Former Skid Row frontman Sebastian Bach at JAXX nightclub in 2000
Former Skid Row frontman Sebastian Bach at JAXX nightclub in 2000 Credit: Darrow Montgomery

From colonial times on, the taverns and alehouses of Virginia have been sanctuaries of political dissent and hard partying, where rebels of all stripes and persuasions have fomented revolution and raised hell.

In the 18th century, at places like the Hanover Tavern near Richmond, you could hear heated arguments against the Stamp Act while pounding pints of applejack and then wager a few shillings on a cockfight out back. While studying law as a young man, Patrick Henry lived with his wife Sarah above Hanover Tavern, which his father-in-law ran. The future star orator of the House of Burgesses (which became the House of Delegates in 1776 when the colony became the Commonwealth of Virginia), who thundered against the rule of tyrants, spent his hungry years sporting a DIY periwig mullet, tending bar, and regaling patrons on his fiddle. He played drinking songs and lewd Scottish reels—the speed metal and punk rock of its day.

Aristocratic British visitors and local Bible-thumpers alike were repulsed by these dens of iniquity. In 1751, an upper-crust clergyman wrote to the Virginia Gazette, the colony’s premiere newspaper, how these taverns attracted “the very Dreggs of the People … where not only Time and Money are vainly and unprofitably squandered away, but (what is yet worse) where prohibited and unlawful Games, Sports and Pastimes are used, followed, and practiced, almost without any intermission; namely Cards, Dice, Horse-racing, and Cock-fighting, together with Vices and Enormities of every other Kind, and where (their inseparable Companions, or Concomitants) Drunkenness, Swearing, Cursing, Perjury, Blasphemy, Cheating, Lying, and Fighting, are not only tolerated, (or conniv’d at) but permitted with Impunity; nay, abound to the greatest Excess.”

A City Paper ad for JAXX from the late 90s90s

Fast forward to the early 21st century. Let us hear the other side of the story, from a devoted patron of a modern-day version of the Virginia tavern, the now-defunct rock club, JAXX. For two decades, the former movie theater and pizza parlor was a suburban sanctuary for every sort of rock-spawned misfit and head banger and sorta-Goth oddball. At this rock ‘n’ roll Ellis Island marooned in a West Springfield strip mall, the hair-dyed, eye-shadowed, nose-ringed, fist-pumping refugees spurned from high-school hallways and mainstream society gathered to venerate their idols in an intimate setting that held a few hundred of the faithful. The club booked every subset of the species Rockus Hardus, from has-beens to wannabes to never-gonnas. JAXX was where ’80s hair bands like Ratt and redneck rockers like Molly Hatchet came to be revived; death metal bands from Norway and black metal bands from Sweden came to be worshipped; and where classic rock dinosaur acts came to die.

“Many great memories there,” wrote Metalhead in a 2015 post in Fairfax Underground, an online forum. “Best memory was in 2001 during the Dying Fetus show. This band named Bad Luck 13 and the Riot Extrav[a]ganza headlined the show. They literally started a riot in that bitch. Chairs were being thrown, fireworks were being shot, the band members would hit themselves and each other with blunt and sharp objects so there was blood everywhere, someone threw a stool at the bar and smashed all the liquor and the mirror, someone started a fire in the bathroom, they tore the stage in half literally, someone threw a cinder block through the door, and chaos ensued. Look it up on YouTube it’s in Bad Luck’s documentary.”

It was at JAXX in the mid-to-late 2000s that a local thrash-metal band Cab Ride Home, with its party anthem “Drunk on Arrival,” gained a loyal following, performing nearly three dozen times at the club.

On November 7, that band’s lead singer Danica Roem was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates, representing the 13th District, and, diehard metalheads everywhere. “When I say I’m part of the metal community, this is as much a part of my personality as everything else,” Roem said in a June 2017 interview with Noisey during the campaign leading up to the historic election. “The way I explain it to people is that, for some people music is a sound. For people who are into metal, it’s a lifestyle. It’s the aesthetic that you have. It’s the personality that you put on display. It’s the way that you talk to your friends. It’s not just what you listen to in your car on the way home. The lyrics inspire part of your life. The music tells your story.”

Nothing could sum up better the philosophy that made JAXX a legendary venue for head bangers of all stripes and persuasions. Though the club is no more, its 10,000-watt battle cry to rock on against the Tyrants of Intolerance will never die, along with its spirit of all-are-welcome inclusion and anything-goes freedom for the outcast and scorned among us—in Roem’s case, as a proving ground for a career as an elected leader in the public arena. 

In this 2000 article by the same author, City Paper looks back at JAXX nightclub with a glimpse from its heyday around the turn of the last century.