Interest in concerts and musical performance has been increasing for the past few years in Lynchburg.
Hill City is alive with the sound of music as the local band and music artist scene has been thriving for the past few years.
Since 2012, the Lynchburg music culture has been growing. Locals are involving themselves in producing, promoting and curating a scene that attracts outsiders to the city.
Blake Gederberg, the current owner of local record shop Speakertree, came to Liberty University with a passion for live music. During his time in school, he would regularly travel to Richmond, Charlotte, Raleigh and other cities with a significant music culture to get his fix.
He always had to travel long distances for the concerts, but he thought of a solution.
“I was like, ‘Man, what if people didn’t have to drive. What if we brought stuff here?’” Gederberg said. “So, getting into it and being so involved in it and seeing the potential in it has made me want to continue to push to make it a bigger thing here.”
Gederberg would spend his days driving around Lynchburg, going from church to church and trying to find a place willing to host a concert. At that point, there were not many official music venues in the city.
Musician Joel Kaiser remembers being at Liberty around that time and nothing was happening for the music scene.
“I didn’t even know that there was a downtown until my sophomore year,” Kaiser said. “I was like ‘There’s a downtown?’ There was like, ghost town buildings everywhere.”
But the more the city grew and developed, the more talented musicians came around. The population of downtown Lynchburg is on the rise, and with that brings a new lineup of talent.
“I would say a lot of it has been super organic,” Gederberg said. ”And it really comes down to the local bands (who) have fought to put on DIY shows and keep venues open… There’s a lot of networking that happens among the bands.”
According to Gederberg, Lynchburg is a “C” market–one that isn’t as attractive to bigger bands as an “A” or “B” market, like D.C. or Charlotte. The thing that keeps band coming back, though, is the crowds.
The Lynchburg music culture, according to Gederberg, is very inclusive and will take a lot of interest in visiting music acts.
“That speaks the highest for a C market,” Gederberg said. “When a band leaves saying ‘I can’t wait to come back. I can’t wait until next time,’ rather than ‘Oh, that’s cool, but I’m probably going to play Charlotte next time, or D.C. or Richmond.’”
A major bolster for the musician culture in Lynchburg was the advent of Lynchstock, an annual musical festival that brings together local bands and talent.
Lynchstock began in 2013 when a group of college students brought together a group of their friends to play music and hang out. The event brought in around 200 people.
Kaiser was one of the original acts with his band at the time, Glass Oaks.
“We put pallets on the ground, rented generators that blew out and we plugged into a house nearby,” Kaiser said. “(We) had a rental PA system with four or five bands.”
Now, Lynchstock is a citywide attraction that brings in thousands. The most recent concert hosted more than 20 acts and had nationally-recognized bands like COIN and Dr. Dog headline.
“I think the word is getting out that what we have here is special, and national bands want to be a part of that,” Gederberg said.
As a result of the traction the music scene is getting, more music venues are starting up in the area.
“To me, if you would have asked me in 2012 if there would be multiple music venues five years down the road, I’d be like ‘Man, it’s hard to just get one,’” Gederberg said.
A newborn venue is the Historic Academy of Music Theatre, the Academy of the Arts building that has been closed since 1958. The venue opened with a bang last December, hosting Grammy award-winning gospel singer Mavis Staples.
Gederberg is also working with the Ellington to revitalize the venue and bring in new talent.
Some local music acts have gotten large followings in Lynchburg, which has encouraged them to move to more competitive markets.
Kaiser moved to Nashville, but he said the music culture there is significantly different than Lynchburg’s.
“I feel like I wouldn’t have even decided on a career if I hadn’t had a city like Lynchburg, somewhere where it was exciting (and) burgeoning,” Kaiser said. “In Lynchburg, the momentum there is quick, for some reason.”
Since the music culture is so new in Lynchburg, Kaiser sees a world of opportunities in current and future acts coming from Hill City.
“It’s the Wild West out there,” Kaiser said. “Do something, and then something will happen. That is the most encouraging part about that city.”