Charlottesville’s not charming anymore, and it’s partly my fault. You take a college party town in close enough proximity to a major metro area to attract venture capital, weekend homes, bohemians, and commuters, and sooner or later the kinetic energy between the scene and the U turns the place from quaint to charming. Word starts to get out, and the money follows.
As businesses spring up, a story takes shape. All of a sudden you’re one of a hundred or so places in the Top Ten. And now there’re jobs coming and the city consciously starts to work to build the momentum, to plan for growth, to lure employers. Ambition follows like the plague. Everyone agrees the city’s cool now but the people who made it that way in the first place. There are lines everywhere, and yuppies on cell phones, and traffic, and ugly housing developments, and you can’t get a slacker waiting gig without a three-page curriculum vitae.
The guy writing editorials at the weekly paper can’t appreciate how friggin’ boring it used to be on a Wednesday night and wouldn’t know an old-time local family if he tripped over the gravestone. You may as well teleport to town, anyway, since all the Central Virginia that’s left is at Riverside Lunch.
You could tell the same story with a music video, and it would be more fun. Split frame. On one side John D’earth plays a lonely trumpet solo to a smoky crowd at Miller’s and on the other side Skip Castro plays a surf rock tune at a Greek Easters blowout. Fill in the frames until the DMB shockwave ripples from Trax to the Mall to Malaysia (pan out for the blue earth view). Zoom back in and Red Light is lighting lamps all over Downtown.
The film speeds up and turns into the story of one stardust-sprinkled night in which Invisible Hand and Love Canon and The Hill and Wood are all playing covers of “White Freight Liner” in simultaneous gigs, while Lyle Lovett is on stage at the Paramount and a goth-metal-Mongolian throat singer’s exploding minds at the Tea Bazaar. And then Parachute parachutes into the JPJ and sings a song about Charlottesville to 30,000 screaming teenage girls.
I like happy endings, so I’d cut back to John D’earth at Miller’s blowing a Bebop tune, no smoke now, to a discerning crowd of locals and profs with a hot new drummer from Richmond tearing up the skins, and a lone cowboy, highway dust on the brim of his hat and a guitar case in his hand, walks up to the bar, orders a whiskey, and says, “I understand there’s work in this town.”