Dylan sang that the times they were a-changin’. Bowie said to turn and face the ch-ch-changes. And in 2004, all that change really hit home for Charlottesville’s music fans. The year witnessed the fading out of some of the city’s most cherished traditions, whether grooving to Jimmy O at Fridays After 5, listening to locally owned radio or dancing around with a greasy burger to old-timey tunes at the Blue Moon Diner. But with every door closed, another opened, and from Modest Mouse to Trey Anastasio to The Roots, nationally known names formed their Charlottesville connections. While you might notice plenty missing from C-VILLE’s review of the year in local music, we tried to cover the greatest hits, the things that rocked the scene. As for the rest, like ’Pac said, “things changed and that’s the way it is.”
The circle unbroken
For the genre that prides itself most on good ol’-fashioned traditionalism, Charlottesville’s bluegrass scene underwent some surprise changes this year. Though King Wilkie was a familiar name around town as early as, well, 2003, the sextet of traditional bluegrass musicians, all in their 20s, soared in 2004, establishing themselves as some of its brightest stars. While their local shows, including the CD release party for their Rebel Records debut, Broke, in April, drew large audiences at Starr Hill and Miller’s, Wilkie’s fan base kept growing outside of town and, in October, the band won the Emerging Artist of the Year award from the International Bluegrass Music Association.
But just as one group began its ascent, another took a hard loss. On August 18, the death of Gordonsville resident Charlie Waller, the only remaining original member of 47-year-old musical icons the Country Gentlemen, shook the bluegrass world.
“It was overwhelming at the time,” says Country Gentlemen banjo player Greg Corbett. “Two or three days between [the funeral] and the time he passed, there were newspapers and TV stations calling the house.” In addition to coverage from national media outlets CNN and Country Music Television, prominent Country Gentlemen alums Ricky Skaggs and Doyle Lawson were among the guests calling on the Wallers. About 1,000 people attended the funeral, Corbett estimates. Despite the setback, The Gentlemen have remained busy as ever fulfilling their touring schedule with Randy Waller, Charlie’s son, assuming the front slot. “Randy has been doing a wonderful job, just stepped right in,” says Corbett. “We’ve kept all the dates…and we’ve got big scheduled dates for next year.”
Buried somewhere in the subconscious of every radio listener in Charlottesville is the catchphrase, “Locally owned and operated by Eure Communications.” But on October 13, employees of the company and its three affiliates, AM talk radio’s WINA, classic rock 3WV and “Lite Rock” Z95.1, learned surprising news that the slogan, at least, would be changing. In a meeting at the company’s Rose Hill offices, Brad Eure announced to the staff that after 20 years of locally owning and operating the business his parents founded, he’d agreed to sell to growing Michigan-based conglomerate Saga Communications. Eure cited family reasons for the deal, which will take effect in January, pending FCC approval.
Eure, who stays on as general manager and president of the new subsidiary, Charlottesville Radio Group, is confident that the company won’t tinker with his successful programming formula. “They kind of work to provide consulting services to individual markets and really let the local people make the decisions,” he says. “I haven’t found anything that deviates from that.”
Coran Capshaw’s public revelation that he was the long rumored force behind the planned redevelopment of the Downtown Amphitheater likely shocked no one at a June City Council meeting. Though details on the design, which proposed installing a large arch and covered seating, and speculation over the fate of the Fridays After 5 free summer concert series, stirred some discussion, Capshaw’s assurances that he would put on about 40 events, including something similar to Fridays concerts, eased worried music fans. Following the season’s final show on October 1, construction began on the project, adding yet another chapter to the Dave Matthews Band manager’s history as a benevolent local developer.
Capshaw’s promises to bring nationally known acts to the new amphitheater particularly sweetened the deal, given the exciting growth at Musictoday.com and Red Light Management, where Capshaw presides as chief executive officer.
“It’s been a great year—it really has,” says Red Light Director of Marketing Patrick Jordan. “On a management side, the roster more than doubled.” The Ivy-based company this year signed emerging rock groups Graham Colton Band and Blue Merle, popular Australian act John Butler Trio and well respected British DJ Sasha. In December, Red Light was rumored to have made an even bigger catch, signing former Phish front man Trey Anastasio. Though industry wags said the deal was all but clinched, Red Light could not confirm it at press time.
ATO Records, the BMG subsidiary in which Capshaw shares stake with Matthews, and associates Michael McDonald and Chris Tetzeli, also brought packed shows to Starr Hill Music Hall, with visits this year from My Morning Jacket, Mike Doughty, Ben Kweller, North Mississippi Allstars and Jem. “This is the kind of community that really embraces great music,” says Jordan. “We look at Charlottesville as being a testing ground for the rest of the country and it’s definitely proven to work in those cases.”
The Prism Coffeehouse, which regularly brings world-class folk, bluegrass and jazz artists into an intimate local setting, may have spent the last 38 years subsisting on the charity of its volunteers, contributors and supporters. But in April, a local tabloid didn’t feel so charitable when it forced an internal dispute at the venue briefly into the public eye. Based on former board member Jim Quarles’ allegations of impropriety against Prism head Fred Boyce, The Hook wrote that “a mighty wind of discord has begun to gust behind the scenes, threatening to shake the Coffeehouse to its very foundations.”
The resulting clamor spawned a series of meetings during which mediators from UVA attempted to bring the two sides together. Ultimately, Boyce weathered the storm. “I think it was blown out of proportion quite a bit,” he told C-VILLE, following a December 3, packed-house performance by renowned Gypsy-jazz player John Jorgenson. “It was an unfortunate bump in the road. Some people got a hold of it and tried to make a lot more out of it than was there…I don’t apologize for just trying to put the absolute greatest musicians in this room.”
All the rave
With R2, Downtown restaurant Rapture’s dance-hall annex that opened in October, 2003, leading the pack, the year saw what at first appeared to be a full-fledged movement towards a more DJ driven nightlife. Adding a hip cosmopolitan sheen, turntablists and CD mixers set up shop at restaurants like Atomic Burrito and Mas, as well as several art openings aimed at engaging the area’s youth culture, while dance parties at diverse establishments like Club 216, El Rey del Taco, Tokyo Rose and Wild Wing Café continued bringing in their own disc-jockeying devotees.
Yet DJs long a part of the underground movement expressed dismay that the spike in clubbing wasn’t about the artistry so much as it was the bumping and grinding. “More than anything, rap has just gotten really popular in the U.S. and that’s made things a little different,” says Stroud, who began his DJ career in 1995, when students, townies and promoters united to make the rave scene flourish. As Stroud, the founder of Mining Vinyl Records, withdrew briefly this year to undergo treatment for cancer, he watched many of his DJing colleagues head to Washington D.C., and Richmond for better gigs.
“Most of the restaurants and commercial places are trying to make a buck and go with the more popular music. The underground music was always reserved more to labors of love.”
Meanwhile, the outlook for aspiring hip hop artists in town seemed better and better with the successes of the Music Resource Center, a mixing studio and rehearsal space for urban teens, which in March relocated to the old Mt. Zion Baptist Church. In October, “Another Day,” a rap tribute penned by MRC members and turned into a music video with the help of Light House Youth Media and director Sam Erickson, won an award as one of the year’s best videos by national youth media network Listen Up! And in November, MRC introduced the community to its next generation of rap and rock musicians with an impressive compilation CD, New Destinations.
On January 24, Goth fans and musicians bade farewell to their longtime hangout in the Tokyo Rose basement. For six years, The Rose had hosted a regular Goth night, The Dawning. But following a December incident involving a knife during one of the Saturday shows, owner Atsushi Miura decided he’d had enough and sent the entire genre packing—something he’d previously done for both hip hop and punk music. “Almost every time we have that, there’s problems or tension,” Miura said in January. “I feel sorry for parents who have kids like that.”
For the iconoclastic Miura, also known as a musician around town for songs including “I Hate Charlottesville” and “Don’t Call Me Alcoholic,” things evidently didn’t improve much. Amid rumors, including an e-mail from a Tokyo Rose music list-serve, that the last show would be December 18, Miura confirmed for C-VILLE that he planned to sell the restaurant for family reasons, but had no additional details at press time.
Charting the world
UVA’s students had plenty to dance about in October, as its music department presented a four-day Afropop Festival featuring three of Africa’s most important contemporary musicians: Congo’s Kanda Bongo Man, Mali’s Abdoulaye Diabate and Zimbabwe’s Thomas Mapfumo. The festival came about due to a financial gift from the UVA Athletics Department. “It was a question of what to do with this money. We were going to have a festival and it was a tossup between bluegrass and Afropop,” says visiting UVA ethnomusicology lecturer Heather Maxwell, who helped organize the festival. “We wanted to bring in something not quite so local, kind of expand the horizons of music students and members of the community to world music.”
In one riveting moment on a Friday evening, a conga line formed and made its way through Old Cabell Hall as Mapfumo and his Blacks Unlimited delighted the audience. And while a show the following day with Diabate and local jazz supergroup the Free Bridge Quintet (unfortunately competing with the undefeated UVA football team’s Florida State matchup) didn’t bring quite the audience turnout, that too had its highlights, prompting C-VILLE reviewer Spencer Lathrop to note: “I always thought [saxophonist] Jeff Decker was a great horn player, but at some point in his career he had a badass switch installed and he flipped it for the final number.”
The music department wasn’t the only organization hosting big shows, though. University Programs Council’s PK German stepped up with several great events this year, bringing The Wailers and Better than Ezra for its free Springfest concert at the Madison Bowl in April, and Philly hip hoppers The Roots to University Hall in October. And even the oft-derided UVA Marching Band, in its first year of existence, didn’t sound half bad playing along with The Temptations at the October 7 Clemson football game.
It’s been about five years since the Hackensaw Boys emerged on the local scene. Yet, 2004 saw major leaps in the band’s national recognition, with their first billed gig at Tennessee’s Bonnaroo Festival in June (they’d made a surprise appearance in 2003), and their first European tour this fall.
Arguably the Hacks’ biggest accomplishment, though, was good networking. The band had previously toured with The Flaming Lips and Modest Mouse, two groups that saw major critical success in the year. And when Modest Mouse needed an upright bass and fiddle player for their April release, Good News for People Who Love Bad News, they called their old friend, Hackensaw’s Tom Peloso, to sit in on three tracks: “Bukowski,” “Satin In A Coffin,” and “Blame It On The Tetons.” Because the Hackensaw Boys were unsigned, for legalities, the record company had Peloso, a.k.a. Pee Paw Hackensaw, appear courtesy of the band. “If people take the time to read it, our name’s on a million or so records which have been sold already,” says Peloso.
Peloso also performed with Modest Mouse on both the “Late Show with David Letterman” and “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” and continues to tour with them in his spare time, all the while helping boost exposure for his band mates back home: “I’ve heard people out in audience yelling ‘Hackensaw Boys’,” he says.
It was a bittersweet moment for local Hackensaw fans when, in August, Blue Moon Diner closed its kitchen after 25 years. Peloso credits the Main Street restaurant with being a launch pad for the Hackensaw Boys. “It kind of formed the band, helped us attain our first manager [Blue Moon co-owner Mark Hahn]…and also was our headquarters for a while.” Peloso adds, however, he supports Hahn and business partner Rob “Gus” Gustafson’s decision to focus instead on their Harvest Moon Catering company. “It’s a good memory and you can’t repeat it.”House music
2004’s local releases worth checking outIn some cases, they were the songs you knew by heart. In others, the music just seemed to come out of the blue. As many of Charlottesville’s leading players released highly anticipated full-length albums this year, we bring you a selective guide to some of our favorites, available at shows or in the local music rack of your neighborhood CD store.—B.S.
Puberty and Justice for All
Sunday nights at Miller’s wouldn’t be as big a draw if not for the guitar and cello duo, whose bawdy lyrics and quirkiness have earned them a devoted following, and who are now dubiously a part of recorded history.
Any Given Day
The city’s best rap group follows 2003’s Homesick with a sophomore release of tracks that remain crisp, danceable and fully inspired.
Things May Change
In many ways, a throwback to celebrated ’80s college rockers, The Deal, Circle has the added benefit of an all-star lineup who lend their talents to Deal front man Mark Roebuck’s songwriting.
Big Fast Car
Fuel for the Fire
Oh-so-satisfying, ’70s-era hard rock in the vein of vintage Aerosmith, Pink Floyd and Jethro Tull.
The young guitar virtuoso’s live energy translates well into the studio with an album of mostly blues and rock covers that could be the start of something.
The Spirit of the Staircase
The jazzy album signifies a welcome departure for the poetic blues-folk fingerpicker, with the help of a backing band to fill out the sound.
The longtime local scenester and once-DMB-member’s solo release is like a sonic bible for disaffected youth; also good cruising music.
The Great Road
Legends of the jam-band movement, they celebrated their 20th anniversary with a reunion gig and wound up making a solid Allman Brothers/ Grateful Dead-esque album, proving they’ve still got it.
Robert Jospé and Inner Rhythm
The local king of jazz percussion toys with rhythmic ambiguity and spicy Afro-Cuban beats, backed by some of his illustrious colleagues.
Wilkie’s enthusiastic twangage is irresistible, even if your bluegrass background doesn’t amount to a hill of beans.
The Fair Weather Bum’s promising solo release evokes Uncle Tupelo jamming with Miles Davis (actually, John D’earth, in an unlikely supporting role).
The Sound of A Thousand Chryslers Rusting
Formerly C-VILLE’s Official House Band, the Eel’s CD release was also its swan song. Their grunge opus represents everything Pearl Jam might have aspired to if they weren’t such posers.
Who knew that underneath the funky bass and guitar thrashing, Waldeck had a sensitive side? He outright flaunts it here with soulful vocals and Brit-pop-reminiscent strumming.
The young and the restless
O.K., what matters more to the future of rock, hip hop, dance and every other form of popular music: a) that U2 launched their new CD and the sale of a personalized, preloaded black iPod crammed with a career’s worth of tunes simultaneously; b) that the sales of new video games are now outpacing the sales of new CDs; or c) that Eminem hedged his bets by signing up to host a channel on pay satellite radio before releasing the almost but not quite mature and reflective Encore?
If you answered “all of the above,” I’d tend to agree with you. These are strange, quicksilver times for popular music. Consumer electronics and the ever-changing world of high-tech entertainment drive the market far more than any individual musical artist or movement does. Forget concentrating on selling stand-alone tunes through familiar channels; most artists are scrambling to get their tracks slotted in the latest video games, understanding that, for kids and young adults, game titles like Grand Theft Auto have eaten up all the time they might have previously spent passively watching MTV. Oh, and don’t forget ringtones. Some folks in the music industry are already predicting that American artists are certain to reap big profits from selling cheap-sounding renditions of their hits to download-happy cell phone addicts. (Don’t laugh, ring tones already represent a substantial income stream for artists in Europe.)
No wonder Jay-Z prepared for his planned retirement from the hip hop pantheon by angling for and nabbing a powerful new title in 2004: president of the venerable Def Jam label. Sure, making music has enriched him by hundreds of millions of dollars, but the future of hip hop—and really all other popular forms—will be about directing the music into places no one even thought about back when the Sugarhill Gang challenged the currency of the old contemporary R&B scene with the 1978 release of Rapper’s Delight.
New delivery systems, new markets, new opportunities for cross-promotion with other youth-oriented forms of entertainment are what it’s about in the morphing music industry. Jeez, both U2 and Green Day offered fans the opportunity to preview their new albums online in their entirety before they were available for purchase. Even the supposedly industry-killing scourge of free downloading is yesterday’s news. Things are moving just that fast.
But onto music itself. I’d venture that if Jamie Foxx wins an Academy Award for his dead-on performance in Ray, the late Ray Charles will qualify as the musician of the year. A hit biopic, a hit posthumous album of duets with big stars? All this from a guy who’d been unfairly typecast as an R&B golden oldie during much his last two decades on earth. Yeah, Ray’s gotta be laughing up there somewhere.
Another great figure from the past, Loretta Lynn, proved that there’s still plenty of music left in her pathos-brushed pipes. If the Jack White-produced Van Lear Rose wasn’t the best album of the year in both rock and country, it was in the ballpark. Like Charles, Lynn illustrated that in order to bring real life into a tune, you have to live a little first. The same held true from the quixotic Beach Boy Brian Wilson; years after its original conception, Wilson finally brought the completed version of his masterwork Smile to both CD and live audiences. And what about Prince, who came back from the edge in his middle age and delivered a straightforward album that finds him movin’ to the groovin’ and delivering life lessons at the same time.
With the callow, flavor-of-the-month consciousness that now controls popular music, those are astounding achievements. I mean, how many hip hop or rock or country stars of today will even get a chance to put out new music at 50, 40…or even 35? My guess is not too many, and that’s a shame.
As far as selling units goes, no one spent more time at the cash registers than Usher, who jumped from the crunk-addled “Yeah!” (formulated with omnipresent party machine Lil Jon) to his considerably creamier duet with Alicia Keys, “My Boo,” with the greatest of ease. He was the toast of R&B in 2004. Naw, make that the toast of all commercial music. His ba-zillion-selling Confessions even threatened to diminish the impact of Kanye West’s laudably gangsta-free instant hip-classic College Dropout. And it did succeed in making the much-ballyhooed return of Destiny’s Child seem parochial and unnecessary.
Snoop Dogg, on the other hand…. With Pharrell Williams and the Neptunes in his corner, his braggadocio-laden R&G (Rhythm & Gangsta): The Masterpiece was pretty much guaranteed to make a respectable showing. But right now it’s doing much more than that. In fact, it’s threatening to turn the former gun-toting cheeba-hound into an amiable, genre-crossing pop star—albeit one that still gives shout outs to his beloved Crips.
Frankly, I have no idea where rock is going in the future, and judging from what happened in 2004, no one else does either. In a perfect world, gifted prog-metal practitioners Coheed and Cambria, genteel strutters the Walkmen and sui generis indie/electronic explorers TV On The Radio would carry the day, while veteran practitioners of melodic weirdness like Modest Mouse and the reconfigured Wilco kept attracting more and more believers to their sonic cults. What’s really happening, however, is that Dorian Gray wannabes U2 are poised to dominate the rock ‘n’ roll conversation once again with their latest glossy-but-well-meaning studio production, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, while Green Day mesmerizes legions of kinda-sorta punky suburban youth with American Idiot (a surprisingly vigorous anti-Bushie screed) and guileless Jay-Z buddies Linkin Park pound whatever rock fans are left into beat-heavy submission.
As for the distressingly influential ’tween demographic, those kiddies who aren’t lapped up by tattooed pop goths Good Charlotte have either renewed their love affair with oh-so-professional grrrl rocker Avril Lavigne or have been duped by tone-deaf lip-syncher Ashlee Simpson.
Sad, sad stuff. But, as always, there are some hopeful signs popping up on the margins of the mainstream. English acts like the keyboard-driven Keane, the fun-loving Franz Ferdinand and the genre-straddling Streets threaten to bring some much-needed new blood to both indie and the mainstream. U.S.A. natives the Killers (whose synths and grooves sound English), Bright Eyes and irrepressible Tex-Mex blues-rockers Los Lonely Boys also offer the kind of kick in the head the rock beast requires right now.
Jeez, if even just a handful of young musicians took 10 minutes out of their busy schedules to plug into Tom Waits’ deliciously delirious Real Gone, we’d have a few decades of gloriously bent tunes to look forward to.
But what’s really next? As far as actual music goes, there’s certain to be a spate of new country acts plugging a strong “values” agenda that’s been nipped and tucked to appeal to the straitened esthetic of Red State audiences. Look for more Spanish-speaking acts to push into genres that have remained overwhelmingly Anglo up until now. Also, melodic rock acts that embrace synthesizers are on the rise, and they’re likely to gain a modicum of mainstream appeal. And, of course, if 2004 showed us anything, it was that a canny blend of smooth R&B and hip hop remains the surest route to a Top 10 album.
Still, it’s what happened to the business of making, selling and consuming popular music during 2004 that provides the most insight into its future. At the turn of the millennium, very few folks really believed that hard formats like the CD would be marginalized before the end of the decade. Now everyone and her brother has an iPod-like device, and space-stealing stereo systems seem quaint. In the glory days of Pac-Man, video game soundtracks consisted of a simple synthesizer-generated theme that was repeated ad nauseam. Now the ability to place tracks in the hottest new video games is becoming key to connecting artists with young audiences. Those are big changes.
Think of it this way: Kurt Cobain’s been in the grave for little more than a dozen years, and the early ’90s version of the music industry that helped transform him into a global figure looks like a dusty relic from our current vantage point. Don’t know about you, but I find that astonishing. And, to be honest, a little disturbing.
Tom Laskin is a music critic based in Madison, Wisconsin.