Capshaw’s Starr Hill Presents enters partnership with The Southern

Sarah White and Josephine played last March at a showcase hosted by The Southern, which recently went into a partnership with Coran Capshaw’s Starr Hill Presents. Photo: Martyn Kyle Sarah White and Josephine played last March at a showcase hosted by The Southern, which recently went into a partnership with Coran Capshaw’s Starr Hill Presents. Photo: Martyn Kyle

It’s a long overused joke in Charlottesville, but it’s funny because it’s true: The C in “Cville” could very well stand for “Capshaw.” Coran Capshaw, who has a hand in management, promotion, and merchandising in Charlottesville, and whose titles include Dave Matthews Band manager, founder of Red Light Management and Riverbend Management, and owner of more than $50 million of local real estate, picked up a third music venue last week. Starr Hill Presents, the promotional arm of Red Light that controls the Jefferson Theater and nTelos Wireless Pavilion, announced a new partnership with The Southern Café & Music Hall, the small venue on South First Street.*

Both parties to the deed—Starr Hill and The Southern’s owner of four years, Andy Gems—emphasized the term “partnership,” and declined to explain specifically who owns the venue.

“Andy is still going to be heavily involved with booking and management of the venue,” said Lindsay Dorrier, marketing director of the Jefferson. “But it’s going to be more of a partnership, with us leading the way.”

According to Dorrier, The Southern will close for the month of July while it undergoes a facelift, to make the space “more welcoming” and strengthen the restaurant.

“It’s pretty good as it is, but there’s always room for improvement,” Dorrier said.

Gems took over The Southern in 2009, when it was still the Gravity Lounge. He invested in sound upgrades and brought in a more diverse lineup of acts, and four years later, he’s relieved to have some extra help.

“I was basically running the business by myself,” he said. “When you’re caught up in managing employees and a kitchen, a bar, and all the business operations, it doesn’t leave you a whole lot of time to focus on the core model, which is the shows.”

He said he’s hoping the partnership with Starr Hill will increase the quantity and diversity of shows. Plus, he said, he’ll have the luxury of a personal life again.

“It’s been 24/7 for four years,” he said.

Jeyon Falsini, a local music promoter who runs Magnus Music, said he’s not surprised by the partnership, because Gems had been looking for a buyer or financial backer for years.

“He actually pitched it to me before, but I wasn’t a fan of the space,” Falsini said. “But I think it makes sense for them to do it, because they can help develop bands on a smaller scale to eventually move into the Jefferson.”

From a business perspective, Falsini said, the partnership makes sense.

“Sometimes when you let someone get a foothold, they grow, and they grow fast,” Falsini said. “They grow like a weed and can’t be stopped. It’s almost like Coran had to buy it to ensure it’s not a threat.”

Surviving in Charlottesville’s music world, whether as an artist or a booker, isn’t easy, Falsini said. But despite Capshaw’s ever-expanding hold on the live music industry, he said he’s not concerned about the competition.

“I don’t really see them as competitors,” Falsini said, adding that he mostly works with bars and free shows, like at the Whiskey Jar and The Box. “I’m more about helping develop the artists so they can get to a point where they go into a paid spot, like The Southern or the Jefferson.”

James Wilson, lead vocalist and co-founder of local favorite Sons of Bill, said the new partnership is just another example of how challenging it is to keep a music venue up and running, especially as a solo operation.

“It’s just the reality of the music industry these days,” he said. “It’s not 1992 anymore. Things are very different.”

Wilson said he’s glad to see that Gems is staying on board with The Southern, and noted that nobody in town wants Starr Hill Presents as their competitor.

“It might be kind of a scary reality that music needs to have those big financial backers to keep things like clubs open,” he said.

Gems doesn’t see any problem with one person or company controlling such a large portion of the market, and said he’s grateful to Capshaw.

“I think there are some people in this town who love to hate on him,” he said. “I think it’s completely unfounded. If he were not here, there’s no way this town would be getting the level of music it’s gotten.”

*An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Coran Capshaw owns Musictoday LLC. Live Nation bought the company from Capshaw in 2006.