Rocktown Doc Premieres at CST

Jeremy Aldrich -- February 6th, 2009

Last night Leslie Edwards’ documentary “Rocktown: From the Small Farm to the Big Box” debuted to a packed house at Court Square Theater.  The film touched on local hotbuton issues including development, JMU expansion, immigration, police brutality, downtown revitalizaton, and the Blacks Run watershed.  Edwards used clips from dozens of interviews with local figures in the film.

It’s hard to write much more about it without editorializing, so let the discussion begin!

73 Responses to “Rocktown Doc Premieres at CST”

  1. Bill says:

    For the JMU alumni that now are residents of Harrisonburg , there is no way you can know how the town was 20-30 years ago. It was a safe place that I didnt have to worry about my children, they could come and go as they liked and we did not have to make sure all doors and windows were locked everynight. That piece of our town is now gone forever due to un regulated growth. While growth is needed in todays world for towns and their people to survive, when it is done in a way that over comes everything and every place that town use to be about is not good for anyone.
    I think Leslies film hit home for many long time residents of Harrisonburg and was a view that needed to be put into a public arena to be seen. The argument on the other side can be seen everyday just by walking out your front door ” Land For Sale”.
    I thank Leslie for making the film!


  2. Renee says:

    Bill, you said “there is no way you can know how the town was 20-30 years ago. It was a safe place that I didnt have to worry about my children, they could come and go as they liked and we did not have to make sure all doors and windows were locked everynight”

    Doesn’t everyone say that about every town? Of course when a town is small and rural, there is a lower chance of crimes, but why would a town not want to grow population-wise, economically, culturally, and technologically just so they can stay in the “good ol’ days”? It’s time to plan for the future.

    Heck, we used to say something similar at my high school as seniors “What happened? When I was a freshman, I could leave a walkman on top of my locker and it would be there when I got back, now all of these petty thefts are happening here. Things sure have changed.”

    Now, let me say that I agree with you that sometimes growth is unnecessarily messy, corrupt, and unregulated, and towns need to be careful to grow in a “smart” way that is best for the residents. But also, growth and change happens quickly in the modern age, and it is up to governments and people to grow too and learn how to manage it.

    I’m not arguing growth happened here and no one should care about how it happened and any growth is good growth – what I’m saying is that taking an anti-JMU stance because of the changes that have taken place in Harrisonburg over the last several decades is pretty ridiculous when you weigh the benefits the school brings.

    Also, people in lots of cities are complaining about changes and growth the exact same way – it happens whether there is a university in the town or not.

    It seems like a lot of “old timers” here blame all of the city’s problems on immigrants and students, when really, Harrisonburg is lucky to be such a desirable place to live and so unique with its multicultural population and university atmosphere and needs to learn how to take advantage of that. We just have to learn how to grow smart, because growth is going to happen in towns like ours regardless, let’s just start discussions and collaborations to make sure everyone’s best interests are kept at heart when that growth happens.

  3. Renee says:

    *Note – I meant discman. Walkmen were out by the time I was a senior in high school! :)

  4. Emmy says:

    I agree Renee and I have lived here forever.

    I can still leave my car unlocked and have a pretty good shot at coming back to find it just as I left it. I doubt you can say that about a lot of towns. I still know people who leave their doors and windows unlocked and let their children play outside.

    There are some bad things that have come from the growth here, but I don’t connect any of those things to JMU. There are a lot of places that are much worse than this town and while I’m all for making sure we don’t turn into those places by evaluating what we have done, I don’t think it is fair to say that our town is unrecognizable.

    Harrisonburg has changed. It has adapted to its population and I don’t see a lot of the people who are shopping at Target or eating at Texas Roadhouse complaining about having those businesses when they wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for JMU.

    What do you want Harrisonburg to be? Do you want a small town with little to do and have all of the kids dreaming of the day when they will leave? Or do you want to look at our growth mistakes, and correct them as best we can while continuing to make this a place where people want to be? Looking back is only useful if you plan to learn something from it. It’s not worth it if you plan to wallow in what was.

  5. mikekeane says:

    A JMU student from NJ has seen more over development than most in Virginia. I don’t want to see what happened there happen here. Being 31 years old I don’t know what happened 20-30 years ago here, but then again neither does someone my age who has lived in Harrisonburg their whole life, they would be too young to have understood development issues between ages 1 and 11. I understand blaming JMU for increasing things like DWIs, marijuana and prescription drug misuse, or sprawling student slums but not burglaries (ie locking your doors and windows) or child safety.

  6. David Miller says:


    I agree with the majority of your sentiment. I’ll rehash an age old rant of mine. I’m 27, when I was 12ish the city took my front yard to transform our street ( Garbers Church Road) from a one lane gravel road into a four lane super highway for an undisclosed reason (this is from the eyes of a child so I in no way want to insinuate that my memory of these events is completely accurate). Then the city bulldozed the forests that we played in and put up a fence around the pond (that used to be a part of Hillendale). Then Tim Lacey put in 36 thousand cookie cutter houses around the property and while he was a member of the school board, the city decided it would be a good idea to build a school on top of the land that I did my Freshmen photography study of erosion’s effect upon farmland. This land was conveniently right across the street from these new housing developments and golf course that used to be a beautiful forest.

    Please remember that this recollection of events was from an uninformed child spectator. If I’m incorrect about who, when and why, then I will be unsurprised.

    The reason I share is to remind everyone how much baggage one person can hold against growth. Remind them why, and then remind those with baggage that their is no going back. There can however be change in future growth so that our children do not have to harbor such baggage. Just another reason why I enjoyed Nov!

  7. Renee says:

    David, thanks for sharing your perspective – I live in that area and hear often how people reminisce about the woods that got bulldozed for the golf course.

    I agree with Emmy’s sentiment “Looking back is only useful if you plan to learn something from it. It’s not worth it if you plan to wallow in what was.”

    That’s why I think that someone presenting a documentary on the growth here can be very useful – to learn what Harrisonburg did right and wrong and move on into the future with that knowledge leading the way for future growth.

    However, from what I’m hearing/reading about the Rocktown documentary (which generated a ton of interest and was ‘sold out’ because of the subject matter), that’s not how the interviews were presented, and it seem to have come across as a biased ‘rant’ against JMU growth, which seems to be the reason for the ‘backlash’ against the movie here.

  8. David Miller says:

    And understandably so, if that was the case. I haven’t seen the movie but agree with everyone that has voiced concern about growth and encourage them to funnel their energy into ensuring that we get it right this time. The alternative is Fairfax, ugh

    I hope that by the time I see the movie, it is edited towards this goal. Perhaps this is possible seeing as Leslie Edwards’ desire to hear our thoughts and concerns will show in the final cut.

  9. Lee and Bill says:

    OK OK we give, you win BUT see the movie it IS NOT 90 minutes of lets kill the Duke Dog OK, i think JMU’s part may be all of 15 minutes Leslie correct me if I am wrong.
    With that said us “Old Timers” bow out.
    Growth + JMU GOOD / Old Timers missing what once was Bad, we get it.

  10. Renee says:

    It’s not bad to “miss what once was”… never said that.

  11. This reminds me of my favorite Irish joke.

    How many Irishmen does it take to change a lightbulb?

    Five… One to change the bulb, and four to stand around and wax poetic about how grand the old bulb was.

  12. Josh says:

    JMU’s student newspaper published an article about the documentary:

    Growing Pains

  13. JohnLL says:

    Brent, I always heard that one a little differently: How many Irishmen does it take to change a lightbulb? Five.. one to hold the bulb, and four to drink whiskey until the room spins.

    I’m not sure which one I like best…

  14. JGFitzgerald says:

    I had always heard JohnLL’s version of the Irish light-bulb joke.

    Brent’s version I had always heard applied to Virginians.

  15. Renee says:

    Now that I read the Breeze coverage, and see that JMU was called “a plague” in the movie, I think that supports my point.

    There’s nothing wrong with looking back and reminiscing about how things used to be, and there’s nothing wrong with looking back and analyzing how things have developed to better plan for future “smart growth”, but there IS something wrong with calling James Madison University a disease.

    That’s the kind of sentiment I was arguing against – and I don’t want people watching the movie to think all Harrisonburg “townies” think that way about the school.

  16. Josh says:

    To be fair that was how one of the folks interviewed put it. If I remember correctly, that was part of an interview with the former postmaster.

  17. Renee says:

    Right, it was part of one of the interviews that was selected to be in the movie.

    Were there any interviews of locals that were happy to have JMU as a neighbor?

  18. Josh says:

    I believe the same guy had good things to say about JMU. :)

  19. as for us, we absolutely stand by every mis-statement we made…we were happy just to share our confusion with everybody!

  20. Bob Adamek says:

    As for me, you two guys were amazingly funny! To anyone who has not seen Glick and Phillips, do not miss them the next opportunity you have. I think that’s the one consensus that everyone in the Theater that night would have.

  21. Andy Perrine says:

    You’re absolutely right, Bob. Glick and Phillips are the most righteous local commentators. The forces at play changing our community are complex, powerful and humorless. Yet Glick and Phillips’ parody of these forces is simultaneously cutting and hilarious. How do they do that?

    John Glick and Steve Phillips are local treasures. See them at any opportunity.

  22. Glick and Phillips says:

    Andy and Bob, the checks are in the mail (pending bi-partisan approval).

  23. Brian M says:

    Glick and Phillips, I have to buy a new garbage disposal at my house. Can I tack that onto your Favorable Comment Stimulus Package? It’s just about $100 and then you’ll have my vote. Thanks, guys!

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