Best of C-VILLE 2019: Entertainment

Grammy Award-winning bluegrass band The Infamous Stringdusters packs the house at the Jefferson. Photo: Jay Strausser Grammy Award-winning bluegrass band The Infamous Stringdusters packs the house at the Jefferson. Photo: Jay Strausser

See it, feel it, hear it: a potent potluck of the arts.


Erin Lunsford

Runner-up: Travis Elliott

Honorable mention: Sally Rose

Erin Lunsford rates best musician with her repertoire of earnest country/folk tunes and a voice that can tremble like a baby bird or boom like a gospel singer, exhibiting shades of her Baptist upbringing and family bluegrass traditions. It’s been four years since she and her band The Wildfire opened for the late, great Leon Russell at Locknwood. Since then, Lunsford has lost neither her edge nor her three-octave range, and her C-VILLE fan base is strong, despite her Richmond mailing address. • Our No. 2 vote-getter is singer-songwriter Travis Elliott. We’re glad he hasn’t defected to Nashville (he has the talent, no doubt), because we’d miss his vocals, which bring to mind Morrissey and ’90s cult fave Freedy Johnston. Elliott is resolutely local, playing the Virginia brewery/winery/bar circuit, including his regular Sunday night billing at Rapture on the Downtown Mall. • A very honorable mention goes to singer/strummer/ howler Sally Rose, who made her first record at age 16 and has had her foot on an effects pedal ever since. She shows her acoustic six-string prowess in solo gigs, and brings the thunder with her bass while thrashing with her punky alternative band Shagwüf.


Chamomile & Whiskey

Runner-up: Love Canon

Honorable mention: Abbey Road

Some bands believe the grass is always greener elsewhere. Others, like Chamomile & Whiskey, take stock of their surroundings, find beauty and inspiration, and choose to celebrate their local roots while also letting them grow deeper. More than eight years have passed since Koda Kerl and Marie Borgman, former Nelson County elementary-school classmates, formed the band, gradually filling out their sound by adding four musicians. Bluegrass, folk, country, Americana—all of the labels fit. And the title of their latest album, Afton Mountain, shows where their heart is. Whether they play sweet (“Nelson County”), raucous (“Wandering Boots”), or anthemic (“Good as It Could Be”), Kerl’s sandpapery voice, along with Borgman’s deft fiddling and lilting vocals, elevate C&W like a rising Blue Ridge peak. • Some thematic bands work their groove until it becomes a rut. But Love Canon has been playing rootsy covers of pop hits from the ’80s and ’90s for nearly a decade, and the songs still sound great. Chalk it up to the group’s virtuosic string playing and the far-ranging vocals of lead singer Jesse Harper. Need evidence that Love Canon’s still got it? Listen to its moving rendition of R.E.M.’s “Driver 8” from its latest album, Cover Story. Mr. Stipe himself would approve.

Classical music group

Charlottesville Symphony at the University of Virginia

Runner-up: UVA University Singers

Honorable mention: Three Notch’d Road

A symphony orchestra, like any performing arts group, needs to know its audience in order to succeed. Charlottesville embraces its classical-music ensemble for its impressive range and emphasis on accessibility and community engagement. Aficionados can get their Mozart, Haydn, and Tchaikovsky fix, while more casual listeners can revel in concerts like Pops at the Paramount: The Music of Harry Potter. The orchestra’s musicians make appearances in local schools, and one violinist, a second-year UVA student, was selected this year to play with The Who (yes, Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey) in front of an audience of 25,000 near Washington, D.C. It’s this kind of talent and reach that makes the CSO at UVA a winner. • The UVA University Singers’ classical chorale skill has put them in great demand. Founded in 1957, the primarily student group has performed in halls from New Orleans to New York City, in the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., and on tours to Italy, Switzerland, and even Russia.

Small Music venue

The Southern Café & Music Hall

Runner-up: IX Art Park

Honorable mention: The Front Porch

With its low ceiling and pleasingly unkempt feel, the Southern is precisely the kind of joint a small city needs: intimate enough for a folksy singer-songwriter like Charlottesville’s own Marianna Bell, yet large enough to handle the raucous roots, Americana, and garagey music—Junior Brown, The Iguanas, Southern Culture on the Skids—that make up the majority of the club’s listings. Open-mic comedy, drag shows, and goth nights keep things interesting. • IX Art Park never ceases to surprise with its music offerings (see Editor’s pick, “How sweet IX is”).

David Shaw of The Revivalists commands the stage and stirs the crowd at Lockn’. Photo: Jay Blakesberg

Large Music venue

The Jefferson Theater

Runner-up: Sprint Pavilion

Honorable mention: John Paul Jones Arena

The Jefferson is the crown jewel of live-music halls in Charlottesville, drawing time-honored acts like Yo La Tengo and Cracker, impressive newcomers like the power-pop trio Wallows, and enigmatic singer-songwriters like Charlyn Marie Marshall, aka Cat Power. Originally opened in 1912 and reintroduced in 2009 after an extensive renovation, the Jefferson’s old-timey ambiance creates just the right level of dissonance with the modern acts that grace its stage. • At the eastern terminus of the Downtown Mall, Sprint Pavilion provides en plein air performances by national and international acts like The Flaming Lips and Elvis Costello, as well as local favorites.

Music festival


Runner-up: The Tom Tom Festival

Honorable mention: Devils Backbone Hoopla

It’s not Coachella, but the four-day bacchanal known as Lockn’ draws hordes of adventurous fans to immerse themselves in the hippified country, blues, roots, and jam-band extravaganza. This year’s bill included 50 acts, like Tedeschi Trucks Band, Gary Clark Jr., Steel Pulse, and Edie Brickell & New Bohemians. Lockn’s attendance in the past has reached 30,000, which is more than double the population of the event’s host, Nelson County. • The Tom Tom Festival is meant to be Charlottesville’s version of Austin’s SXSW—specifically, the part that’s about innovation and entrepreneurship. But the far-ranging musical offerings—Adar, ELBY Brass, Erin & the Wildfire, Mojo Parker, and The Judy Chops, to name a few—drew the votes to make Tom Tom this year’s runner-up music festival.

Dramatic arts venue

Live Arts

Runner-up: The Paramount Theater

Honorable mention: IX Art Park

Live Arts is No. 1 in Charlottesville for the diversity of its shows—and that of the playwrights and producers, a majority of whom are women or people of color. It is also tops because it has a mission. In the words of producing artistic director Bree Luck: “These are stressful times in Charlottesville…filled with strife and anxiety as we recognize, name, and attempt to address issues of racism that have been quietly (and not so quietly) pervasive for generations. Add to that mad increases in health care costs, uncertain economic times, and an increasingly chaotic and divisive political climate, and we humans face the choice between empathy and aggression every day.” One answer, she says, is simply to “make theater” and come together to enjoy it. Amen. • Readers are very happy to see the Paramount increase its offerings in drama, dance, and comedy, whether live or streamed in HD on the big screen.

Art Museum or gallery

McGuffey Art Center

Runner-up: IX Art Park

Honorable mention: The Fralin Museum of Art

McGuffey Art Center is the top destination in Charlottesville for art that is beautiful, socially aware, provocative, inclusive, and relevant. • IX Art Park lives up to its name (see Editor’s pick “How sweet IX is”).

Movie theater

Alamo Drafthouse Cinema

Runner-up: Violet Crown Charlottesville

Honorable mention: Regal Stonefield Stadium 14 & IMAX

Adult beverages, food, and movies: a winning combination! Our top two movie theaters hewed to the formula, with Alamo edging out Violet Crown. It’ll be interesting to see how things pan out next year, as Violet Crown has recently replaced its street-level lobby restaurant and bar with a full-service Japanese-inspired restaurant, Hama.

Local radio station

106.1 The Corner

Runner-up: 91.9 WNRN

Honorable mention: Hot 101.9

The interesting thing about our winner, 106.1 The Corner, is that it is unafraid to reach outside of its mainstream pop and rock territory to air the occasional alternative and college-rock fare that is the bread-and-butter of our runner-up, listener-supported 91.9 WNRN. • WNRN ups the alternative ante with programming like Les Temps Perdu, a punk, power-pop, and indie-rock showcase, a half hour of “Alt-Latino” on Sundays, and the syndicated “World Café” with Talia Schlanger.

Local radio personality

Jeff Sweatman (106.1 The Corner)

Runner-up: Sherry Taylor (Z95.1)

Honorable mention: Kevin Graham (Hot 101.9)

Do our readers love 106.1 The Corner because of Jeff Sweatman? He’s gotta be part of the reason. Sweatman’s rock ‘n’ roll enthusiasm comes through strong on the air and in his work as program director, where the influence of his formative years in radio—in another college town, Columbia, Missouri —ride close to the surface. • Sherry Taylor built her fanbase for years on Z95.1’s morning show and now commands the 2-7pm weekday slot. Playlists swing from Cindi Lauper, Panic at the Disco, and Kings of Leon to Hall & Oates, Bon Jovi, and Justin Bieber. Somehow, this mishmash works, and Taylor’s got the knack (but never plays The Knack, thank goodness).

Local TV personality

Josh Fitzpatrick (NBC29)

Runner-up: Tara Wheeler (CBS19)

Honorable mention: Henry Graff (NBC29)

Just two full years in town, and Josh Fitzpatrick is a two-time winner of Best Local TV Personality. This guy is a human hurricane, blowing away the competition. • Is Tara Wheeler busy enough? In addition to anchoring CBS19 news at 5, 6, and 11pm, Wheeler also teaches dance classes at ACAC and serves as the in-house host for UVA’s home football and men’s basketball games. In her spare time, she plays hockey. Watch out, Josh Fitzpatrick, there’s a firebrand on your tail!

Annual event or festival

Fridays After Five

Runner-up: Virginia Film Festival

Honorable mention: Cville Pride Festival

Held at the Sprint Pavilion, our runner-up Best Music Venue, Fridays After Five has become a great tradition in Charlottesville, a collective end-of-the-workweek exhale, and an opportunity to unwind while listening to a diverse lineup of local acts, like Adar, the Charlottesville Municipal Band, and Tonia Ray & the Sound Machine Band. • Also the runner-up in this category in 2018, the Virginia Film Festival has been running for more than three decades and shown impressive growth in recent years, both in its size and reputation. Last year, five films from the fall festival program went on to collect nine Academy Awards, and civil rights leader Martin Luther King III, Peter Bogdonovich, and Allen Hughes were in attendance, along with 150 other filmmakers from around the world.

Fundraising event

Charlottesville Ten Miler (various charities)

Runner-up: Critter Ball (Charlottesville Albemarle SPCA)

Honorable mention: The Main Event Gala for UVA Children’s Hospital

The inaugural Ten Miler, in 1976, drew a modest 42 entrants. Last year, more than 2,000 runners participated, raising $50,000 for the chosen benefactor, Computers4Kids. It has become a local rite of spring, and a much-deserved Best Fundraising Event winner. • The Critter Ball’s showing as runner-up says something about our readers—and Charlottesville’s—compassion for our furry four-legged friends.

Trivia night

Mellow Mushroom

Runner-up: Firefly

Honorable mention: Random Row Brewing Co.

Who won Best Trivia Night in 2018? Those of you who guessed Mellow Mushroom are correct. And who came in as runner-up last year? Random Row. But Firefly took the No. 2 spot this year. The takeaway is that these three places have very good trivia nights (obvi!).

Posted In:     Best of C-VILLE 2019

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