When it comes to the best ways to keep yourself busy ’round these parts—from art galleries and music venues to road trips and radio stations—you’ve got the beat. You’ve got the rhythm in you. You’re rocking the casbah. You’re… Oh, you get it.
Sons of Bill
Runner-up: Love Canon
Honorable mention: Chamomile & Whiskey
They’ve been called Charlottesville “sonic royalty,” and nearly a decade after the Wilson brothers Sam, Abe and James formed the Americana band and named it in honor of their father, retired UVA theology professor William Wilson, they’re still going strong and gaining popularity far beyond Charlottesville with a fall 2015 European tour planned. Rolling Stone has called Sons’ latest album, Love and Logic, “lush and lovely,” and with a new manager pushing the band’s sound to reach new ears, you can be sure you haven’t heard the last of these guys. Runner-up Love Canon doesn’t just get the party started with its ’80s covers—it does it with a blue-grass twist, playing banjo, mandolin, dobro and fiddle.
Cruisin’ and boozin’
Wine, beer and liquor: Nelson 151 has it all
The scenic byway that is Route 151 is home to six wineries, three breweries, a cidery and a distillery to the east of the Blue Ridge. Together they make up Nelson 151—your pick for the best way to spend a lazy day. Just a word to the wise: Take a cab!—C.W.
330 Newtown Rd. (Greenwood)
When the Dixie Chicks sang of wide open spaces, they must have had a place like Pollak Vineyards in mind. From the spacious, modern tasting room to the sprawling patio overlooking a gorgeous pond to the west and 27 acres of vines to the east, a visit to Pollak is a must.
Blue Mountain Brewery
9519 Critzer Shop Rd. (Afton)
Known as much for its brews as for its views (check out that patio!), Blue Mountain is a perennial favorite among C-VILLE readers. Not only was it the first brewery in Nelson County, but all the hop-growing, brewing, bottling, canning and kegging happens on site in Afton.
Veritas Vineyard & Winery
151 Veritas Ln.
In wine there is truth, and the truth is, Veritas is a winner. The petit verdot, sauvignon blanc and viognier are competition darlings regionally and nationally. Sip them on the sprawling deck or inside the light-filled tasting room.
Afton Mountain Vineyards
234 Vineyard Ln. (Afton)
With panoramic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains from its patio, it’s no wonder the owners of AMV (both Charlottesville natives) say “grapes don’t grow in ugly places.” Their wines run the gamut from festa di bacco to gewürztraminer.
9423 Batesville Rd. (Afton)
Having developed a taste for riesling while stationed in Germany, Cardinal Point owners Paul and Ruth Gorman decided that, post-retirement, they’d open a winery. The resulting Rockfish Gap spot is known for its year-round patio and daring blends.
9374 Rockfish Valley Hwy. (Afton)
Virginia grains, pure water and American craftsmanship account for the premium vodka, gin and grain spirits you’ll find at Silverback. Opened in April 2013, the distillery plans to add whiskey and bourbon (currently aging) to its roster in two or three years.
Flying Fox Vineyard
27 Chapel Hollow Rd. (Afton)
This limited-production winery from longtime grape growers Lynn Davis and Rich Evans offers merlot, cabernet franc, petit verdot, viognier and pinot gris. Pack a picnic (and your pup!) for an afternoon in the countryside.
Hill Top Berry Farm & Winery
2800 Berry Hill Rd. (Nellysford)
The bread and butter at this medieval-themed winery is the authentic honey meads and fruit wines. Makes sense, since Hill Top was originally a pick-your-own berry farm prior to its reinvention as a winery. (PYO blackberries are still available in July and August, too!)
Wild Wolf Brewing Company
2461 Rockfish Valley Hwy. (Nellysford)
The home of “howling good beer,” mother/son duo-owned Wild Wolf is as much about the brews (there are always 10-12 house and seasonal beers on tap) as the food, which is locally sourced and served in an outdoor pavilion all year long.
Bold Rock Hard Cider
1020 Rockfish Valley Hwy. (Nellysford)
One of the fastest-growing cideries on the East Coast, Bold Rock can be found on a grocery store shelf near you. But stop by the taproom and you can also take a self-guided tour of the production facility to watch the bottling process or even visit the Cider Museum.
Devils Backbone Brewing Company
200 Mosbys Run (Roseland)
About 20 years ago, a taste of true “craft” beer in Cortina, Italy, planted the seed for owners Steve and Heidi Crandall to start Devils Backbone. Today, the 100- acre Basecamp Brewpub is more than just great beer (though it’s definitely that): There’re bike races, trail run races, festivals and camping, too.
Runner-up: Blue Ridge Parkway
Honorable mention: Shenandoah National Park
Local radio station
106.1 The Corner
Runner-up: 91.9 WNRN
Honorable mention: Hitkicker 99.7
When C-VILLE readers turn their radio dial, they stop it at 106.1 The Corner, where new music is introduced regularly, local artists get airtime and you just might hear a big name act in town for a show who’s stopped by the station to chat and play a few songs for the Corner Lounge. And don’t miss the periodic release of The Corner Music Sampler CDs, which can help you be hip to the newest and coolest songs around. Longtime favorite independent music station WNRN is runner-up, and loyal listeners turn there to enjoy shows like “Acoustic Sunrise” and “Grateful Dead and Phriends.”
Wine & Design
Drink and draw
Creating art in a relaxed environment
In a studio on East Market Street, people of all ages gather for the best art class in Charlottesville. And for this one, they wrap themselves in stylish black smocks and bring several bottles of their favorite wine.
Becca Lewis, an artist and in-structor, stands on a small stage to give her introduction. She assures people attending the class that mistakes happen and they can be painted over. And when she asks the group of about 25 if they have ever been to a Wine & Design art class, she is surprised when eight people raise a hand. Lewis says about 70 percent of people who attend her classes have never painted before.
And on the topic of making novice mistakes, she says, “If you’re drinking, just have another glass of wine—it makes every-thing better.” To that, the whole room giggles, says “Cheers!” and clinks cups with their neighbors. Pop music fills the studio and, a few glasses of wine later, the sound of lively chatter is louder than the Backstreet Boys classic that pours from the stereo.
For a private event, the whole group receives instruction for just one piece of art. But tonight’s class is an open studio, when buddy artists can choose from nature scenes and lighthouses to rainy days and American flags. Open studio nights have less instruction, too, so guests are able to push their creative boundaries.
Tyler Howerton, for instance, paints a pink elephant while her sister, Alex, paints a sunflower and their mom works on an outdoor scene nearby. Tyler says they’ve never painted before, but were looking for a way to celebrate her sister’s last week in Charlottesville, and decided to give Wine & Design a try.
“Having the instructors here is really helpful,” Tyler says, noting Lewis’ and owner Katie Painter’s ability to tend to her, individually, while also giving attention to the rest of her family and the other new artists.
Painter, a former elementary school teacher, offers plenty of options for families, with themed “Daddy/Daughter” or “Mommy and Me” painting sessions on the weekends and, for kids, summer and holiday art camps. Kids are fearless when it comes to painting, she says.
For adults, Painter says people come out to socialize and often find that they really enjoy painting.
“It’s not so daunting,” she says, comparing Wine & Design to other art classes. Though people may be nervous when they walk in, she says it doesn’t take long for them to relax and enjoy themselves.
And maybe a few glasses of wine helps with that, too.—S.B.
Runner-up: Glassblowing at McGuffey Art Center
Honorable mention: City Clay
Local TV personality
Norm Sprouse (NBC29)
Weather or not
The sky’s the limit for TV man Norm Sprouse
It’s safe to say longtime NBC29 weatherman Norm Sprouse is walking on air (quite literally) over his victory as best local TV personality. “They had a lot of good choices and for some reason they chose me,” he says with a self-deprecating chuckle and a big thanks to his fans. “That’s what I get for 25 years in this market doing the same thing.”
It’s true, Sprouse has been help-ing 29’s Central Virginia viewers plan for the weather since January 1990, when he was hired to report the forecast for the station after working in radio for 20 years in Charlottesville and Harrisonburg. The shift to TV came with a tough schedule in the early days: Sprouse would rise at 1am and arrive to work around 2:30am. Recently, he’s keeping more regular hours, and viewers can catch him week-days at noon, calling for rain, shine or snow, always with good humor.
We caught up with Sprouse on a sunny afternoon to find out what makes this weather guy tick.—C.S.
What’s the best thing about your job?
Helping people plan their days because weather seems to be the most important thing people are concerned about in the morning. News is so often full of less-than-cheerful things. I try to look on the bright side.
What’s the hardest thing?
In the summer, it’s predicting when and where thunderstorms are going to strike and in the winter it’s predicting how much snow we are going to get.
What’s the most memorable weather event in your tenure?
Two of them. One was the blizzard of ’93—it hit late March of ’93. Two feet of snow, 40mph winds. It was nasty. The other one happened a few years later in the mid-’90s. We had a sleet storm come through here, and we got 6″ of sleet. I think everyone was surprised by the amount.
Once, I was doing an interview and the person I was interviewing was talking about an event. I went to say, “It sure sounds like a great idea,” and for some reason my mind decided to change it to, “Sure, it sounds like a good idea.” I only got the “sh” part of the sure and then the word “it.” It sounded like something else.
What do people say when they see you out and about?
They always comment on the weather. ‘Why’d you make it so hot? Why’d you make it so cold? When is it going to stop?’ It’s al-ways been good natured.
Have you always had a beard?
I started growing it when I was in radio, about the time I turned 21. I’ve had it since then.
Runner-up: Coy Barefoot (Newsplex)
Honorable mention: Henry Graff (NBC29)
Local radio personality
Brad Savage (106.1 The Corner)
Runner-up: Anne Williams (91.9 WNRN)
Honorable mention: Coy Barefoot (107.5 WCHV)
When it comes to capturing local listeners, Brad Savage has “cornered” the market, somewhat literally. The programming director of 106.1 The Corner is a perennial pick for best local radio personality, and it’s not hard to understand why: The guy’s a self-described music nerd who has a proven knack for recognizing (and playing) the next big thing before it gets big. Beyond music, he keeps listeners engaged by interviewing local politicians and reporting on local news, not to mention hosting big name musical acts for informal sessions in the Corner Lounge before shows. Runner-up Anne Williams catches listeners’ ears on 91.9 WNRN by easing them into mornings with her “Acoustic Sunrise” show from 5:30-10am, featuring acoustic, folk, bluegrass and Celtic tunes.
All grown up
Live Arts celebrates 25 years
Live Arts co-founder Fran Smith wanted to be able to do a play with profanity in it. She’d spent 11 years working with the more family-friendly Four County Players, and when she sold her Barboursville farm and moved to Charlottesville, she was ready to spread her thespian wings with edgier fare.
The idea that would become Live Arts was conceived during a production Larry Goldstein or-ganized of Sam Shepard’s A Lie of the Mind at Charlottesville High’s Black Box theater. Smith remembers a what-if conversation with Michael Parent about having their own theater. Goldstein says he thought they were crazy.
Then landlord Gabe Silverman came into the picture in 1989 and gave Live Arts a sweet, first-year-free lease on the Michie Building.
Smith describes Live Arts as an umbrella organization for other performing arts, like Jazz Czar Aaron Zatcoff and the Kerner brothers’ acid house dances.
“It was a big coup bringing in Will Kerner and Thane Kerner,” says Goldstein, “because they knew how to make money on their raves. This was a coup for them to have a space to do them in.”
The theater group took an existential leap for its first production in 1990, with Smith directing Jean Paul Sartre’s No Exit. The group’s first review in the Daily Progress: “New group brings its version of hell to stage.
Smith remembers when she had a production on a Friday night, having to strike the set by 9:45pm so the Kerners could have their dance. “It makes me exhausted to think about,” she says.
And one night, she recalls, there was a line out to the police station for a performance by jazz trumpeter Don Cherry.
Another early-years venture was the coffeehouse that featured plays written by local people and with actors perhaps sitting in the audience at a table.
Then, as now, Live Arts was volunteer driven—and “crisis driven,” says Smith. “Thane car-ried us through. He made Live Arts run like a business,” and didn’t seek grants and donors in case that dried up.
The break-out show, says Goldstein, was his and Mike Parent’s production of Some Things You Need to Know Before the World Ends (A Final Evening with The Illuminati), which sold out a five-week run in 1991. “That’s when we realized we could depend on ticket sales,” he says.
That show was also the one that brought longtime artistic director John Gibson into the Live Arts fold, recalls Goldstein. The pro-duction’s set director left and Gibson showed up at the door. “This guy new to town wanted to know if he could help,” says Goldstein. “We said we needed a set, and he said, ‘I can do that.’”
Says Goldstein, “John Gibson was essential to Live Arts.” Gibson directed the theater for the next 18 years, and now one of the Water Street theaters bears his name.
“He was innovative, and he pushed the organization,” says Smith. “He was instrumental to getting us to the new building.”
Twenty-five years later, Live Arts has a gorgeous, permanent home that houses two theaters, Second Street Gallery and Light House Studio, with Live Arts still the umbrella organization.
“Live Arts is my creative home,” says Smith, who continues to direct a play each season. “I wanted to do theater without people telling me how to do it.” And as the oldest of five children, she says she was used to telling people what to do.
“Michael Parent and I said, ‘Who’d have ever thought we’d see this in 25 years?’” says Smith.
“It was a convergence of creative energy,” says Goldstein. “It was a lot of positive energy of people working together who had a lot of talent.”—L.P.
Runner-up: Tom Tom Founders Festival
Honorable mention: Virginia Film Festival
The Jefferson Theater
Runner-up: nTelos Wireless Pavilion
Honorable mention: The Paramount Theater
With a year-round schedule that brings big name acts to a still-intimate-feeling historic space, the Jefferson Theater on the Downtown Mall is C-VILLE readers’ top pick when it comes to catching a show. The past year has brought sold-out performances from Brandi Carlile, Ben Folds and Houndmouth, and the good times keep rockin’ and rollin’ in summer and fall with shows including Blues Traveler, Sturgill Simpson and Carbon Leaf. Down the bricks a few blocks and anchoring the east end of the mall, runner-up nTelos Wireless Pavilion hits the right notes with acts like Willie Nelson and Wiz Khalifa.
Tom Tom Founders Festival
Five reasons you should have gone to Tom Tom
There’s no shortage of festivals in Charlottesville—books, film, music, food—and some of them have been going for decades, which is why the Tom Tom Founders Festival victory in the live entertainment cat-egory is pretty darn impressive. Just four years ago, a guy named Paul Beyer had an idea for an event that would celebrate and support in-novation. It seemed a little wacky and vague at first—just how do you do that, and how would this festival differentiate from all the other events Charlottesville offers? In its fourth year, with Beyer having secured state grants and a partnership with UVA, the Tom Tom festival has become a signature Charlottesville event with nationally recognized speakers and enter-tainment that fills a weekend to overflow. If you didn’t make it out to Tom Tom this past April, here are five things you missed. And let this serve as a reminder that you should plan ahead for next year.
1) Talks and panels with Alexis Ohanian. The Reddit website, known as the “front page of the Internet,” allows its gajillions of users to post and then vote on newslinks to promote them to the site’s own home page. Ohanian, a 2005 UVA grad, is the site’s co-founder who invests in and advises hundreds of tech start-ups. This visionary was back in Charlottesville, offering words of wisdom to anyone looking to break into the start-up game.
2) The Belmont Bridge graffiti wall near Cham-pion Brewing Company got a colorful façade as master graffiti artists battled it out in a competition judged by the public.
3) Six sous chefs from some of Charlottesville’s top restaurants innovated with ingredients from City Market at the Iron Chef at City Market com-petition. Local ingredients never tasted so good!
4) For the fashionistas in town, Tom Tom was never better than when UVA grad and avant-garde designer Becca McCharen spoke about her innovative fashion designs that blend architectural concepts with an S&M flair.
5) There might never be more music playing in town than during Tom Tom. From the hip-hop of Damani Harrison to the swing and blues Americana of The Judy Chops to the neigh-borhood-wide Porchella event (different musicians performing on the front porches of Belmont), there was an act for everyone.—C.S.
Runner-up: The Whiskey Jar
Honorable mention: The Garage
McGuffey Art Center
Runner-up: Second Street Gallery
Honorable mention: Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection
Downtown Charlottesville is dotted with galleries, and while some have closed their doors in recent years, leaving artists with fewer places to show their work, the McGuffey Art Center remains the beating heart of the local arts scene. Member artists don’t only show their work in the old school on Second Street NW, they work on-site in studios, offer classes to the public and host talks and other events. A few blocks away, runner-up Second Street Gallery offers shows by artists of national and international renown.
By Samantha Baars, Lisa Provence, Kathleen Smith, Susan Sorensen, Courteney Stuart and Caite White