CHARLOTTESVILLE VA--- Music In a Garden of Eden
Charlottesville's city fathers like to think of themselves as a city, though the town proper's number (a mere 40,000+) begs to differ. Add the few thousand from the surrounding area and you still fall short of most people's concept of city, even if you include the transients at the University of Virginia. So pardon me if I struggle to understand how this town can support an absolutely huge-for-its-size music scene. The town has spawned its share of names, Dave Matthews and Corey Harris being two of note, but a peak under the covers reveals a plethora of known and unknown musicians, numbers way beyond the norm by any standard for a town of its size. It brings to mind the old line that there are so many musicians, one could not toss a pop bottle in any direction without hitting one.
While that may not be true, there does seem to be a magic about the place. The Charlottesville Pavillion and The Paramount Theater are de facto destinations for major musical acts, The Gravity Lounge has gained a name internationally for its support of excellent music (as well as excellent brews), and the town awaits the opening of the now-being-renovated Jefferson Theater where the old will hopefully meet cutting edge. The Prism Coffeehouse is gone but Rapunzel's, down the road in Lovingston, is thriving.
Still, the venues are few and far between and one has to wonder why a musician would want to subject him- or herself to what seems a very limited scene. There are probably numerous reasons, one being that they like it in and around Charlottesville, but the overriding factor is more personal. Fact of the matter is, they like each other. Close to a year of interviews and research have revealed this community as open and honest, musically--- one of the most open and honest music scenes anywhere, I would bet. The result is a musical give and take which nurtures the music and allows it to grow, and the musicians along with it. Ellis Paul and Jesse Winchester probably know it, having moved there not too long ago, and Adrienne Young just recently planted roots nearby.
Maybe Charlottesville does not mirror the scenes of San Francisco in the late '60s nor Los Angeles of the early to mid-'70s, nor even the grunge scene of Seattle in the '90s, but they don't have to. Charlottesville is more about the community than about the infrastructure. And that community lives for the arts--- music, in particular. If you want examples, allow me to point out a few.
Devon Sproule and Paul Curreri
I can't even think of Charlottesville without thinking of Devon Sproule and Paul Curreri. Sproule invaded the town via the nearby Twin Oaks Commune at the tender age of 16, guitar and survival gear in hand. The ensuing years have schooled her in music and a whole host of other subjects and she has handled that schooling well, as a growing fan base will attest. Her latest album, Keep Your Silver Shined, has gained her respect way beyond her previous reach and she is logging many air miles to satisfy the demand.
Paul Curreri, upon entering town a handful or years ago, attached himself to Sproule and has yet to let go. Known for his creative guitar stylings, he found himself in Charlottesville and has been incorporating twists and turns into his music ever since. I mean, if you want twists, check out The Velvet Rut!
On this video, we get a small taste of Devon and Paul courtesy of a British broadcast hosted by British rocker-turned-emcee, Jools Holland (Squeeze).
Sam Wilson Band
Sam Wilson is one of the Sons of Bill, a roots-oriented rock band he formed with a couple of wayward brothers and which is now garnering serious attention. Known mainly for his guitar, Sam has spent a number of years supporting numerous local acts such as Peyton Tochterman and Shannon Worrell and has now formed his own band. Just in time, too, as he just released his excellent first solo studio effort titled Green Gates. Here, he covers the Ryan Adams' tune Come Pick Me Up at the Gravity Lounge, accompanied vocally by none other than the aforementioned Shannon Worrell.
Shannon Worrell is not so much Charlottesville's secret as secret weapon. After making waves on one of the early Lilith Fair tours and later collaborating with Dave Matthews (not to mention releasing a handful of albums on her own), she dropped out for awhile to experience life. She's back, has recently released a new album titled The Honey Guide and, as you will see, she still has it. It, as far as I can tell, is an exceptional gift of song and an incredibly sincere delivery.
Sarah White and Ted Pitney
Sarah White at one time was described as cowpunk, but one listen here and you'll wonder where that came from. True, in her earlier years, she leaned toward punk and, according to her, carried the attitude. She had a good run with The Pearls, with whom she recorded an EP and an LP. When that had run its course, she just dabbled until ex-King Wilkie guitarist Ted Pitney sidled up alongside. Solo, Sarah can be great. With Pitney, she is absolutely outstanding (as is he). Her latest CD, a five-song EP, is titled Sweetheart, from which this tune, Apple in B Major, is taken.
Helen Horal, Mariana Bell, Robin Wynn & Joia Wood
I stumbled upon Joia Wood quite unexpectedly, floored by her background vocals on Danny Schmidt's Leaves Are Burning, a recent addition to my list of all-time favorite tracks. I have been a fan since and am anxiously awaiting her first studio album, presently in the works. Joia, like Danny, is a huge supporter of other artists and recorded this a cappella track with three of her favorite vocalists. Joia has one CD available, Live from the Gravity Lounge, and Mariana Bell recently released her latest, Book. Check them out!
Keith Morris & the Crooked Numbers
Keith Morris would be the first one to admit he's a bit odd. A frustrated musician since birth, he held his music in, making a living writing reviews of everyone else's music while making home recordings in his basement at night. We tried to keep him there, but he escaped! The result is an intriguing CD titled Songs from Candyapolis, which he describes as kids' music for adults or adult music for kids, depending upon his mood. Here, he performs a song written about his mother based upon a picture he found, a newspaper wedding announcement with her on a sofa in her wedding dress. He claims it was the first time he had looked upon her as a person rather than a mother. He also claims to be a musician. I'm kidding! Morris is a hoot and Candyapolis is well worth scoping out.
And that's just a scratch in the surface. I didn't even mention Peyton Tochterman (actually I did, but only in passing) or John D'earth or Terri Allard or Carleigh Nesbit or Caroline Spence or the Hackensaw Boys or... Well, you get my drift.
I admit it. I am in love with Charlottesville, or maybe it's just the idea of Charlottesville. To me, it has become a place it is probably not, where music and love overrides all. I know--- and lollipops grow on trees. I can't help it. It's the music. And the musicians.