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Out of the Basement

The Church of Crystal Light brings the no-frills appeal of house shows to Broad Street's gallery district.


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It's kind of our vibe, disappointing people,” says Travis Miller, one of the founders of the Church of Crystal Light, an independently owned art gallery and music venue that looks suspiciously like a white, two-story house on Adams Street.

It officially opened to the public Sept. 5, luring in First Friday Art Walk participants with the bright art inside. There are no official numbers on whether people were disappointed, but it seems as though, based on the number of people coming to its shows, the Church of Crystal Light has carved a messy space for itself in the neat rows of Broad Street galleries.

Richmond has a long history of house shows, those venerable old homes rented to the young and music-savvy, who open their doors to traveling bands and the audiences who come to see them. These places are often passed down through generations of renters, and this is in fact how the Church of Crystal Light began.

Miller, along with Jonathan Coward, Brian Blomerth and Leo Heinzel, hosted house shows at Blomerth's place for four years before concluding that a more legitimate space was necessary. When they found the space on Adams, they spent three months renovating it before the opening.

“We set false deadlines for ourselves,” Blomerth says. “We set up a false deadline and then we freak out and don't accomplish the deadline, which isn't a big deal. But we never let on that it's not that big of a deal — everyone has to fully believe.”

“You have to be fully disappointed in yourself for it to work,” Coward adds. “You have to bring someone else in the fold that expects something out of you and then you just let them down really big and that's how you accomplish things.”

Theirs is a less-is-more strategy.

The group is dedicated to involving itself in the art walks, though, but wants to keep its art events separate from the music. Primarily used as a music venue, the design and upkeep of the space are based around the idea of being wholesome, trying to “balance the line between clean and too clean,” Coward says. The group believes that this will let people breathe and move during shows, a common issue for the average house show.

“We're not pristine people,” Heinzel says.

“I mean the only time that place is clean is on First Fridays,” Coward says. “It's clean that day and then it just gets wrecked.”

Originally, the gallery did no promotion of its art openings or music. The foursome feared it would become unmanageable. As it is, all the shows have had successful turnouts.

“We're all stress cases,” Coward says. “A few of [the shows] have gotten to like, ‘Oh shit, woah. We need to like do something here because it’s like on the edge of chaos.'”

The group wants the gallery to expand but has no desire to leave its space for a bigger one if things take off. Like any promoters raised on house shows, they fear going commercial. As a result, the venue runs solely on donations and is aiming to try to pay the bands.

“We get like a dollar every third person, maybe,” Blomerth says. “A lot of people put pennies in the cup and we sometimes get cigarettes … that I probably smoke.”

The group believes that in that aspect they work 100 percent for the bands and not for any other reason. The majority of the bands that are booked at The Church of Crystal Light are out-of-town independent artists that center on noise-rock, or dance/pop acts who are used to playing for five-person audiences.

“We're just giving them a place to play,” Coward says. “Most of the time it's people that we know that are coming on their tour.”

The Church of Crystal Light is leased for one year under their contract at 309 N. Adams St. While the group does not have any long-term plans, they don't want to see it end too soon.

“I'd feel shorthanded if we just like walked away from it,” says Miller to the group. “But who knows what could happen? I might hate all of you, more than I already do.” S

The church has a few upcoming shows. Alas, Alak, Alaska, Fanice, GDFX and Shams play Dec. 3 at 8 p.m.; Get Born, Just Kidding and others play Dec. 4; artist Frankie Martin's works are on display First Friday, Dec. 5, at 7 p.m.; and Skoal Kodiak, Knife World and others play Dec. 6 at 8 p.m.



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