All three moves are examples of an ongoing shake-up on Asheville’s music scene as more and more venues open. With the increased competition, venues are jockeying for specific niches as they seek to put butts in seats night after night on the city’s vibrant live music landscape.
The changes also come as the city’s musicians have begun to get organized. The newly formed Asheville Music Professionals group is pushing to be sure local players get paid a living wage, and the city’s street-side buskers are talking with city officials about changing regulations that will help them make more money on downtown avenues.
Brian and Tiffany Lee opened the Altamont Theatre about five years ago after sinking thousands of dollars into an historic structure on quiet, leafy Church Street in downtown Asheville. Their plan at the start was to build a black box theatre on the ground floor and bring in top-notch New York acting talent for shows. The building’s upper levels were remodeled into condos for rent.
Over time, the black box theater morphed into a listening room, with Brian Lee booking talented smaller singer/songwriter acts into the small room reminiscent of Asheville’s revered Be Here Now listening room of 20 years ago. Now Lee says he’s done. The Altamont Theatre has music booked through mid-December, but Lee is working to lease or sell the space.
“The way the music businesss is shaking out, everybody is opening up new venues and it’s a hard business to start with and it’s just going to get harder,” Lee said. “It’s been fun and we’ve enjoyed it. But I’m tired of tilting at windmills.”
Just a stone’s throw away, the Asheville Music Hall has been booking electronic and jam band music for about three years. But co-owner Katherine Powell, known around town simply as KP, tells Ashvegas she’s ready to move on. Powell says she plans to maintain a house in Asheville, but wants to return to working with music acts on the road. She says she’s just begun talks about the possibilities of getting out of the business, one that she hopes will continue.
Sam Katz, an Asheville Music Hall investor who also promotes music acts, says he’s noticed the increased competition affecting the business bottom line. The Millroom and New Mountain have opened downtown in the past two years, as have The Mothlight and The Isis in West Asheville. There’s a new outdoor music venue planned at the Salvage Station on Riverside Drive, and both Sierra Nevada Brewing (Mills River in Henderson County) and New Belgium Brewing (Craven Street in Asheville) plan to have music venues on the site of their respective breweries. And don’t forget the free music in Asheville with summer festivals such as RiverMusic on the French Broad River and Downtown After Five on North Lexington Avenue in downtown.
Katz emphasizes that it’s business as usual for Asheville Music Hall. He says he’s hoping for a new owner who “wants to capitalize on the great brand and infrastructure we’ve built. I’m ready to fight for that.”
At The Isis Scott Woody, who works with his children in the business, says he’s taking a business approach to keeping his music hall alive. Woody is a longtime bluegrass fan, and he books bluegrass and country acts, as well as jazz, indy and the occasional DJ.
“This is a business, and I try to approach it like that,” says Woody. On approach he’s taking is to work closely with local bands who will commit to a residency. The idea is for the venue to promote the band, and for the band to actively work to promote its shows and the venue. Woody says he’d also like to see local venue operators work more closely together to be sure “we’re not shooting ourselves in the foot with the same gun” when it comes to booking acts.
Note: In the course of reporting this story, Brian Lee texted me this telling quote:
“The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.” -Hunter S. Thompson
Be Here Now was absolutely NOTHING like the Altamont Theater. 2 great venues, but they are/were completely different in every way. BHN’s capacity was around 500ish (maybe not “official” capacity but that’s how many people where there for early shows by bands like Gov’t Mule, Victor Wooten, Ween, Gran Torino, etc…)… Altamont is 100 person capacity. Also, BHN did not close 20 years ago…it closed around 1998-99. By my count that’s closer to 15 years.
Asheville Music Professionals seeking a living wage for musicians is a call to action that has not been fully initgrated into our community as of yet, so that has nothing to do with the venue struggles, as your article suggests. AMP is also working with the venue owners so they can collaborate and discuss how to help their businesses grow. We have had one very positive meeting with over a dozen venue owners to address their concerns, so they could work together to not just survive but thrive. We are having the second AMP hosted venue meeting this Thursday.
Tough news to hear, but I’d like to applaud Ashvegas for a great article. Multiple sources, facts about the past, and quotes about future plans. Not too short or too long.
Most importantly, no gossip! I love that the author conducted interviews with multiple people who know the industry.
Love the Altamont, but it is NOTHING like Be Here Now used to be. Not even close.
Altamont is a lovely place, versatile and beautifully renovated. Kudos to Brian, Tiffany and all who worked there! Hope someone keeps the legacy of Asheville Music Hall/Stella Blue/31 Patton going…many great shows have happened there over the years. Isis continues to impress with great sound and creative concepts. Everyone needs to go for dinner & a show at this Asheville jewel of a joint. Long live live music!
The Altamont is a wonderful space for small shows, great sound, good seating arrangements, overall beautiful space. Sad to see it go away.
Sad… I played several concerts and events and the Altamont Theatre was always a beautiful space and great sounding room. Unfortunately, I think the location hurt the venue’s chances for large scale success for the most part. Like the Green Room Bistro that was located next door (now Foggy Mountain Brewpub), both spaces struggled to get much of a ‘walk by’ attraction – but both spaces were very cool for those who happened to find them. Hopefully the space remains a music venue of some sort and can find a new niche.
The Asheville Music Hall business is up for sale. The Atlamont Theatre is set to close in mid-December.
Thank the Gods. Now we can turn them into boutique hotels.
See ya later altamont! These guys entered the asheville scene with the arrogant attitude that NY actors could really bring something to our town. They alienated the local theatre community and in the process lept into the scene on the wrong foot.
Altamont Theater is a music venue, not a theater venue.
Read the article. “Their plan at the start was to build a black box theatre on the ground floor and bring in top-notch New York acting talent for shows… Over time, the black box theater morphed into a listening room…” They had 1 or 2 theatre productions and that was about it.