Using the force: Annual Star Wars Day show celebrates science fiction (and an eclectic local music scene)

Astronomers headlines the annual May The Fourth Be With You concert, held this year at IX Art Park. Publicity photo Astronomers headlines the annual May The Fourth Be With You concert, held this year at IX Art Park. Publicity photo

By Sean McGoey

Star Wars enthusiasts have a lot to be thrilled about this year: The first trailer for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker dropped in April, setting the table for the conclusion of the latest trilogy and sparking speculation over the inclusion of Emperor Palpatine’s sinister laugh at the end of the trailer. And the television series “The Mandalorian,” a space opera web series set in the Star Wars universe, is predicted to be one of the centerpieces of Disney’s new streaming service. But those new projects will require patience. “The Mandalorian” doesn’t air until November, and The Rise of Skywalker debuts on December 20.

Here in Charlottesville, fans of Star Wars and other science fiction can get their fix when IX Art Park hosts the sixth annual May the Fourth Be With You show, where local bands pay homage to the music of sci-fi movies, songs about aliens and lasers, and campy pop tunes from movies and TV shows.

The bands on the roster all share a love of science fiction and fantasy. Stray Fossa frontman Nick Evans recalls dressing as Star Wars characters for Halloween with his brother Will, the band’s drummer, and reading Star Wars: The Complete Visual Dictionary. And Little Graves’ bassist Les Whittaker is a self-proclaimed “total nerd,” citing Ridley Scott’s 1982 epic Blade Runner and the books of William Gibson and John Steakley as favorites.

Goddess ov Mindxpansion’s lo-fi guitars and guttural vocals kick off the show, which will feature everything from YonderPhonics’ funky garage-jazz and Little Graves’ mixture of heavy post-punk and field recordings to the “dense bizarro rap” of dogfuck, who promoter Jeyon Falsini likes to refer to as “dog-friendly.”

“I am not sure if I am more excited to play or see what the other bands will do,” says Evans. Stray Fossa, who relocated from Sewanee, Tennessee, to Charlottesville last year after a multi-year hiatus, will be playing its first May the Fourth show, as will closing act Astronomers.

“The show’s date finally falling on a Saturday and Astronomers headlining is a solid pairing of circumstances,” says master of ceremonies Rupert Quaintance. “We’ve approached them in the past but their schedule never lined up. They’re a crowd favorite. …Even their name lends itself to the aesthetic.”

May the Fourth Be With You is Quaintance’s brainchild. He has partnered with Falsini’s booking and promotion company, Magnus Music, to host the event since 2014. “I wanted there to be an event where people can just zone out into their own brand of nerdiness and feel unabashed about it,” Quaintance says. May 4, which happens to be Quaintance’s birthday, is known by fans as Star Wars Day, but the pair put their own spin on the Charlottesville event. Falsini says they made covers of science fiction- themed songs a requirement to be in the lineup from the very beginning in 2014.

This will be the second May the Fourth since The Ante Room —along with Escafé and the Main Street Arena—closed to make way for the Center of Developing Entrepreneurs, and that still hits a raw nerve for people who miss the inclusive concert venue.

“I can’t say enough about The Ante Room,” Quaintance says. “[Jeyon] had the wherewithal and gumption to open The Ante Room to metal acts and hip-hop events and all sorts of lovely, eclectic things.”

“We were in a really good groove with that space,” says Falsini, who owned The Ante Room since it opened as The Annex in 2012. “But at the end of the day, Charlottesville…just needs stability when it comes to its music venues if it intends to keep fostering the musical arts.”

Despite the lingering disappointment over that space’s closing, an air of optimism surrounds not just May the Fourth, but the music scene in Charlottesville, in no small part due to the presence of welcoming, communal spaces like IX and the efforts of the people who work to keep the scene vibrant and inclusive.

“I’m super thankful for the efforts of folks like Jeyon Falsini, Angel Metro, and Sam Roberts, who do look out for local weirdo musicians and put together the kinds of shows that probably wouldn’t even be a consideration elsewhere,” says Little Graves’ guitarist/sampler Luis Soler.

But it requires more than just the efforts of hardworking bookers and promoters.

“Supporting those people and places usually means more than just showing up,” Soler said. “It’s also an opportunity for people to get in on the ground floor and make things happen, think outside the box, and evolve the scene into its next incarnation. Gotta be the change you want to see, right?”

May The Fourth Be With You takes place May 4 at IX Art Park

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