Jeyon Falsini didn’t mean to stick up for C’ville’s music scene underdogs. It just kind of happened.
The longtime concert promoter and booking agent started working with the Main Street Arena in July 2012. Management wanted to bring in someone to turn its small overflow space on Water Street from a clothing retailer into a concert venue. Falsini was up to the task.
“When I was first given the keys to the space, I was too busy to come up with anything to put here,” he said. “But soon after, I was approached by hip-hop promoters and metal bands and goth promoters that needed a place to party. I embraced it.”
Falsini’s relationship to the concert venue, now known as the Main Street Annex but soon to undergo a name change, has grown since. At first, he worked as a contractor for the Main Street Arena, booking shows and managing operations part-time. But in the spring of 2013, the Arena said it had a tenant interested in leasing the space. Falsini told them if the deal didn’t work out, he’d be interested in signing a lease himself.
The deal didn’t work out. Falsini signed the lease in September 2013.
“It was like betting the farm,” he said.
It’s taken Falsini a year to make the 3,000-square foot venue his, he said. What started with a few shelving units flipped over for a stage, a spare PA system, and counters working as a ticket booth has been transformed in the past 12 months. Falsini and his team have built the stage out around those original shelves, commissioned a pro-level sound and light system, and installed a shiny new bar. They’ve made cosmetic improvements with a new coat of paint. The next step is to add a kitchen.
The improvements have made a difference in the quality and quantity of acts playing the Annex, Falsini said. Where he was once doing the occasional dance party, he’s now hosting multiple events per week, including national rap shows like Project Pat and Lil Scrappy. These days, the Main Street Annex has become the place for the hip-hop, metal and goth crowds to get together and do their thing on a regular basis.
It’s an odd mix to say the least. But Falsini is the type of guy who’s able to slip between the divergent scenes, making everyone feel some ownership of his venue. On Aug. 8, the night of the Project Pat show, Falsini slapped hands with a dozen hip-hop promoters and artists before sliding through the Main Street Arena over to the Whiskey Jar, where he’d booked a roots rock band through his booking company, Magnus Music. He chatted with friends, one of whom is a mainstay in the local metal scene, and suggested the upright bass player turn up his sound a bit, before heading back to the night’s main event.
It was hip hop’s night at the Annex, after all, and Falsini needed to be there, not only to network with the complicated web of party promoters the scene’s produced, but to manage security. After the tragic murder during an after hours hip-hop party at Al Hamraa on May 10, Falsini has been particularly on point with security. Mostly, “security” on the night of the Project Pat show meant stopping people from smoking various dried plants, but making sure everyone is safe in his venue is a high priority.
“The gentleman that died was a regular customer of ours. That touched me very deeply,” Falsini said. “We only partner with promoters who are serious, and we vet them before we partner with them. There are thousands of artists out there. If they are going to bring trouble, there’s no need to book them.”
The local hip-hop scene indeed seems to be growing. Promoters like the openly boozy-but-professional Sweet Lick King are coming out of the woodwork, making bold claims about the quality of acts they can deliver on any given night.
“There’s a lot going on out here,” Sweet Lick said. “Charlottesville and the area around Charlottesville is definitely a big scene.”
As for the other groups to whom the Annex gives a voice, goth and metal, things seem to be holding steady, with the goth crowd commanding semi-regular dance parties and local and regional metal acts rolling through every two weeks or so. Luke Smith of local thrash standout Blooddrunk Trolls said if the scene is going to grow, the Annex will likely be involved.
“It’s the place to do it,” he said. “It’s not like a massive crowd, anywhere from 60-80 people, but it’s very loyal people, people that are so excited metal is happening here.”
Still, it’s hard not to imagine a scenario where the underrepresented music scenes are crowded out of the Annex if it really takes off. With room for 375 people, it has the potential to be one of the top concert venues in the city, settling comfortably into rotation for bands that aren’t quite big enough for the Jefferson Theater (750 capacity) and traditionally opt for the Southern Café and Music Hall (300 capacity).
“It’s not that I’m not open to a bluegrass band or an indie rock bill, but they’re pretty well-covered,” Falsini said. “We’re just going ahead and making a go at what is missing, seeing if it can’t help foster these scenes. They’re not the mainstream so far, but we’re hoping to make it the mainstream.”