Local Music Venue Check-in: The Southern

Posted on November 13, 2013 by

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southernlogoEven in a town with such a thriving music scene as Charlottesville, venues come and go. We have seen the Satellite Ballroom, Gravity Lounge, and Down Under all go the way of The Beatles—extinct, but fondly remembered. Since 2009, The Southern has been a sentry of the Downtown Mall music scene, so when it changed hands this summer, many were glad to see that it would retain its name. In the months since, we have also seen The Southern keep its commitment to bringing in quality national and international acts, bolstering the efforts of local artists, and providing a superior sound experience for all patrons.

This week, I had the pleasure of catching up with Graham Partridge. While his job title is hard to describe in few words (he calls himself Venue Ops), describing his contributions to The Southern over the past two years would require even greater verbosity. He talked with us about the day-to-day of the newly remodeled and reopened Southern, who some of his favorite past acts have been, and why working at The Southern, though trying, is also so rewarding.

What was the necessity for the Grand Re-opening of The Southern? What changed with the changing of hands? 

Every summer, The Southern has “gone dark” for a month or so to undergo necessary renovations, a deep cleaning, and just to give the room a bit of a break. This year’s renovation just so happened to coincide with our Grand Re-Opening under new management. The drive behind this round of renovations was a complete overhaul of the kitchen and restaurant side of the space. The restaurant has been appointed with new, homier furniture, a new coat of paint and a revamped menu full of BBQ-themed comfort food that caters to meat eaters, vegetarians and vegans. As far as the venue is concerned, very little has changed. We still have the best sound system in town and offer intimate evenings with incredible bands.

What is the new vision for The Southern and its relationship to the music scene in Charlottesville?

While I don’t want to put words into any one else’s mouths, I would say the new vision is to continue to offer a wide range of musical acts, be they local, national or international, provide those bands with an A-1 experience while they are guests at the venue, and feed them delicious food from our menu. We have and will always want to foster the local music scene, whether offering these acts a show of their own, or trying to get them to open for a national act that is coming through town.

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Describe your role at The Southern. 

Come January, I will have worked at the Southern for two years. While I am the Door Guy and Box Office Guy, my unofficial job title would be “Venue Ops”. My primary responsibilities are those of both a venue Box Office and Venue Security. I sell tickets, check patrons in who have pre-purchased tickets, check IDs and wristband patrons. One of the less obvious aspects of this part of the job is to do my best to retain the faces of all patrons who have and have not paid, so I can form a mental checklist of who can and cannot go into the venue. This folds into the security aspect of the job. Myself and my fellow Venue Ops employee, Charlie, are responsible for making sure that no one is doing something they shouldn’t be. I’m sure you can imagine a long list of things that people try to get away with at a concert (and believe me, some things you’d be hard pressed to believe). While sometimes we feel like the Fun Police, we have a certain set of policies in place that exist to make sure the venue runs as safely and securely as possible, while everyone is having the best experience.

Other responsibilities that Charlie and I have are far less glamorous, such as making sure bathrooms are stocked, cleaning the venue and the venue bathrooms at the end of the night, sweeping up cigarettes, taking out trash, bouncing drunk/unruly/problematic patrons (luckily for everyone, this rarely happens)… the list goes on and is far from static. The rhythm and mood of each and every show is wholly unique from those that came before and will come after it.

Finally, I also find myself helping the venue manager, Andy, with any number of tasks that he or the band needs help with throughout any given night. Greeting the band when they enter the venue for load-in and answering any questions they might have, stocking the green room with hospitality, recommending hotels/coffee shops/ record stores. Even though each band receives an e-mail that contains the password to our wireless network (amongst all other pertinent information regarding the show), AND it is posted on a sheet of paper in the green room, I feel as though one of my primary duties is informing band members of said wireless password.

What was your favorite act to perform at The Southern? Why?

Sometimes, believe it or not, I do find myself able to attend shows at the Southern rather than work them. Some of my favorite shows over the years since the venue opened in 2009 have been Neil Hamburger, A Cosmonaut’s Ruin (farewell show), Kylesa, any time Jukebox The Ghost has played here, any time Corsair has played here, Worn In Red, War Tempest, Mockstar’s Ball I, II and IV, etc.

Shows that stand out as favorites when I have been an employee are those shows where the bands are nice and personable, the crowd is pleasant and respectful, and the show does well for the business as a whole to include employee morale. Shows that stand out in this regard are; The Whigs, Horsefeathers, Wrinkle Neck Mules, Jonathan Richman, Frank Black, Superchunk, Tim O’Brien, Scars on 45, Yarn, and most recently The John K. Band.

What are the most challenging things about working at The Southern? What are the most rewarding things about it?

The most challenging things I run into are dealing with upwards of 300 people per night, and noticing trends (emotions, dispositions, how they’re interacting with other patrons, how drunk they might be getting, if they’re trying to do anything illegal in the bathrooms). This can also be challenging during weeks when we have a show almost every night, and there might be an overlap of patrons from one show to the next sprinkled amongst a brand new set of faces. By the end of this month, I will likely have seen over 1,000 (potentially much more) unique faces come through the venue doors. It can be overwhelming to try to keep tabs on so many people.

As I have mentioned previously, we aim to provide the best possible experience to bands and fans alike. The feedback that Andy, Charlie and I get is oftentimes overwhelmingly positive and it helps with morale on bad nights and makes us feel like a million bucks on great nights. I also have a B.S. in Music Industry from Northeastern University, so it is a reward in and of itself that I am working in the field that I have a degree in. I am passionate about music, I play music, and I see as much music as possible and working at a venue is perfect for all of that.

Charlottesville certainly has a thriving and talented local music scene, and now more than ever The Southern is booking local artists. What encouraging words would you give to people prone to not going out to shows?

I am highly aware that life gets in the way of so many things, but I truly believe that people should try as hard as possible to fit live music into their schedules. Live music provides an outlet for both the artists and the patrons. The communal aspect of seeing music with others who are passionate about an act is a powerful situation to find yourself in. Live music can often be cathartic, and our schedule at the Southern continues to offer something for just about everyone. These next two weeks will find local, national and International acts spanning genres such as Reggae, Country, Americana, Rock, Folk… Basically, there is no reason to not come out to the Southern, grab a bite to eat and catch some great music.

What is next for The Southern? Anything exciting in the works for upcoming shows or events? 

We are slowly looking into expanding our event palate, so keep an eye on our website and Facebook page for cool events coming over the next months and year. Unfortunately, I am not at liberty to disclose any shows that have yet to be announced to the public, but we have some exciting shows coming up in the coming weeks.

Beyond the shows we have this week (The Green, Turnpike Troubadours, and Brian Davis), some shows I am looking forward to (whether as a patron or an employee) are; Borrowed Beams of Light, Black Uhuru, Lee Bains III, David Mayfield Parade, James Wilson, Luke Wilson & The Dericks/ Moby & The Dicks, and Clairy Browne & The Bangin’ Rackettes (with local favorites Ginger & The Castaways opening). Also, I am hearing good things about San Fermin and the Sarah White & The Acorn Sisters Country Christmas is always a great seasonal show.

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