Jefferson Theater ready for a “real rock concert”

Jefferson Theater ready for a “real rock concert”

The May 2006 midnight show at The Jefferson Theater by art-rock act Liars was a big one for all parties involved. The band was a big score for alternative music programming in Charlottesville. It introduced local music tastemaker Danny Shea’s music booking prowess to a bigger stage—literally, from the now-defunct Satellite Ballroom to the Coran Capshaw-owned Jefferson. And it was one of the last times the venue hosted music before shutting its doors in June 2006.

Starr Hill Presents’ Danny Shea stands in front of the Jefferson Theater, which may open before the end of the month and is well underway booking shows.

Now, the Jefferson Theater has an opening date, sort of: Unconfirmed reports make it Friday, November 27, with a performance by local act Sons of Bill (and a possible co-bill, we hear, with Jason Isbell). But, Feedback hastens to add, details of the exact opening became fuzzy at press time.

Here’s what Feedback knows for sure: There is a slew of gigs lined up courtesy of Shea and Starr Hill Presents, from a New Year’s Eve blowout with Gogol Bordello to the return of Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings on December 12. Tickets for all confirmed shows go on sale to the general public online starting this Friday, November 13, at 10am. And, during an exclusive tour of the Jefferson, Shea offered a first glimpse at what we can expect from the 97-year-old theater in a matter of weeks.

But first, why not a quick listen? December 4 promises an outlandish local co-bill featuring Kings of Belmont, Straight Punch to the Crotch and the reunion of Ween cover band Peen. Following the December 5 Phish show at John Paul Jones Arena, Toubab Krewe headlines the Jeff’s afterparty. The Michael Jackson tribute act Who’s Bad moonwalks into the theater on January 20, brooding beatmaker RJD2 is confirmed for January 21, hippy-pleasing jammers Tea Leaf Green and Alberta Cross are slated for February 2, and the North Mississippi Allstars are booked for February 21. The theater will keep adding to its schedule in coming weeks.

Unless you donned a pair of overalls and snuck in with the crew, it’s likely that you haven’t peered inside the Jefferson since 2006. The original molding is preserved in the slender corridor that leads you from the entrance to the stage—highlighted, in fact, by dark walls and ceilings that will be lit a bit brighter. The room’s opera boxes are still visible, but according to Shea “weren’t up to code” and will not be used for seating. While the space could host a seated show, the Jefferson seems best suited for standing shows, with a slightly graded floor that levels off roughly 15′ from the stage. Capacity, according to Shea, is roughly 750.

And where does that crowd move when in need of a bottle of rock sauce? The Jefferson will, according to Shea, have at least two bars—one situated before crowds descend towards the stage (with soundproofing as “consideration for chatter,” said Shea), a second beneath the first, more accessible to those already on the floor for the show. The balconies may include spaces reserved near the front for VIPs; the uppermost balcony faces a rectangle of white-painted wall, a spot that may be reserved for closed-circuit projections of a concert, or perhaps an occasional film screening.

What does the Jefferson Theater’s opening mean for other local venues? Shea said he thinks that the Charlottesville Pavilion “will have a better season than they did last year,” namely because the Jefferson encourages ongoing conversations with booking agents and a band that outgrows the Jefferson could feasibly make a leap to the Pavilion. With a capacity of 3,500 standing, Shea explained that “you can budget shows for 1,500 or so.”

While Shea showed me around, we talked about that Liars gig in 2006, as well as the return of Sharon Jones—a musician Shea has championed for years, and spoke glowingly about during a C-VILLE interview in 2008. (“That’s my lady…She’s the queen and her show is magic.”)

“Just like the Liars show, it’s going to feel like a real rock concert,” said Shea of Jones’ impending return. Here’s hoping the Jefferson Theater feels like a real rock venue.

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