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Thomas Jefferson loved to jam.
A skilled violinist, he savored sessions with other musicians at Monticello as well as in the Academical Village.
For him, music was “an enjoyment, the deprivation of which … cannot be calculated,” he wrote in 1785. Much later, in the twilight of his life, Jefferson added, “Music is invaluable where a person has an ear. It furnishes a delightful recreation for the hours of respite from the cares of the day, and lasts us through life.”
Though he could hardly have foreseen the path that music would take, not only in society but also at U.Va., it’s not hard to imagine a winsome smile on his lips if he could have seen the Skip Castro Band, SGGL, Baaba Seth, Dave Matthews Band or Sons of Bill rocking the Grounds over the years.
The music of those bands and others has helped define the student experience at U.Va. for generations. For some, the sweaty grind of tight spaces and pulsing music fueled many a memorable evening at fraternity parties and Charlottesville clubs. For others, a warm spring afternoon listening to indie bands in the McIntire Amphitheater has provided equal pleasure.
The following pages provide a visual stroll through some magical moments provided by bands that have made their mark on the music scene at the University and beyond. Some have faded into nostalgia; some have risen to stardom; all have shared a passion for music that resonates across time.
Musicians: Charlie Pastorfield (Col '75), bass and vocals; Bo Randall (Col '75), guitar and vocals; Corky Schoonover (Col '72), drums; Danny Beirne, keyboards and vocals.
Era: 1977-current (brief hiatus beginning in 1988)
You were there: Ronald Culberson (Col '83) remembers an evening at the Mineshaft with his future wife, Wendy (Engr '83): "Whenever Skip Castro played, it was always crowded. They were by far our favorite band when we were in college. We loved the piano player and how he would thrash his big hair from side to side while he literally banged on the piano. And we loved the guitar solos. This mixture of rock and blues was a perfect type of music for college students."
Jeff Kerper (Col '82) discovered the band during a Midwinters party at ATO fraternity his first year. "I stumbled down the stairs, and passed a guy who says to me, 'Bo Randall is God.' I said 'Who?' He just pointed down the stairs. I planted myself right in front of Bo for the next two hours, my first exposure to his scintillating guitar playing, and I had to agree wholeheartedly with the stranger."
"Skip's music tied everyone together," recalls Missy Casscells-Hamby (Col '82).
The passion for music that inspired Thomas Jefferson has always been a part of U.Va., but things definitely changed with the advent of rock ’n’ roll.
Big bands and soul groups dominated the music at U.Va. during the early 20th century. Performers like Louis Armstrong and Ray Charles paved the way for Fats Domino and Chuck Berry.
During the late ’60s, the mix was rich with various genres and artists: The Box Tops at Mem Gym, The Lovin’ Spoonful at University Hall, The Fifth Dimension on the Lawn and—who could forget—Strawberry Alarm Clock at Mem Gym.
On the surface, Charlottesville in the ’60s and early ’70s seemed like a one-trick pony, according to Charlie Pastorfield (Col ’75) of the Skip Castro Band. “There was an active scene in town then, but it was soul music. Period,” he recalls.
Skip Castro's Pastorfield joined a revolving lineup of Charlottesville musicians, many of them students, who during the ’60s and ’70s played blues, rock, boogie woogie, swing and other genres through a variety of bands—the Charlottesville All-Stars, Hammond Eggs, the Hawaiians Band, Captain Tunes and His Noteguns.
Bands like Skip Castro and Johnny Sportcoat and The Casuals helped fuel the party fires at the University’s crackling fraternity scene.
“The fraternity scene completely dominated what happened,” recalls Girard, of Johnny Sportcoat. “That delivered an awful lot of people—it was the soundtrack of their youth.”
While fraternities essentially served as clubs that hosted band parties, the club scene developed its own, equally electric vibe. The Mineshaft, Trax, the West Virginian, Poe’s, the C&O, the Mousetrap—all provided memorable moments.
“The Mineshaft was the major meeting place for everyone,” says Missy Casscells-Hamby (Col ’82). “Without cell phones and e-mail, we were left with running into people at our habitual places. Friday and Skip Castro and/or Johnny Sportcoat [at the Mineshaft] was one of those places.”
Rusty Speidel (Col ’82) of SGGL says that when he showed up in 1978, “I was in awe of what was happening” in the local music scene. “The transition from the soul to the blues had happened by then; I think that was the big change.”
Charlottesville’s scene drew big acts from out of town—the Nighthawks, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Danny Gatton, NRBQ, Delbert McClinton, Koko Taylor and others.
“There were more places to play in this town than there were in all of D.C., and you could do better here,” says Bob Girard.
Musicians: Bob Girard (Col '71), vocals; Dennis Guinan, guitar; Bryan Yates (Col '76, Law '81), guitar; Bob Otte (Col '80), bass (later Dan Sebring and Sonny Layne); Gibby Dammann (Arch '88), drums.
You were there: Jeff White (Col '85) recalls that the Casuals and Skip Castro ruled the music scene when he arrived as a first-year.
"Not only did [they] and other local acts play regularly at the Mineshaft and other clubs, but fraternities—including Fiji, ATO, Sigma Nu and Phi Psi—essentially turned into clubs when they hosted band parties during Openings, Homecomings, Midwinters, Easters and other occasions.
"The Casuals were known for their impeccable taste in covers—Graham Parker's 'Something You're Going Through' and Tom Petty's 'American Girl,'" White says. "They interacted easily with their audience, and never took themselves too seriously. Bob Girard had—and has—a wickedly dry sense of humor that informed his stage presence. The band had serious chops, too, especially guitarist Dennis Guinan, whose technical proficiency could leave you dumbstruck."
Still gigging: Bob Girard teamed up with Charlie Pastorfield (of the Skip Castro Band), Steve Riggs (formerly with The Charlottesville All-Stars) and drummer Jim Ralston (formerly with Baaba Seth) to form the Gladstones.
Check out: Bob Girard's website.
Musicians: Mark Roebuck (Col ’81), guitar, keyboards and vocals; Eric Schwartz (Col ’81), now deceased, guitar and vocals; Haines Fullerton (Col ’81), now deceased, guitar and vocals; Jim Jones, bass; Hugh Patton (Col ’85, Law ’89), drums [later Michael Clarke (Col ’84)].
Era: 1979-1988 (Roebuck and Schwartz actually began as an acoustic duo in the mid-1970s).
You were there: Dave McNair (Grad ’93), writing in The Hook, recalls, “The Deal was formed in 1979 … and by 1981 the band had earned a full-page spread in Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine, in which they were described as a new group dedicated to ‘high harmonies and low morals, the East Coast answer to the Beach Boys sound.’” Having developed a loyal following, they were playing to packed houses up and down the East Coast; Musician magazine named them one of the ‘20 Best Unsigned Bands’ in the world. A series of mishaps and bad luck (ranging from a record label tanking just before an album’s release to their manager dying during an airplane flight) hamstrung the band’s rise to a bigger stage, but critical acclaim followed the 1987 release of Brave New World. “Remarkably self-assured pop classicism,” the Washington Post called it. “One of the best independent releases by a regional band in years,” said the Raleigh News & Observer.
Musicians: Rusty Speidel (Col ’82), Tom Goodrich (Col ’83), Michael Goggin, Michael Lille, all guitar and vocals.
Era: 1983 to 1987 in different trio configurations; after a hiatus, SGGL solidified and continues to perform.
You were there: “My first year at U.Va., going to see SGG at Pavilion XI was my motivation for finishing my calculus homework,” says Randi Blank (Col ’86). “I think of SGG/SGL as the soundtrack to my U.Va. years.”
“We started out as a cover band, with maybe three originals,” Goodrich said in an interview. Their early sets included covers of Jackson Brown, James Taylor and Crosby, Stills and Nash; now their repertoire is largely original material.
In the early years, the band garnered such a following that in 1987, nearly 4,000 people flooded into McIntire Amphitheater for the group’s final performance. “Their concert (almost three hours long) brought together more good feelings, good people and good music than an entire weekend of cosmic convergence,” said an article in the University Journal.
Their appeal endures. “Wholesome, earnest, likable, handsome and exceedingly popular,” the Washington Post calls SGGL.
In the ’80s, though, a double whammy changed the scene.
University officials terminated Easters, and state legislators raised the drinking age from 18 to 21, meaning most students were too young to drink legally. The music scene suffered but survived—in fact, diversity blossomed. The Deal, for example, carved out a niche in the power pop genre. National success eluded the band, but Mark Roebuck (Col ’81) played a role in Dave Matthews’ early rise and has been a steady force in the Charlottesville creative scene in bands like Big Circle and songs under the Tribe of Heaven name.
Despite challenges—the end of Easters and higher drinking age—the scene at U.Va. and around Charlottesville grew through diversity in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Stephen Malkmus (Col ’88), for example, teamed with other U.Va. musicians to lay the groundwork that would lead to indie success with Pavement.
“Our town finally got an indie-rock club that summer ,” Rob Sheffield (Grad ’91) writes in Love is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time. “Tokyo Rose, the local sushi bar, started hosting shows in the basement. … [It] wasn’t big, but it was friendly, with blue paint on the walls and loveseats you could fall asleep on if the band sucked.”
Just as indie bands were carving a niche with original material, Indecision was drawing crowds with songwriting that flexed a different kind of musical muscle—extended jams. Though their smart covers of Dylan and the Grateful Dead appealed to many, “I think our original songs were the main draw in those days rather than the cover songs,” says guitarist David Ibbeken (Col ’87). Indeed, original material, which had failed to yield national success for bands like Skip Castro and Johnny Sportcoat and the Casuals, increasingly became the order of the day for younger bands.
Musicians: David Ibbeken (Col ’87, Law ’00), guitar and vocals; Aaron Evans, guitar and vocals; Craig Dougald, drums and vocals; Shawn McCrystal, bass; Doug Wanamaker, keyboards and vocals [later, Chris White joined on acoustic guitar and vocals].
Era: First real gig, opening for the White Animals at the Mineshaft in 1984. The band toured steadily until 1993 and continues occasional performances.
You were there: “My friends and I trekked over to Trax and the Mineshaft many times to pay the cover charge to hear Indecision,” recalls Elizabeth Higgins (Col ’90). “I remember getting $20 out of the ATM, and it would be more than enough money to pay for the cover charge, a few beers and probably food afterward on the Corner.
“Indecision had original tunes, but people mostly went to hear their covers of bands like Traffic, the Grateful Dead and Bob Dylan. My fondest memory of all is going to Van Riper’s [Music Festival],” Higgins says. “An April afternoon in the sun left us all sunburned and sated by the wonderful live music of Indecision and other local bands.”
“One part Allmans, one part Traffic, and one part wise-guy Virginia soul, Indecision was the ’80s’ answer to this region’s former heavyweight musical genre, blues party rock. … I recall Halloween bashes at Trax being notorious spectacles complete with magical stage sets, hallucination-inducing light shows and Indecision’s superjams. They were unstoppable. Until they stopped,” blogger “Cripsy Duck” wrote in C-Ville Weekly.
Musicians: Dirk Lind, guitar and vocals; Mike Chang (Col ’96), guitar and vocals; Dylan Locke, bass [also Lisa Mezzacappa (Col ’97)]; Jim Ralston (Col ’91), drums; Hope Clayburn (Col ’97), saxophone and vocals; Mark Maynard, trombone; Len Wishart (Col ’81, Grad ’85), percussion.
Era: The band began gigging in 1991, changed lineups and toured extensively until 2000. Now, with some new members, Baaba Seth performs periodically, most recently for a show at the Jefferson Theater in March.
You were there: “It all started on original guitarist Kevin Lynch’s front porch on Virginia Avenue, with casual jam sessions that included Lynch, Boyd Tinsley (Col ’86) [now violinist for Dave Matthews Band], Len Wishart and others,” says Chang. The world beat sound of those first years evolved into “an afro-funk-jazz-rock vibe.”
“Frequenting the Charlottesville music scene nightly for nearly four years in the beginning, Baaba Seth [led] the way to popularizing world beats in the mainstream,” writes Stephanie Garcia (Col ’10, Grad ’14), music editor for Charlottesville’s the Hook. “Baaba Seth uses world music as a foundation, not the main attraction.”
As the decade turned a page, the stage was set for strands of Charlottesville’s scene to come together in an explosive combination. The songs of a certain Dave Matthews appealed to Mark Roebuck of The Deal, and Roebuck helped Matthews land a steady gig at Eastern Standard on the Downtown Mall (their run at the club Trax began in 1992). Boyd Tinsley, a former U.Va. student, had already established a solid musical rep in a variety of bands, and his gritty violin solos combined with Matthews’ unique singing to propel Dave Matthews Band to new strata. Guided by manager Coran Capshaw (Col ’83), DMB rode the success of 1994’s Under the Table and Dreaming to become an A-list band filling arenas and stadiums around the world.
Other bands with U.Va. links have found fertile ground beyond the region. The Sons of Bill toured Asia in 2007, after which their roots-rock sound returned to Charlottesville and the Satellite Ballroom for a show packed with U.Va. students. “We played our first show in Charlottesville, and every time we come back we get that same feeling as the first one,” said multi-instrumentalist Abe Wilson (Col ’04).
Clayton Avent (Col ’07) and his 6 Day Bender bandmates also show their roots in what they call “mountain rock.” The band, born in 2006 on Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall, throws everything from banjo plunking to cello bowing (as well as some twangy Fender Telecaster plucking) into its high-octane material, which now draws fans to shows up and down the East Coast.
Musicians: Dave Matthews, guitar and vocals; Boyd Tinsley (Col ’86), violin; Carter Beauford, drums; Stefan Lessard, bass [original members included the late LeRoi Moore, saxophone; and Peter Griesar (Col ’91), keyboards].
Era: 1991 to present.
You were there: If you happened to be at Charlottesville’s Earth Day Festival in April 1991, you might have overheard a moment of musical history. Dave Matthews Band played its first official gig at a private party on the rooftop of the pink warehouse on South Street. Mark Roebuck, formerly of The Deal, soon afterward landed the band steady gigs at Eastern Standard, where he was a waiter.
“First-years came early in those days and this local band, Dave Matthews, played for us in the field across from the new dorms,” says Claire M.S. Meade (Col ’95, Med ’00).
For students in the early ’90s, every Tuesday night meant Dave Matthews at Trax, where the band that would go on to achieve megastardom could be heard for only a $5 cover charge. “[Later], it was like DMB was the only band around,” recalls Justin Downs (Col ’97). “They played their last dates at Trax early in my first year. Then Under the Table and Dreaming came out and they just exploded.”
DMB still rocks the Grounds, according to a Richmond Times-Dispatch review of the band’s 2009 show at John Paul Jones Arena. “Even with the subtle sadness of missing member LeRoi Moore, who died from complications after an ATV accident last summer, this is a band that relishes playing live. … DMB is one of the tightest live outfits out there.”
Musicians: Stephen Malkmus (Col ’88), guitar and vocals; Bob Nastanovich (Col ’89), keyboard and percussion; Scott Kannberg, guitar and vocals; Mark Ibold, bass; Steve West, drums.
Era: 1990s, 2000s. Malkmus and Nastanovich met at U.Va., where they began playing together in an experimental noise-rock band called Ectoslavia, along with David Berman (Col ’89), who would become the front man of another seminal indie-rock band, the Silver Jews. After graduation, Malkmus moved back to Stockton, Calif., where he and Kannberg formed Pavement, which Nastanovich joined in 1990 after finishing a stint with the Silver Jews.
You were there: Ectoslavia played few shows while in Charlottesville, but Pavement toured through town often, playing at Trax several times during the ’90s. Rob Sheffield (Grad ’91) describes a 1991 Charlottesville show in his book, Love Is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time: “Pavement was nothing at all like we pictured them. They were a bunch of foxy dudes, and they were into it. … They were there to make some noise and have some fun. … Stephen Malkmus leaned into his mike, furrowed his brow and sang lyrics like ‘I only really want you for your rock and roll.’”
Dominic DeVito, a DJ at WTJU, recalls, “Pavement in the fall of 1997 was definitely something to behold. They basically turned into indie rock’s version of the Grateful Dead for a few songs while retaining the punk energy that drew so many of them to the early days.”
“It’s a point of pride for the local music community that members of the most important indie rock band of the ’90s spent their formative years spinning records at WTJU and selling records at Plan 9,” says Andrew Cedermark (Col ’08), arts editor for the C-Ville Weekly.
Read more at:
Musicians: Abe Wilson (Col ’04), piano, organ, banjo and vocals; James Wilson (Col ’07), guitar and vocals; Sam Wilson, guitar and vocals; Seth Green (Col ’06), bass; Todd Wellons, drums. The Wilsons are sons of William M. Wilson (Col ’72, ’83), an assistant dean in the College of Arts & Sciences; and Barbara B. Wilson (Med ’78), a U.Va. dermatology professor.
Era: Current. The Sons came together in 2005 and won the U.Va. Battle of the Bands in 2007.
You were there: “When the band first started out, Abe and I would do some open mic nights around [Charlottesville], him on banjo, me on guitar,” James Wilson says in an interview promoting Bonnaroo 2009. “We didn’t really have a band name, and one of our friends shouted it out one night. It just seemed to work. This whole band is kind of getting back to our roots: as brothers, as family, musically.”
Brendan Fitzgerald (Col ’06), writing in C-Ville Weekly, recalls a 2008 sold-out gig at Fry’s Spring Beach Club in Charlottesville. “James had distilled his voice to a mash of classic country’s prairie wind whine and the grit of modern Nashville updates like Drive-By Truckers. Sam and Abe had mastered the colloquial lingo of country and rock on guitar and keys, respectively.”
Musicians: Will Anderson (Col ’08), guitar and vocals; Nate McFarland (Col ’08), guitar and vocals; Johnny Stubblefield, drums; Kit French, keyboards, saxophone and vocals; Alex Hargrave, bass.
Era: Current. The band started as Sparky’s Flaw while the guys were at Charlottesville High School. They won the U.Va. Battle of the Bands in 2005 and now have a national following.
You were there: Brian Hartman (Col ’05) remembers that Battle of the Bands show. “The band stuck out from the competition in my mind because of their polished sound,” he says. “I remember that comparisons to Maroon 5 and O.A.R. kept jumping into my mind. Their songs also had great choruses to sing along to, which made for fun concerts for people who like to sing.”
Before the change to Parachute, the band’s name required some explaining. “When we were in high school, there was this kid who we called Sparky and he was a cool kid, he used to wear tailored suits to school every day so he looked really good every day,” Anderson explained in an online interview. “The only problem was that he also wore duct tape shoes to school every day. So that was his only flaw.”
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Will Anderson (Col ’08) and his bandmates found local success as Sparky’s Flaw, but as Parachute they have broadened their pop-music audience to late-night and prime-time television spots. Their influences? The same soul music that rockers of earlier generations cut their teeth on. “Soul singing—that was real singing for me,” Anderson says.
Which current band will be remembered down the line?
Rachel Lim, an editor for the Cavalier Daily’s entertainment section, profiled Astronomers, a progressive-rock group that features Alexandra Angelich (Col ’11) on bass, in its roundup of current notable bands. Former Astronomers guitarist Kyle Woolard (Col ’10) is working on a new project, the Anatomy of Frank, which took home first prize at U.Va.’s Battle of the Bands this year with its sunny pop-rock melodies.
Leave U.Va. Grounds and Charlottesville residents will tell you that power-pop heroes Invisible Hand, which features Adam Brock (Col ’04) on drums, is the band to watch. “They are one of the most dependable, hardest-working and reliably excellent bands around right now. They are absolutely my single favorite thing about Charlottesville music,” says James Ford, writer for local music blog Nailgunmedia.
Leave us a comment with your musical memories from U.Va. The names of these bands and musicians might ring a bell, too: