years and to honor the outstanding work of my predecessors, while at the same time continuing to expand the vision of the Festival as it moves forward. Announcements about this year’s fest will drop October 2. Stay tuned—and keep your party hat handy!
All’s fair in Albemarle
Our fondest memories of the Albemarle County Fair from childhood are of the things that inspired “Look at that!” delight in young and old: bottle-fed farm animals, toad races, veggie contests. Thanks to an active and devoted local 4-H program, the fair’s focus on Albemarle agriculture has always been one of its best features—fitting, considering the county’s farm-centric roots. The annual displays of giant zucchini and prize-winning potatoes would make a Jefferson-level garden nut proud, and not even the collapse of an exhibition tent in a violent storm in 2003 kept young 4-Hers from caring for their rabbits, goats, and calves.
It didn’t faze us at all that after a year’s hiatus, the fair went “classic” in 2012, ditching the midway for a greater focus on old-fashioned country entertainment. After all, the event is about more than spinning in the Scrambler until you puke. It’s a reminder—one that comes in the form of colossal cucumbers and cute livestock, no less—that our corner of the Commonwealth remains closely tied to the land.
If someone in Charlottesville is paving paradise to put up a parking lot, you can bet plein air painter Edward Thomas will be there. The local artist, who documents life in the area through the stroke of his brush, makes a habit of depicting things that are, as he once told C-VILLE, “about to be bulldozed.” Future development sites at Grove and King streets, Cherry and Ridge in Fifeville, and the Woolen Mills dam on the Rivanna River have all found their way into his work, which he’s shown locally everywhere from the C&O to Les Yeux du Monde. Browse the stacks of his paintings at The Consignment House on the Downtown Mall before they, too, are all gone.
If you’ve spent any time on the Downtown Mall in the summertime, you’ve listened to Harmonica Dave wailing, trilling, shucking, and jiving on his Hohner blues harp, amplified through a mini MusicMan he picked up during a stint at SXSW. With the eyes of a hound dog and a head of gray dreadlocks that would make a Rasta elder jealous, Dave plays what we like to call Americana tunes these days, inspired by greats like Sonny Terry, Little Walter, and Sonny Boy Williamson.
While it’s tempting to believe the sound of Dave’s harmonica has been echoing off the facades of Downtown Mall buildings forever, it’s really only his third summer in town. Harmonica Dave is a less-than-classic halfback. Having grown up bouncing around the Northeast, he spent his recent history migrating from the Marigny in New Orleans to the boardwalk of Ocean City, playing on the street and in clubs, alone or with a trio, living by the blues. So what’s his story? Nothing, he says, just the music. And he will talk music all day long.
Harmonica Dave got his first blues harp for $1.75 in 1964, hopping on the mid-’60s jug band craze, and never let up on what he calls “the poor man’s instrument.” He’s not a Katrina refugee exactly, since he was playing to the Labor Day crowds at his summer haunt when the disaster struck. But after the storm, the rent went up, the street money went down, and he struck out in search of a new town. The Savannah Riverwalk, downtown Athens, and Charlottesville were all popular spots on his annual migratory pathway, but he chose to alight here and we’re better for it. “It’s all good on Frenchmen Street,” one of the originals you’ll hear on his DVD, brings the NoLA flavor and for a fiver, you might could request a ripping rendition of “Smokestack Lightning.”
And the band plays on
Nietzsche once said, “Without music, life would be a mistake.” Lucky for us, we have a stalwart defender of our musical traditions in the Charlottesville Municipal Band.
Founded in 1922, the nonprofit 90-piece band has made a crusade of providing quality, free public performances of band and ensemble music for the community, and is one of the oldest continuously operating community bands in the U.S.
For nigh on a century, it’s represented Charlottesville locally and nationally, playing before seven sitting presidents of the United States, and even welcoming the Queen of England during her Bicentennial visit. The impressive resumé aside, the Muni Band stomping grounds will always be here in town, with performances at the Paramount, the Pavilion, or its permanent home in the Municipal Arts Center.
PLACE TO PEOPLE-WATCH
While the bird’s eye view amongst martini-drinking collar-poppers at Commonwealth Restaurant & Skybar provides a spectacular look at the Downtown Mall and its patrons, it’s the window-side counter at Marco & Luca that, in our people-peeping opinion, is the best spot for spying.
Dumplings, pork buns, and sesame noodles require no ID (only cash), so Marco & Luca is a stomping ground for everyone from flocks of 14-year-olds to briefcase-toting businessmen.
One evening, two Polo-clad preteen boys sat at the window, fumbling with their chopsticks and whispering to one another while they anxiously checked their watches and eyed the door. Suddenly, the color drained from their faces as two young girls on the Mall shrieked and pressed themselves up against the glass, waving frantically. We swear we heard an audible “gulp” from one of the boys as their giggling dates made their way inside. Talk about dinner and a show.
TOM TOM FESTIVAL
Beat the drum
This spring saw the birth of a new festival, when the Tom Tom Founders Festival launched on April 13 with a free concert on the steps of McGuffey Art Center.
The month-long ambitious programming taught us to make art prints with birdseed, crowd-funded an entrepreneurs dream, held weekly discussions on innovation, and welcomed 40-plus musical acts to the Downtown Mall.
The concerts fluctuated in attendance, but a full house experienced Josh Ritter’s headlining set at The Haven. The silent thrill was palpable as Ritter turned off the lights and played “In the Dark,” then deftly segued into “Up On Cripple Creek” as a tribute to the recent loss of Levon Helm. At that moment, in the hushed darkness, Tom Tom Fest had us right where we all wanted to be.
Click to the next page to see our picks in food and drink…