RICHMOND, VA – Strange days ahead after Strange Matter closes its doors and ends an era at 929 W. Grace Street in Richmond, VA.

“It’s sad to see it go, but the community has been very understanding and we’ve seen a lot of support from it,” said Strange Matter bar manager, Kelsey Hulvey. “This building has definitely had some history in the music scene here, I’m not sure what will become of it after it’s gone.”
Hulvey is also a singer in a local Richmond Punk band, VV. “We’ve had the opportunity to play with some great bands here. It’s been like our home.” Hulvey said. VV will play one final show at Strange Matter before it closes on Dec. 5 with Bermuda Triangles, Buck Gooter, Plattenbau and other bands.

Nobody could say who’s buying the building or why its closing but co-owner and general manager John Downing who has Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type three, a degenerative motor neuron disease has recently posted a go-fund-me asking for assistance to help him live independently. On his go-fund-me page, Downing states “My closest friends and I are shifting our time and resources so that I may continue to live in the community closest to my loved ones.” It’s not for sure if this is the reason that Strange Matter is closing but could be a contributing factor. Strange Matter made the announcement about closing with a post on its Facebook page, it said “the time is now for the owners to start new chapters in their lives and send the business out on a high note…We can only hope that the building will again be a home for creatives and used for what we feel it should be, but only time will tell.”

The building itself at 929 W. Grace Street has been a hub for music in Richmond since the 70’s. It has been a number of music venues and cafés over the years and is the last thing standing in what used to be the center of Richmond counterculture. The area where Strange Matter has been for the last nine years which is now a strip of dorm rooms and restaurants once hosted strip clubs, biker bars and an adult movie theater right across the street of what is currently Strange Matter.

“It was way different back then,” says Scott Badger. Badger has been around the music scene in Richmond for years, once in a local band and now working at Plan 9 records on Cary Street. “You would see prostitutes on the street at night, they’d come right up to me after leaving a show and ask if I wanted any company.” But with the expansion of Virginia Commonwealth University, buildings were bought out and made into dorms, and it started to develop into a more college friendly area.

It was a place for hippies, known as the Backdoor in the 70’s. There’s live recordings on of Bruce Springsteen playing there before he made it big in1972.

In the late 70’s, Backdoor became Hubaba’s and the punk rock scene was becoming big in Richmond. In the early 80’s Grace street became a dangerous area.

“It was run by the Pagans biker gang in the 80’s,” says RVA Mag owner and creative director, Tony Harris. Harris has been around the music scene in Richmond since the 80’s and wrote an article about the history of 929 W. Grace Street when Strange Matter opened in 2009. “They ran the strip clubs and the X rated theatre, fights were a common theme on Grace Street back in those days…Hababa’s had a dangerous reputation, although I never went, I was in High School at that time but I heard some stories of skinheads running mosh pits in there and smashing bottles over people’s heads,” says Harris.

929 W. Grace Street has hosted many Punk Rock and Metal bands over the many incarnations of the space. Richmond based GWAR started there and became a world wide phenomenon. Another Richmond local metal band that played its early days at 929 was Lamb of God. Other acts like Against Me, Dinosaur Jr. and My Chemical Romance have also played on that stage.

At the end of the 80’s, 1988 according to Harris, the space became Twisters. Twisters still hosted local punk and metal bands, but also started to host new genres and acts. Underground hip hop and electronic music were introduced to and all types of people started showing up at 929. Underage kids were all over the place and police were getting called to Grace Street regularly.

“My first time going there, my band was playing, I was 15,” says Richmond local, Michael Griffin. Griffin played in a local band called the Golden Llamas through the 90’s.

Virginia ABC had a battle with Twister’s owner, Vincent Whitt. The liabilities were too much and Whitt sold Twister’s in 2002. According to Tony Harris, the owner of owner of China Panda, Frank Chan bought the space and it became 929 Café. Chan tried to focus on the space as being a restaurant/bar. It still had music, indie rock according to Harris. “It launched the indie rock band, Denali,” says Harris. But, 929 Café had a short life at 929 and sold the space a year later in 2003.

Ayndria Green and Sara Borey bought the space and named it Nancy Raygun. They still hosted local underground music but didn’t have the money to put into major touring acts. They tried to get the club going again but failed and had to sell the space. One thing Green and Borey did do for the space though was make the food better.

“The food changed drastically, Twister’s food was garbage, sold just to justify beer sales and was run of the mill disgusting,” Griffin says. “However when it became Nancy Raygun, the vegan food was adopted and by the time of Strange Matter it was actually a place you would go to eat on purpose.”

After Nancy Raygun, the space was bought by a woman from Charlottesville and tried to make it a Bagel Joint, Bagel Czar. Food revenue wasn’t doing enough and she realized the space should be kept a music venue. She got an ABC license, held dance parties and hosted bands to keep the place going but it wasn’t enough and Bagel Czar went under.

In 2009, Jennifer Ward, Bobby Pembleton and John Downing bought the space and named it Strange Matter.

Strange Matter has had “the third longest stint at 929 W. Grace (behind the legendary Back Door and Twisters incarnations),” according to their facebook post about closing. In that third longest stint, Strange Matter has kept the era of underground music going strong in Richmond. But all things must come to an end. The final event at Strange Matter is planned for Dec. 15 with Punks for Presents.

“So many bands who’ve played here and regulars have reached out to us to show their love and gratitude, I don’t think this will be the end of music here,” Hulvey says.

Leave a Reply