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Party of the Centuries

Bicentennial launch to draw thousands

Photo illustration by Steve Hedberg; photo sources: Dan Addison, iStockPhoto

Think big. Think 20,000 people watching nearly 1,000 performers on a giant stage and huge screens on the Lawn. Think an Olympics-style opening ceremony.

That’s what Vice Provost for the Arts Jody Kielbasa, who has led the planning for nearly a year, envisions for UVA’s Bicentennial Launch Celebration on Friday, Oct. 6.

Commemorating the 1817 ceremony in which U.S. Presidents Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe observed the laying of the cornerstone at the University’s first building, Pavilion VII, the gala crowns a series of programs running from Thursday through Saturday. At least 20,000 people are expected to attend.

The extravaganza serves as the kickoff for the multiyear commemoration of the University’s founding, with events and tributes continuing through 2019, the 200th anniversary of Jefferson’s winning the state charter that allowed his then-unfinished Central College to become the official University of Virginia.

The event also helps set the stage for a major fundraising campaign focused on UVA’s next century.  Mark Luellen, UVA’s vice president for advancement, sees the celebration as “a wonderful opportunity for alumni to learn more about the University’s top priorities.” That kind of engagement, he says, “will be critical to raising the philanthropic support needed in the upcoming capital campaign.”

Friday’s Lawn events start at 7 p.m. and are expected to last at least three hours. They will include what is expected to be a dramatic 20-minute show that uses projection mapping technology to recreate the University’s history; musical performances by the Goo Goo Dolls, the Charlottesville Symphony and R&B singer Andra Day; a new poem from national laureate and UVA English professor Rita Dove; and appearances by TV journalist Katie Couric (Col ’79) and Leslie Odom Jr., who won a Tony Award for his portrayal of Aaron Burr in “Hamilton.” A giant stage will sit in front of the Rotunda, large LED screens will be located on each Lawn level and an elaborate lighting system will wrap around all the pavilion columns. All told, Kielbasa estimates, between student singing groups and other acts, there will be 800 to 900 performers.

“We really tried to get a range of talent,” says Kari Evans, the executive director of the UVA Bicentennial. “Maybe one individual performer doesn’t speak to you, but over the course of the evening there’s something with which you connect and enjoy.”

Tickets to the event, which can be obtained through Ticketmaster, are free, though there is a $5 processing fee. Evans says roughly 20,000 will be made available.

If there is bad weather, the celebration will move to the John Paul Jones Arena.

A home football game against Duke University (start time TBA) highlights Saturday, Oct. 7, on Grounds, along with a 7 p.m. JPJ concert with country music’s Grammy-winning Zac Brown Band.

Evans says more than 60 UVA Clubs from around the world will have access to a video feed for use at their own events.

Says Kielbasa: “The reason we’re doing it on the Lawn is because it’s the beating heart of the University.”