By Sean McGoey
It’s easy to miss the Music Resource Center, hidden in plain sight inside the former Mount Zion Baptist Church, on Ridge Street at one of Charlottesville’s busier intersections.
The MRC is one of the city’s best-kept secrets, and this week you’ll have a chance to see what you’ve been missing out on when the center opens its doors to the public for its 12th annual Party Like a Rock Star benefit.
The event is based around a “bandaoke” competition in which singers from the community get up on stage with a backing band and battle to see whose performances can bring in the most money for the center.
The MRC, which opened in 1995 in a rehearsal space above Trax, is a nonprofit organization that places a high priority on making music accessible and affordable to local teens. Students pay an annual membership fee to use the center’s resources, as well as its summer camps and workshops, and that fee covers unlimited access to studio time, lessons, and the like.
“Party like a Rock Star is a great way to support what the MRC is doing, but also it’s a very unique party,” says Megan Carter, who is chairing the event this year. “Where else are you going to go and see really fun people be willing to get up on stage in costume, sing at the top of their lungs, and maybe make a fool of themselves for a good cause?”
This year’s theme is the ’90s, and singers will be backed by local alt-rock cover band Superunknown. Last year’s winner, Hobby Cole, will be back to defend her crown with a cover of the Red Hot Chili Peppers song “Give It Away.” She will be joined by, among others, author Adam Nemett and chef Harrison Keevil, who will perform songs by Blackstreet and the Foo Fighters.
“There’s a couple of artists who asked for some hip-hop and some R&B, so not what we normally do,” says Superunknown frontman Cory Teitelbaum, who worked at the MRC for more than 10 years. “But it’s a fun challenge, and I think it’s gonna work out really well.”
The MRC provides after-school opportunities for sixth- to 12th-grade students to dance, learn instruments, write songs, and produce and record music with help from professionals. It’s also a collaborative space for students to meet other kids their age in a safe, creative environment.
“I think the MRC is pretty valuable in the way that it opens up its doors and brings kids in to spark creativity in them,” Carter says. “It’s this vibrant, communal gathering place for the teenagers.”
With a sliding scale based on household size and income, most members pay $10 or less for the year, but according to the MRC’s website, the average cost of the services provided is roughly $550 per member. Equipment donations and hundreds of hours of volunteer time certainly help, but Party Like a Rock Star—the center’s biggest annual fundraiser—makes up a significant portion of the MRC’s yearly funding.
“Outside of the MRC, a recording studio session costs at minimum $60 an hour,” says MRC Executive Director Alice Fox. “And when students come in here, there’s no additional cost.”
Both Fox and Carter were introduced to the MRC through Party Like a Rock Star, while Teitelbaum first heard about the organization when he was working at Bodo’s shortly after moving to Charlottesville. All three of them cited a strong culture that leads former members to return and share their gifts with new generations of teens.
One of those alums is Ike Anderson, who started as a member in the early 2000s and currently serves as membership coordinator and dance instructor.
“When I started working there, Ike was in high school—he was an incredibly talented dancer, a phenomenal producer,” Teitelbaum says of Anderson. “He’s an integral part of that program now. I couldn’t imagine that program existing right now without him.”
The MRC’s roots are also intertwined with Charlottesville’s unique music scene. It was originally the brainchild of John Hornsby, and Dave Matthews and his band members helped secure the location on Ridge Street. Those connections are undoubtedly part of the center’s appeal.
“Like many things in Charlottesville, I don’t know that you can really get this experience elsewhere,” Carter says. “People talk about Charlottesville being this very cool music town, and it is. …That trickles down. The effect of that is that we have this really awesome resource for teenagers in our community who are interested in music and want to learn more about it.”
Ultimately, Fox hopes that those who are curious will stop in for a visit.
“It’s one of those places where to come in and see what we’re doing, I think, has a bigger impact than just hearing about it,” she says.
The Music Resource Center’s Party Like A Rock Star fundraiser takes place Friday, October 18.