People typically show up in costume for the weekly Lynchburg Gothic League dance parties. Photo Courtesy of Lynchburg Gothic League.

When she hears herself say it out loud, it sounds weird.

She says it anyway.

“I like dark things,” Victoria Grabeel, 26, said. 

“I think everybody has a goth phase at some point in their life. And I definitely had one. And I still appreciate that culture.”

She’s not alone.

Over the last 15 years, the Lynchburg Gothic League has cultivated a dedicated following. 

“It’s about the music, the aesthetics, and the whole package,” Patrick Hubble said one Saturday morning over coffee.

That’s why he, Nina Starsja and Cullen Lane started the league.

The idea came to them one day at work. 

“Our day job is we’re funeral directors,” Starsja said. “So we’re goth all the time.”

At the Lynchburg Gothic League. Photo courtesy of Lynchburg Gothic League

Goth is …

“I’d say that goth is having an interest in things that are sometimes seen as darker, or things that are commonly associated with Halloween,” Starsja said.

For those in the League, every day is Halloween — but not the gory blood-splattered Hollywood version. (For perspective, consider that Starsja’s favorite movie is “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”) One night each month they gather in the wee hours of the night at a downtown nightspot  to hear DJ Undertaker (Hubble) and DJ Darkflower (Starsja) spin their favorite dark music from the 1980s. Lane, who used to DJ as well, now stays on the dancefloor side of things. 

Stickers for the Lynchburg Gothic League are often visible around downtown. Photo by Dwayne Yancey

There is always black clothing, heavy eyeliner and Doc Martens. There is always a Depeche Mode, The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees and Marilyn Manson song in the mix. Usually 50 to 75 people come to listen.

Starsja, 28, spins toward the punk end.

Hubble, who plays the stand-up bass in the rockabilly band The Mighty Stingrays, mixes in new wave and industrial sounds.

“I was one of those kids in high school that didn’t quite fit in. [I] found music like The Cure, Depeche Mode, and New Order and it struck a chord with me, the dark melodic tunes. It was like, this is my tribe, where I belong,” Hubble said on one of his rare days off. “My parents were probably hoping it was a phase I’d grow out of and here I am a grandfather and I’m still hosting local Goth nights.”

“At least I have a respectable job,” he said.

He’s been a funeral director at Tharp Funeral Home since 2001, where he is prized for his ability to connect with any, and every, family the home works with.

The Lynchburg Gothic League dance party is at Dish in downtown Lynchburg. Courtesy of Lynchburg Gothic League.
At the Lynchburg Gothic League dance party. Courtesy of Lynchburg Gothic League.

Daniel Tuck discovered the League in 2018 when he and his wife saw a sign on a lamppost. Since then he’s only missed two or three gatherings. He’s met fellow 10-Milers, nurses, Marine Corp guys, lawyers, social workers, parents, teachers, Democrats, conservatives, members of the LGBTQIA community, young people, and old people through the group’s monthly gatherings.

When he got to talking with Hubble, he learned they both served in Iraq in the early 2000s, Tuck with the Air Force and Hubble with the Navy.

People that just didn’t ever feel like they fit in, the square pegs in the round holes, they all have a home at goth night, said Hubble who met his wife at one in San Diego.

“I’ve always appreciated that about the goth scene,” it brings all kinds of shapes, sizes and passions to one place where they feel welcome, he said.

You don’t have to wear black. 

You only need to be young enough — or old enough — to stay up late. Really late. 

“I think that the goth subgenre, in general, people want to pigeonhole it,” Tuck said. … “We’re bonded together by an enjoyment of a specific sub-genre of rock music.”

The weekly Lynchburg Gothic League dance party at Dish in downtown Lynchburg. Courtesy of Lynchburg Gothic League.

Don’t misunderstand

“People have a lot of misconceptions about what [goth] is,” Hubble said. 

That’s one of the reasons it’s taken a long time for the League to find a place where it feels comfortable. Goth attire and music can be “a bit off-putting for some folks in a sleepy conservative town. It’s hard to find a fit,” Hubble said. 

And if he’s being honest, which he is, he’s only comfortable taking things so far. While goth clubs in big cities might have vampire- or rave-themed nights, The Lynchburg Gothic League is a bit more subdued.

A recent Lynchburg Gothic League dance party. Courtesy of Lynchburg Gothic League.

“A 50-year-old guy that wears eyeliner and cosmetics is probably a little off-putting and that’s probably as far as I can push it,” Hubble said.

Grabeel, considered a “baby bat” because of her age, said she’s seen members come in wigs, Steampunk attire and helmets. Once, someone came in a full suit of armor, she said. Purple and black lipstick, leather, creative hairstyles, fishnets and boots are some of her favorite goth night accessories. 

Part of the fun is dressing up and being seen.

One time she came as Wednesday Addams from the Addams Family. 

The scene at the Lynchburg Gothic League. Courtesy of Lynchburg Gothic League.

“I think I just like the stuff that comes with [goth culture],” Grabeel, a nursing student, said. “I like dark things and that’s just who I am. I’m pretty bubbly too so people don’t expect that from me.” 

Goth nights, where Hubble and Starsja usually DJ from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. are known for being loud too. 

At first, the League tried to meet at a coffee shop. People just kept running across the street for alcohol. It quickly became clear the league was going to end up being a 21-and-over group.  

The League liked Bull Branch, a trendy tapas restaurant and bar that opened as downtown Lynchburg was being revitalized. But it closed.

More people headed to the Lynchburg Gothic League dance party in full regalia. Courtesy of Lynchburg Gothic League.

There were pizza places and beer joints.

Then they discovered Dish, a small-plate eatery and bar on Main Street in downtown Lynchburg. 

“We feel pretty happy at Dish. It’s pretty welcoming. [Ellis] Let’s us have carte blanche, lets us have fog and lights and the whole bit, spiderwebs and other campy stuff,” Hubble said. 

Darkness spreads

In 2011 Hubble and members of the league dressed up as zombies and lurched through downtown Lynchburg. Hubble had heard of zombie walks in other cities and wanted to host his own. He turned it into a canned food drive for the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank for good measure. 

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Lynchburg Gothic League Goth Night

WHAT: Severed Skies out of Richmond 

WHEN: 10 p.m. Oct. 29.

WHO: 21 and over

WHERE: Dish, 1120 Main St. 

TICKETS: $5 cover

Ministry lyrics are what inspired the league to adopt the phrase “Every Day is Halloween” as its own mantra. 

“…Well any time, any place, anywhere that I go. All the people seem to stop and stare. They say “Why are you dressed like it’s Halloween? You look so absurd, you look so obscene”

Oh, why can’t I live a life for me? Why should I take the abuse that’s served? Why can’t they see they’re just like me? It’s the same, it’s the same in the whole wide world

Well I let their teeny minds think. That they’re dealing with someone who is over the brink. And I dress this way just to keep them at bay. ‘Cause Halloween is everyday. …” — Ministry, “(Every Day is) Halloween,” 1984

“He has a Christian heart,” said Chris Tharp, who works alongside Hubble and Starsja at Tharp Funeral Home, where is a co-owner. “He really is a caring person he’s a person of faith, and a person that you know really wants to make the world a better place, and you can see that not just through his work here at the funeral home and choosing this as a career, but through the work that he did with zombie walk.”

By the time it ended in 2019 the annual event had donated a metric ton worth of canned food to the agency, which serves Lynchburg and a number of surrounding counties. Most years 200 to 400 people would show up in downtown Lynchburg, either to imitate the living dead or just stare at the spectacle. Hubble noticed more than one bride stepping away from a downtown wedding to pose with zombies over the years. 

Although downtown construction and the need for assembly permits have halted plans for any future walks the league is helping expand the goth culture. Not long ago the group launched an Instagram account and a handful of women started a gothic book club. 

Edgar Allen Poe and Brahm Stoker are popular authors.

Earlier this month the League dared to venture into the daylight for a “Punk Rock Picnic and Kickball” at Riverside Park.

It was too hot but more than a dozen people came. They ate Starsja’s homemade vegan pastries.

Hubble hopes cemetery tours — he’s a reenactor and history buff — and bigger name bands are on the horizon. 

On Oct. 29 at 10 p.m. Severed Skies out of Richmond will perform at Dish giving DJ Darkflower and Hubble the night off from DJ duties. There will of course be a costume party and spooky merchandise on sale. 

“I think that we have a strong following and we will continue to reach new people,” Starsja said. “I’ve met so many new people and it’s just been one of the greatest experiences that I’ve had, to be part of a tight-knit alternative community. And it’s something that I haven’t really had for a long time.”

Amy Trent is a Lynchburg-based journalist. Her work has appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers....