Sam Bush is the founder and operator at one of the recent – and most unique – music venues to pop up in town, The Garage. Located in the parking lot of Hill and Wood Funeral Home on N. 1st street, on show (or gallery) night, the door to The Garage opens up and transforms the hillside of Lee Park into a starry-skied stadium.
Sam also happens to be the leading man of a local band named after The Garage’s neighbor – The Hill and Wood.
For this month’s music venue check-in, I was able to ask Sam a few questions about this great addition to the Charlottesville Music and Art Scene.
Why did you open up The Garage?
To be honest, The Garage has always seemed to have a mind of its own. The idea first originated when Kate Daughdrill, the artist in residence at Christ Episcopal Church, asked if the church could provide an arts space for the community while she was walking downtown with CEC’s rector, Rev. Paul Walker. When Paul suggested the single-car garage on 1st St. that the church owned, it felt like a no-brainer. Kate and I cleaned the walls and rafters, installed wood flooring and bought some clamp lights and suddenly it was The Garage. Two weeks later, a band from Michigan played our first show and a friend of ours had a First Fridays art opening. After four years of people spreading the word, we’re now getting 10-15 emails per week from bands and artists all around the world.
“Our vision has always been fairly broad: to provide Charlottesville with a space to freely enjoy exceptional art and music together – and I think keeping the vision broad has allowed us freedom to change and grow.”
I consider The Garage to be one of the best warm-weather venues in Charlottesville, because there’s so much character, from the grassy seating to the random cars driving between audience and performer. What are your favorite unique things about The Garage?
The Garage walks an interesting line between public and private. On the one hand, it’s an extremely intimate space – people will often make remarks about how cozy it feels, how someone could live in it. But, on the other hand, it’s completely vulnerable to passers-by. That usually is enough to grab peoples’ attention as they walk by.
“My favorite moments are whenever a person, clearly rushing somewhere else, will stop to listen and take a seat on the wall.”
What was your favorite act(s) to perform at The Garage? Why? What art installations have you most enjoyed?
Wesley Allen Hartley and The Traveling Trees from Portland, ME. They’re one of the best bands I’ve ever heard – the songwriting and musicianship completely draws you into this world they’ve created; this Texas-themed, haunted reality that you can’t pull away from. Sometimes we’ll take a chance a book a band that we aren’t familiar with at all and that particular band was one of the reasons why it’s worth taking those chances.
It’s hard to choose a favorite art installation – some of my favorite artists over the years have been Patrick Costello, Matt and Liz Kleberg, Jeremy Taylor, Jesse Wells and Dean Dass. I’m so impressed how an artist can make a space their own – each installation completely changes the feel of The Garage.
After this last year, you have had a now Grammy nominated act play at The Garage. How do you find and bring in such talented artists?
The Lumineers were another one of those pleasant surprises – they played a rainy Sunday evening to about 20 people back in 2011. We had no idea they would become world famous, but it just goes to show that anything can happen with a hardworking band.
The Garage’s community has grown exponentially over the years – one band from Brooklyn will play a show and then, two weeks later, three other bands from Brooklyn will contact us to book a show. We’re thrilled that people feel compelled to spread the word.
“I suppose it speaks to how unique The Garage is that people want to share it with one another.”
What are the most challenging things about running The garage? What are the most rewarding things about it?
At times it’s difficult to draw a crowd – especially if the weather is uncooperative or if the show is during the middle of the week. We’re rebuilding our website and are investing in a camera to document events in the hopes of having a stronger web presence and attract a wider following. That said, some of the most rewarding experiences have been when a terrific band plays a show to 5-6 people and, at the end of the night, they say it was one of the best experiences of their tour.
“Whatever The Garage lacks in exposure and monetary gain, it hopefully makes up for in charm.”
What happens when someone crashes a car into the side of your venue? Tell us a little about the renovation process and the response from the community.
The Kickstarter campaign was such a beautiful experience, mostly because of how many people were involved. Ross McDermott and Kho Wong, two dear friends who are extremely skilled in filmmaking, volunteered their services to create a video that would encapsulate the spirit of The Garage. Over 30 people, many of whom are high-profile people in town, gave up a beautiful Saturday to play a role in the 4-minute video. As soon as we launched the campaign we were receiving extremely generous donations, support letters from all over town and emails from local news stations and publications.
In that way, October’s car accident was the best thing that could have happened to The Garage. Not only did it allow the community a chance to express its support, but it allowed us the opportunity to step back and envision how we’d like The Garage to evolve.
With such a thriving and talented local music and art scene, what encouraging words would you give to people prone to not going out to shows?
From personal experience, nothing allows me to let go of my anxieties quite like sitting on the hill at a Garage concert. There’s something about listening to good music outside that allows me to breathe easier and I think The Garage’s intimate setting makes it all the more appealing. Each show feels like you’re a part of something special, something that will never happen again.
In what ways has music influenced your life and driven your career path; past and present?
Music has been a part of my life since a kid – learning piano at age 4, attending a choir school for four years, playing in bands and now curating The Garage. I’ve never felt like I’ve had a choice to be involved in music – it’s something that will always be a part of my life no matter what.
The grand Re-Opening is coming up in April, the weekend of the Tom Tom Founders Festival. What do you have planned for the special event and what would you tell people to come out?
April 13 is going to be quite a day – 10 bands, a Picnic in the Park sponsored by the Tom Tom Founders Festival and Relay Foods, games and other activities. It’s shaping up to be a grand celebration of The Garage being a part of the Charlottesville art/music scene over the years. Especially after the successful fundraiser, The Garage belongs to the people of this town and April 13 is meant to be a way to thank the community for their tremendous support.
What is your vision for The Garage and its relationship to the music/art scene in Charlottesville?
On a fundamental level, we want The Garage to simply be a space for Charlottesville to enjoy exceptional art and music and to be a catalyst for community building.
On another scale, we’d like The Garage to become a source for people all over the country to discover art and music. I think it would help both The Garage and Charlottesville if more people found out how good we have it here.