A music venue is a strange place to be in the middle of the day. A club is designed for the nighttime, with its dark walls, ceilings and stages meant to be illuminated not by the sun but by bright lights, coming alive when bodies are in the room and music is in the air.
This is true at The Ante Room, where, on a sunny Thursday, Jeyon Falsini sits in an office chair, wearing jeans and a black and white T-shirt bearing the logo of Richmond hip-hop collective Gritty City Records. Falsini crosses his arms and tips back in his chair.
“It’s been fun,” he says, looking around the room at the roulette wheel painted on the wall and the bathroom doors painted to look like king and queen playing cards. “It’d have been six years in July.”
The Ante Room will close on March 31, after an All Bets Are Off party. The building is set to be demolished this summer, along with the Main Street Arena ice rink and the iconic Charlottesville gay bar and bohemian hangout, Escafé. A retail and commercial office development, CODE (Center of Developing Entrepreneurs), will be built on the space that has held some of Charlottesville’s most vibrant and diverse cultural spots.
“It’s hard to think past unscrewing all these screws, taking all this stuff down,” especially after putting years of work into the place, Falsini says. But he has a request for those who have enjoyed the venue in its five years and nine months in business at 219 W. Water St.: “Say a little prayer, however you do it,” because he’s looking for a new space to keep the venue’s spirit going.
And it’s important that he does, say area musicians. “No one in Charlottesville [is] more supportive of local music than Jeyon,” says Nate Bolling, a chamber pop and rock musician who’s run sound and taken the stage at The Ante Room dozens of times.
Remy St. Clair, a Charlottesville hip-hop artist and frequent Ante Room event host, says, “We are losing a home when it comes to urban music and art.”
Falsini got his start booking music at Atomic Burrito in the early 2000s, and eventually started his own company, Magnus Music, booking talent for restaurant-bars like The Whiskey Jar and Rapture and some local wineries and breweries. He opened The Ante Room (initially called The Annex) in July 2012 so that he could put together multi-act bills that would draw attention to the music itself.
Local musicians and music fans will tell you that The Ante Room has one of the most, if not the most, inclusive show calendars in town. Falsini books hip-hop, Americana singer-songwriters, alternative rock, moody rock, goth, new wave, metal, experimental electronic, jam bands, Afrobeat, go-go; salsa dance nights and Indian dance parties; karaoke nights and rap-centric social affairs. He’s served beers to curlers and hockey players who venture upstairs after games at the arena, too.
In particular, The Ante Room has been a haven for the hip-hop and metal scenes, two genres that are often unfairly stereotyped by—and thus not booked at—many venues in Charlottesville. Falsini says yes to both. There’s no reason not to, he says.
“The Ante Room was a welcoming place to genres that mainstream Charlottesville doesn’t seem to value,” says Kim Dylla, Fulton Ave. heavy metal vocalist. Recognizing various genres of music and cultures is an acknowledgment of “diversity of thought,” she says, something Dylla feels The Ante Room has supported more than other local venues.
Travis Thatcher, an electronic musician, agrees. He says The Ante Room has been “a really inclusive space that was kind of up for anything,” including his Frequencies experimental music series.
Falsini is quick to credit small DIY venues like Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar, Magnolia House and Trash House, which also welcome a wide variety of music. The Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative and Champion Brewing Company host occasional shows, as does La Patrona, newly open in the former Outback Lodge space on Preston Avenue. Falsini also hopes that the larger venues in town will begin to see the value of booking a wider variety of genres.
“If there’s one [good] thing that’s happening…with two nightlife spots closing,” people are dispersing and going elsewhere, Falsini says. “Other local businesses will be fortunate enough to meet our customers.”
Much is still up in the air about the next iteration of The Ante Room, but Falsini’s hustling to find the right spot. He’ll book the same variety of genres, but it’s unlikely that his new venue would be downtown. “Wherever it is, we’ll have to blaze new territory,” says Falsini.
And he’s fine with that—it’s what he did with The Ante Room, after all, and the music community has benefited from his wager.
“We can’t give up now,” says Falsini. He’s all in.