‘Feeling optimistic.’ Popular Charlotte music venue plans reopening after year of COVID

·5 min read

Live music will return to another Charlotte stage next month. The Neighborhood Theatre in NoDa is reopening after it closed over a year ago because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Neighborhood Theatre’s marquee, which has become a bellwether for the music scene in Charlotte, now says: “We are back.”

At least five other music venues around the city have reopened or announced plans to reopen soon, too.

The first scheduled show for Neighborhood Theatre is Grammy winner Graham Sharp, the banjo player for Steep Canyon Ranger, on June 17.

“For the first time in a long time I’m feeling optimistic,” Gregg McCraw, owner of MaxxMusic which operates the Neighborhood Theatre, told the Observer on Friday.

The last live performance at 511 E. 36th St. was March 7 of last year, as stay-at-home orders took effect. With rising COVID-19 cases, McCraw said he, like other music venues, went through “postponement fatigue” with some shows delayed as many as five times.

“We didn’t think it would last very long, a few weeks or months,” McCraw said of closing.

It’s been 15 months.

The virtual Art Auction to Save the Neighborhood Theatre will take place on the theater’s Instagram page Sept. 17.
The virtual Art Auction to Save the Neighborhood Theatre will take place on the theater’s Instagram page Sept. 17.

Vaccines in NC lead to optimism

But as more people get vaccinated, Gov. Roy Cooper is expected to remove the majority of COVID-19 restrictions June 1, the Observer previously reported. McCraw hopes that will mean being able to get more people inside the venue.

In March, North Carolina increased music halls to 50% capacity.

But McCraw said it wouldn’t reopen the theater that can hold almost 960 people. Rather social distancing guidelines need to be relaxed, in order to safely reopen. He’s hopeful that will happen next month.

“That is if everyone will help us by getting out and vaccinated,” McCraw said. “Not getting vaccinated has an impact on every small business in the city.”

Lasting in a pandemic

With no revenue coming in, McCraw told CharlotteFive last May “this moment is the most dire I’ve experienced.”

Early in the pandemic, 1,000 fans quickly jumped in to help the theater, donating more than $50,000 on a Go Fund Me page.

During the down time, the theater replaced the old stage, selling pieces off in an auction that raised $30,000.

And, Neighborhood Theatre found help through the city’s CARES Act Music Venue Grant in October, that could subsidize up to $15,000 for rent or mortgage assistance.

“Yes, we survived by the skin of our teeth with the combination of all of those things,” McCraw said.

McCraw and other music venues are still waiting to receive funding from the Small Business Administration as part of the $16 billion COVID-19 rescue program. That could make up 45% of loss revenue, McCraw said for both MaxxMusic and Neighborhood Theatre. Both have lost over 95% of revenue last year compared to 2019.

“We still have bills to catch up, and we have investments we need to make to reopen safely,” he said.

Neighborhood Theatre was one of 12 independent entertainment venues and promoters Charlotte that formed Charlotte Independent Venue Alliance during the pandemic. As part of the National Independent Venue Association, the groups urged Congress to act to “Save Our Stages.”

“I speak with all the venue owners almost every week about reopening safely and how devastating it’s been for us,” McCraw said. “COVID made us realize if we stand together and do things that are good and positive for local ecosystem, it helps us all.”

Upcoming plans

McCraw said he’s not sure yet which COVID-19 safety protocols will remain in place.

He expects shows through the summer at Neighborhood Theatre will be local and regional acts until at likely September.

“Most national touring artists still aren’t comfortable going indoors,” he said.

Queen City Streams, a live stream for local artists, also will go on for now.

And, Maxx Music will continue to hold its outdoor music series that started last month at Rural Hill on Neck Road in Huntersville.

Instead of being a drive-in as it originally started out, now 10-by-10 pods are set up to hold two to four people, with masks required until seated.

About Neighborhood Theatre

Neighborhood Theatre’s building was originally a movie theater. The Astor Theatre opened in 1945 and closed in the 1970s, according to Neighborhood Theatre.

After renovations turned it into a live performance venue, Neighborhood Theatre opened in 1997 hosting local and national acts.

Under new ownership in 2013, the theater underwent more improvements including getting a new bar and stage curtains. The set up also changed standing room only at the front of the stage and limited admission seating.

Performers from Ceelo Green to Third Eye Blind, as well as Sara Bareilles and The Black Crowes have played there.

The venue has about 50 employees, basically on per-gig basis. “About 50 households depend on us for some portion of their income every year,” McCraw said.

More live music

Other Charlotte music venues have been reopening, too.

Another NoDa site, The Evening Muse on North Davidson Street, reopened with its first live show in more than a year on May 8. It sold out in hours after the March announcement.

The Fillmore on Hamilton St. said on its website that electronic dance musician Steve Aoki will be featured June 12.

Amo’s Southend on South Tryon Street returned in April with limited capacity.

Skylark Social Club on Central Avenue in Plaza Midwood returned this month with a punk rock ‘n’ roll show.

And The Visulite Theatre in Elizabeth also will return with Cosmic Charlie, Grateful Dead tribute band, on June 4.

“The fact that we all hung on and that we’re all able to reopen is really amazing,” McCraw said, giving thanks to support from fans and the city of Charlotte. “The good news is for the Charlotte independent music venue scene, we have all survived.”

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