As a music venue, The Ante Room specializes in providing a stage for “overlooked acts” that might not fit at other spaces in Charlottesville or even around the region. When it originally opened in 2012, the venue was known as the Main Street Annex. Jeyon Falsini, the current owner, was just the manager back then. Main Street Arena, the adjacent ice rink and event space, was backing the business originally. “They knew I was a local promoter and they wanted me to take over and book bands,” recalled Falsini. “We didn’t think it was going to last long.” After about eight months, their worst fears had passed, so he approached the owner about continuing the business as his own endeavor. Thus began a long transition between the two businesses, leading up to the the official name change in July 2015.
From the beginning, Falsini has focused on booking shows that appeal to specific subcultures while cultivating community among musicians and fans. “What we were offering the public was sort of the opposite of what everyone else was offering, so we came up with The Ante Room.” The name is both a play on the prefix “anti” as well as the word anteroom, which is similar to a foyer or waiting room and the gambling term. The latter reference is the most obviously seen in the intricately adorned playing cards painted on the doors, the poker chip logo, and other decorations throughout the space.
What sets the space apart is Falsini’s openness to new ideas and all types of music. In January alone, the venue will host a Grateful Dead cover band, an album release event for local rap duo Equally Opposite, jam rock band Moogatu, and a retro soul dance party with local DJ team Grits and Gravy. This month also marks the launch of a weekly reggae residency by Positive Collective and Greg Ward. They’ll be performing every Thursday in January. Like everything else at The Ante Room, it’s a gamble, but it’s one that Falsini considers to be a safe bet. “Reggae is one of those genres that I definitely want to continue to build in this room,” he said.
Food is another element of Falsini’s experimentation. After a successful pop-up Caribbean restaurant in September, Falsini decided to expand The Ante Room’s lunch and dinner menu to include many of those dishes on a regular basis. “The decision to offer the pop-up food regularly was the discovery that there was very little, if any, Caribbean food in Charlottesville,” he explained. “Everyone that came to our pop-up event kept saying, ‘You know, I regularly drive 45 minutes over to Richmond to eat this food.’ There’s a demand for it here.” Weekday lunch is available at the venue or to order online. Dinner is also offered on Friday and Saturday nights, plus any night with a show. Both meals feature the standard bar fare like deli sandwiches with unexpected additional Caribbean treats like jibarito, oxtails in broth, coco bread, and plantains.
Overall, the risks are paying off. After managing the space for more than three years, Falsini has succeeded in building new audiences for music that otherwise wouldn’t have a dedicated venue in Charlottesville. The hip-hop and metal shows are perhaps the most important to Falsini, as they were some of the first shows he booked in the space. “Hip-hop and go-go were absolutely the first things we did, so that’s definitely what we’re known for. Metal was one of the earlier genres, so we’re known for that as well,” he said. These shows remain a vital part of the schedule each month and consistently attract large crowds. On top of that, Falsini weaves in a mixture of indie rock, afternoon blues, reggae and jam bands, and electronic music. The latter is largely represented by an ongoing series of live electronic musicians curated by Travis Thatcher, a synth and electronic musician himself. “That’s definitely something that I want this room known for.” Falsini said of the series, “What Travis is doing here is amazing.”
Beyond local artists, The Ante Room will occasionally feature larger out-of-town acts. In a show that must have hit close to home, Jeyon featured his father, Franco Falsini, the Italian prog rock musician behind the band Sensation’s Fix. This month, he’s also excited about hosting Helado Negro, the internationally-touring electronic musician who booked a last minute surprise show on January 8.
“There’s plenty of room for more genres to fit in here,” Falsini explained. “Seven is the magic number. If you do seven shows in one genre, then by the seventh show, people will know that your room exists.” As he continues to broaden The Ante Room’s audience, Falsini also hopes he’s supporting the local music scene in Central Virginia overall. By providing access to bands that otherwise might not be seen live, he hopes to give other musicians the push they need to start their own projects. “I remember hoping that bands would come out of it,” he reflected. “If you’re providing a place for them, then they at least have a spot to play. If there is a place, there will be a band.”
To see all of The Ante Room’s upcoming concerts, visit the-ante.com.