Remember live music? Us, too.
There’s reason to be extra grateful for recorded music right now (and for all the artists streaming sets into our living rooms), but it’s not the same as packing into a whatever-sized room with a bunch of other people to hear some tunes played just for you. Sweating, swaying, swooning, swirling, swilling a beverage while the band plays (we better not catch you talking)…it’s an experience that’s on hold during social distancing. It’s just too risky.
We can’t convene in our favorite venues right now, and won’t for a while still, but we sure can wax poetic about when we could. Some pretty rad bands have played some pretty rad shows in Charlottesville, and local folks have these stories to prove it (and others, like City Councilor Sena Magill, have the cool, hard proof: outrageous memorabilia).
Scroll down for an update on local venues.
What’s your favorite show memory? Tell us in the comments.
The Southern Café & Music Hall, April 2015
When Diarrhea Planet (RIP) was on, no band mixed respect for the grandeur of rock with tongue-in-cheek jibes at the ridiculousness of “maximum rock ‘n’ roll” like they did. —Charlie Sallwasser
Toots and the Maytals
Starr Hill, early 1990s
Starr Hill was a 400 [-person capacity] club on West Main. There were maybe 600 people in attendance and, as Toots found out when he held his mike out to urge people to sing along, everybody there knew every single word to every song they played. I went downstairs for a drink and the floor was literally moving up and down eight or nine inches in each direction. It was his A-list band—the guys he records with—and they were so stoked that the crowd really knew the material. —Charlie Pastorfield
Champion Brewing Company, October 2016
Lead singer Laura Jane Grace came out in a Trump mask to sing “Baby, I’m an Anarchist.” —Nolan Stout
My Bloody Valentine and Dinosaur Jr.
Trax, February 1992
It was “immersive” and that’s an understatement. MBV was feel-it-in-your-spine loud and I am convinced that most of my current high-frequency hearing loss can be traced to that show. Then they turned on the strobe light and left it on for the duration of “To Here Knows When,” which felt like an hour [ed. note: the recorded version is 5:32]. The crowd, the bone-rattling, the sound, the blinding light all simultaneously induced euphoria and claustrophobia. It was honestly the greatest show of my life. I don’t remember the Dinosaur Jr. set at all. —Mike Furlough
A Tribute to Roland Wiggins
The Jefferson School African American Heritage Center, September 2019
Hands down, the Roland Wiggins tribute. I had to watch it on Facebook because I was out of town doing a gig, but the surprise performances from his best friend made my heart smile. Super close second fave was [soul-rock musician and theologian] Rev. Sekou at The Festy . Lawd hammercy…. —Richelle Claiborne
Neutral Milk Hotel
Tokyo Rose, March 1998
Won’t do the Pud (too many to count), so I’ll say [this one]. I bartended downstairs that night; they made everyone very, very, very happy and very hopeful. They stayed at our house. I went to work and then they JAMMED AND STEVE RICHMOND DIDN’T RECORD IT (forgave). —Tyler Magill
The Southern Café & Music Hall, November 2015
Because every Jonathan Richman show is better than every show without Jonathan Richman. #RoadRunner —Siva Vaidhyanathan
Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings
The horns! Her voice! The dancing! The being young! —Nell Boeschenstein
Trey Anastasio Band
The Jefferson Theater, February 2010
It was insane. Working with a hero. They rehearsed in the venue the day before, which was a real treat. Basically a private show. We loaded in during a blizzard. Tom Daly snapped one of my all-time favorite photos of me during the show. I was 24 years old and like a kid in a candy shop. —Warren Parker
The West Virginian (the basement of The Virginian), 1976
Astonishing electric blues. I wrote a review of the show for the Tandem Evergreen, and got into an argument with the editor, who sniffed that “all the songs were in E.” —Hawkins Dale
Lightning Bolt/ Forcefield
The Pudhaus, 2001
One of the sweatiest, most energetic, and righteous shows I have ever experienced. A room so full that the floor bounced but just an ecstatic feeling. Felt like the building levitated. —Davis Salisbury
The Flaming Lips
The Sprint Pavilion, August 2019
Absolute and utter magic. The music. The energy of the crowd. The giant balloons and inflatable robot. I am not the same person I was before. —Emily Cain
The Bridge PAI, March 2017
University School (Peter Bussigel and Travis Thatcher) played a live techno set, did the whole thing wearing crazy animal masks and making hot dogs for everyone while they played. They even had veggie dogs for the vegetarians out there, and everyone was eating and having a great time. Not saying the concert convinced me to move here, but it definitely helped. —Kittie Cooper
Tokyo Rose, April 1996
I bet a few people mention this one—for those who saw it, many probably remember it as one of the peak music moments of their lives, including me. It was a benefit for the Sexual Assault Resource Agency, right after the album Call the Doctor came out. Curious Digit opened—in honor of the riot grrrl occasion they did Bikini Kill’s “Carnival.” Sleater-Kinney were so glorious, my friend Jeanine (who MC’d the show, repping both SARA and WTJU) threw her bra up onstage, where it landed on Corin’s microphone. She left it dangling there the rest of the show. —Rob Sheffield
Trax, early 1990s
I was a disaffected undergrad at UVA in the early ’90s when a friend told me Public Enemy was coming to Charlottesville. Why, to burn it down? Nope, to play a show, at Trax. I honestly couldn’t believe it; all I knew about Trax was that Dave Mathews played there all the time. This, was anti-Dave. But it was true, and we got tickets as soon as they became available.
The night of the show we walked over from our place with a Dr. Pepper bottle filled 50/50 with whiskey. Typical undergraduate idiots, not challenging any stereotypes. It was a packed house and the crowd was pretty…energetic? There was a sense that something crazy was about to happen but it was unclear what form it would take: a wild party, maybe a riot. Public Enemy didn’t show for a long time, and the crowd was getting more and more agitated. My friend went to sit down in the back, the whiskey and Dr. Pepper weren’t mixing well.
There was a palpable sense of relief when the announcement was made that PE was in the building and they started setting up. Almost immediately there was another delay, Terminator X’s turntables were messed up somehow getting them onto the stage. Not great; things really started leaning towards riot. There was some pushing, scuffling, a lot of impolite shouting. I was trying to figure out how I was going to get the hell out of there when everyone heard the unmistakable sound of Flav shouting, “Yo, Chuck!,” and it was on. Every single person was immediately through the roof. What followed was a two-hour-long sonic assault; angry, political, righteous, and absolutely everything I’d hoped for. Maybe this Charlottesville thing was going to work out after all. When it was all over, I went to find my friend, still passed out sitting on the floor with his back against the wall. I had to wake him up, and he groggily asked what he had missed. Everything.
I learned later that night that another friend had his face slashed somewhere in the pushing and shoving. He stayed for the show and got quite a few stitches later. We all agreed it was worth it, and that he had likely done something to deserve it. —Steve Hoover
Trax, late 1980s/early 1990s
He told the audience they were the rudest mofos he’d ever seen and he left the stage. He was right. Maybe not my favorite memory, but one of the more stand-out memories. —Jamie Dyer
The Jefferson Theater, October 2010
Not counting EDM shows, Charlottesville crowds are typically on the more reserved side, but something was in the air that night. It was packed and yet I was able to move freely from bar to stage, dancing from person to person on my way. It felt more like a party where everyone was a friend and Ratatat were the house band. On multiple occasions I’ve recounted the show years later to someone and they’ll light up and say, “I was at that show!” They always agree it was a special one. —Jonathan Teeter
I still have the flier from that show. Trax became known as the beginnings of DMB, but they had a pretty stellar run of booking amazing indie bands in the late ’80s and ’90s—Ramones, Sonic Youth, Pixies, Pavement, Replacements, Smithereens, Jesus and Mary Chain, Bob Mould, Superchunk…Dinosaur Jr. and My Bloody Valentine on the same bill. —Rich Tarbell
Nada Surf and Rogue Wave
Starr Hill, 2006
Used…someone else’s ID…and had my first craft beer at a show. One of my favorite memories. —Allison Kirkner
Memorial Gym, UVA, 1990s
All the dope shows at Mem Gym. Jane’s Addiction…or rap shows put on by UVA in the ’90s. All of James McNew’s Yo La Tengo shows were good, too. —DJ Rob A
The Paramount Theater, 2008
With an amazing band in tow, from the opening romp of “Ophelia” onward, Levon was the happiest guy in the room and it just trickled down. We were all fortunate to have him in good voice that night. —Michael Clem
Live Arts, 2004
The downstairs stage still had scaffolding and platforms up from whatever production, and the band kept pulling people out of the audience until it felt like there were more people on stage than off it. —Phil “dogfuck” Green
Champion Brewing Company, October 2017
Nik Turner [of Hawkwind], free, outside, bit o’ rain, C’ville…Skulls split from grinning so much. A perfect storm in every way, and to be there with a novitiate who was gobbling it up like candy made it that much better for me. And it was with Hedersleben to boot. —Kevin McFadin
The Sprint Pavilion, September 2013
I had lived in Charlottesville from 1999-2002 as a recent college grad. I moved back in 2013, driving from Brooklyn in a U-Haul truck with a 2-year-old and a spouse who had never lived here before. It was very hot out, we were in debt, we missed our friends, and our stuff was in boxes in a too-small apartment. We went out for a walk on the Downtown Mall and saw a poster for Phoenix, playing at the Pavilion that night. I asked some people sitting on a bench “Is that Phoenix, the band from France?” They shrugged yes, and a few hours later I drifted over to the Ninth St. bridge, where I stood and watched. (I had no money for admission, and spouse and child were tired and stayed home.) The band played a set of songs I had gotten to know and love in my old home, and from where I stood I saw a sea of smiling faces. On their way offstage the band gave an amused wave to the bridge crowd, and I walked back to the apartment feeling for the first time in a while that it would be possible to make a life here work. —Jake Mooney
Trax, April 1993
Tokyo Rose, April 1996
I chose two, which occurred three years and one day apart. Fugazi: The first time I had ever seen them outside of D.C. Brilliant, dynamic and WAY too loud. Turns out it was the first date of a new PA, which left many a fan stone-deaf for a few days. This can be found as part of the Fugazi Live Series. The middle section, tracks 13-21, I would put up against any band, anywhere, ever. Then Sleater-Kinney: One of the very few times I have ever said to a band, “One year from now, you guys are gonna be huge.” I think that creeped out Carrie Brownstein (though I was right). Emotionally overwhelming set, even with the pre- Janet Weiss drummer. —Joe Gross
I call this the “phantom concert” because even though I have a pretty reliable memory, I have not been able to find any evidence on Al Gore’s interwebs that this concert happened. But…I keep telling myself that I know it did, because I was there. Just like I “remember” seeing Ike and Tina Turner here in Charlottesville at 2, I’m pretty sure I saw The Spinners at University Hall at 6. Now, there is a record of The Spinners hitting the same stage in 1981, and at that time the two biggest memories from the show I believed I was at wouldn’t have happened:
- A very nice man in front of my family volunteered to put me on his shoulders so that the little 6-year-old me could see (in 1981 I was 11 and almost six feet tall).
- There was an opener at the show and they played “Easy” by The Commodores, which was a big hit at the time, but 6-year-old me was confused because that wasn’t The Commodores on stage. In 1981, Lionel Richie would be just about out of The Commodores camp so no opener would have played “Easy” to such a rousing reception.
- What I “remember” of The Spinners was awesome. I kept saying to my 6-year-old self, “I’ve seen those guys on TV.”
Southern Culture on the Skids
Gravity Lounge, November 2008
I’ve seen SCOTS a few times, but that was by far the best of the shows—long set list, really intimate environment, superb energy level. —Jeff Uphoff
Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires
The Jefferson Theater, May 2014
That month, everything was technicolor. I’d been dumped a few weeks prior and mourned what was really nothing, for too long. The day was warm, the beer was cold, my cat-eye liner was sharp, and my black-and-blush-and-neon-green vintage dress made no sense and perfect sense. (“If you look good, you feel good?”) The band lived up to its name, keeping perfect step while Charles grinned and sang and wailed and wept and spun and sweated buckets in his custom stage suit. Music. What crowd? Music. What ex-boyfriend? Music, music, music. Time to move on. Thank goodness for soul. —Erin O’Hare
Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings
The Jefferson Theater, December 2009
It was my birthday, and I told her so in line after the (absolutely incredible!) performance while she signed a record. She stopped the line and serenaded me with the most beautiful and simple “Happy Birthday” rendition, and I was never the same. Maybe it was a combination of the venue or her verve or this sense that time stood still, but it became the benchmark against which I’ve measured performances—did it feel like it was just for me? My pantheon of performances have done exactly that. —Adrienne Oliver
“Oh there are so many.”
Oh there are so many. Gwar at Trax, had to be early ‘90s…they ended up graffiting a jacket I had graffitied in art class (I still have it). Jane’s Addiction at Mem Gym, had to be ’90 or ’91. Of course, the Tokyo times with The Pitts, The Eldelry, The Councilors, Hillbilly Werewolf. Dread Zeppelin, they were so much fun. Also going to hear The Band and others at Van Riper’s [Lake Music Festival] in the late ‘80s. The Black Crowes, before they really made it, at Trax. —Sena Magill
The Jefferson Theater, 2012? 2011?
He played Chatroulette and it was the funniest, most engaging show I’ve ever seen. So many people I knew were there, it was practically a party. —Marijean Oldham
The Magic Numbers
Starr Hill, 2006
There are three factors that make up the most memorable kind of concert: One, an intimate venue, two, the surprise factor—going to see a band you know little to nothing about and having your socks knocked off, and three, the magical band-audience feedback loop that manifests when you have a band that has lightning in a bottle, but is too green to know it yet— but the audience understands, and you get to watch the band’s wildest dreams come true in real time. The Magic Numbers gave me all three on a Tuesday night. I am a sucker for a bit of indie-pop perfection, and I heard their single “Love Me Like You” on the radio on my way to work, followed by the announcement that they would be at Starr Hill that night. I immediately changed my plans and it was one of the best concert decisions I’ve ever made. —Miranda Watson
Dave Matthews Band
Scott Stadium, 2001
The stadium had just been renovated and DMB played with Neil Young. I worked for the stadium event staff and got field passes. Also got to kick field goals with Boyd Tinsley during sound check the day before. —David Morris
Neutral Milk Hotel
The Jefferson Theater, 2015
They have been a favorite band since I was a senior in high school in 2003, and I couldn’t believe I actually got the chance to hear them live since they broke up in 1999 and I never thought they’d get back together. It was a school night, and I was beyond stressed from finals and job searching, but for two hours I forgot all of that and was completely enthralled. —Caroline Heylman
Dump/Girl Choir/Sloppy Heads
Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar, August 2011
Hats off to Jacob Wolf for booking this show and WJTU for presenting it, but it’s a very special night for me since I put the pieces in motion to make it happen. We got Brooklyn jammers Sloppy Heads and Dump (aka James McNew from Yo La Tengo) from NYC, with Charlottesville’s own mod enthusiasts Girl Choir in between —a Brooklyn/Charlottesville/Brooklyn via Charlottesville sandwich. Tons of great folks came from all over to see a very rare non-NYC set by Dump, which he played with his partner Amy. They covered all the bases and provided a nice mellow-ish counterpoint to the Heads’ shambolic choogling and Girl Choir’s frenetic anthemic. It was quite the magical evening for both music and human interaction. —Dominic DeVito
George Clinton & the P-Funk All-Stars
Trax, February 1993
The P-Funk legend was well into his 50s, but this cosmic slop raged on into the wee hours—I have never seen such a marathon with such relentless energy. George just gave up the funk for hour after hour, until every pair of hips was sore, except his. After four hours or so, I finally had to admit defeat and drag my weary bones home—but George and crew were still going strong onstage. To this day I still don’t know how much longer the show went on. An inspiration to us all. —Rob Sheffield
When will live music come back?
Charlottesville is really feeling the void left by the lack of live music, and Danny Shea’s got a theory as to why.
Ours is “a remarkable town in regards to support and appetite for live music. We have the luxury of having so much live music per capita, so I think [its absence] is felt more so than in other places,” says Shea, who’s booked music in town for over a decade and currently handles booking, promotion and venue management for The Jefferson Theater and the Southern Café & Music Hall, both owned by Red Light Management.
Local venues have been dark since the second weekend in March, when the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. Everyone is eager to know when we’ll be able to gather again, but the reality is that nobody—not even venue operations folks like Shea—know the date. Though restaurants with outdoor seating will be allowed to reopen with restrictions on Friday, May 15, entertainment venues, including concert halls, must remain closed. And even when they are allowed to open, it may take a while for things to return to normal.
Emily Morrison, executive director of The Front Porch, a nonprofit music school and venue online, says she probably won’t feel comfortable holding classes and performances in the building until 2021 (they’re all online for now). When she does open, Morrison says she won’t fill the space to its 100-person capacity for a while. “If everybody rushes toward each other this summer as restrictions ease in the state, I’m worried we’ll just have this terrible spike, even worse than the one we’ve had in the spring,” she says.
Jeyon Falsini of local booking and management company Magnus Music shares that worry. Falsini books for a number of restaurant-bars in town, including The Whiskey Jar, Moe’s BBQ, Rapture, and Holly’s Diner, and he says that all of these venues will focus on food and drink sales before hosting live music. These spots typically don’t charge a cover, so musicians are paid from the register and/or a tip jar. “You can only have music if the place is packed, to justify paying out of the register,” says Falsini, who, unable to collect booking fees, is currently on unemployment.
And what would shows even be like? Will touring bands want to pile into their vans (even before the pandemic, touring wasn’t the most hygienic thing) riding from city to city where they might be exposed to the virus, and in turn expose their audiences? Will audiences want to go stand in a room with a band that’s been in 10 cities in two weeks? Will fans pay more for a ticket to offset lower capacities? If the venue marks off safe social distancing spaces on the floor with tape, will attendees obey them (especially after a few beers)? Who would enforce mask rules? Can people be trusted to properly wash their hands in the bathrooms?
With safety measures in place, a show just won’t feel the same, says Shea. “The idea of social distancing at a rock show is impossible. It would be so awkward. …Can you imagine being the band on stage? There’d be no energy created at all.”
With so many questions about how to balance entertainment with public health concerns, “we’re just a little bit on our own…and it feels a little scary,” says Morrison.
Shea expects some aspects of what venues have developed—like expertly produced concert streams—will stick with us once the pandemic’s over. “You can’t trick yourself into old ways of pursuing this stuff,” he says. And while he is unsure of whether scheduled shows will actually happen this summer, he’s certain that Charlottesville’s appetite for them will remain.