For two decades, bassist Johnny Colt has been making a living as a musician — first with The Black Crowes and currently with Train. During that time, while expanding his own interests to a life outside of music — television shows, outdoor sports, photography, real estate, etc. — he's also decided to do what he can to give back to music communities around the country.
With successful rehearsal studios already in Atlanta -- Avatar and Thunderbox -- Colt recently decided to open one elsewhere. It was through a connection to Train's tour manager and former Antiseen bassist Thomas O'Keefe that the North Carolina native decided Charlotte was the place to be.
"I've actually been looking at putting rehearsal studios in Charlotte for five years," Colt says by phone. "We opened our first rehearsal studio 18 years ago -- we actually started with a back line company. I had gotten used to a certain standard while I was out on tour, but couldn't find it in Atlanta, so I wanted to help do it right. We're in Charlotte for the long haul. The few people from the Charlotte music scene that I've met -- not only do I like them a lot, but they've reminded me so much of what the music community in Atlanta was like when The Black Crowes first started."
While Noda Studios was open for business roughly six months ago, the owners wanted to make sure everything was fully functional at the 18,000-square-foot facility before truly holding a grand opening. Now, the time is right. On March 28, an open house will be held at the 3713 N. Davidson St. location, followed by music-related panels for musicians and those interested at 4 p.m. "We just want to give people some insight because we've been in successful bands and there are things they can learn from us," O'Keefe says.
That night, a concert featuring some of the bands that rehearse there will be held at Snug Harbor to help celebrate the opening and let Colt and O'Keefe, who went to South Iredell High School and lived here until 1996, meet more members of the Charlotte community. "It sucks that we can't have all 25 bands that are rehearsing play that night, but we'll do other events down the road," says O'Keefe, whose band Thomas O'Keefe and the Shitbirds is among the performers. Colt will be DJing between bands and says he will likely sit in with the other bands.
To most people, the studios won't mean much. The building doesn't have a sign, and few people outside of the bands themselves will have any interest in it. However, for the music community, it says a lot that people with the experience of Colt and O'Keefe would choose Charlotte as a location to support.
Colt is so interested in the city, in fact, that he hopes to make regular visits to the area and even tosses out the idea of starting up a band here. "I'm looking forward to playing music in Charlotte," he says. "I want to meet club owners there and try to book some dates when I'm passing through. I'm also considering getting my own room in the studio, playing with some of the guys there and putting together a band that plays locally."
O'Keefe's involvement is sure to increase as well, as he plans to move back to the city from his current residence in Raleigh. "I've put my house up for sale here, but I'm not buying one there until this one sells," he says.
Aside from having well-known owners, it's the facility itself that sets it apart from other studios. Colt and O'Keefe have both injected a lot of their own experiences and knowledge to ensure the studio provides what musicians need. The two biggest items being conditioned power to protect from surges or shorts and reinforced doors to ensure safety. There are also security cameras and bands have access 24/7, which is something, Colt says, a lot of bands look for.
"I think the key to this studio is that it's for musicians by musicians," Colt says. "This is my fifth rehearsal studio that I've opened. These are the nicest, cleanest studios we've built. I've lived the rock 'n' roll lifestyle to excess, but that movie's been played a whole bunch of times. I just decided I was going to be a successful artist, even if I'm not playing an instrument."
O'Keefe adds, "The building was completely gutted -- the only original things were the walls and cement floor. Every fixture, nut and bolt is brand-new. We're looking at some options with some of the open rooms, but we haven't decided on anything."
There are 40 rooms in the studio and all but roughly a dozen are occupied by bands such as The Lights Fluorescent, Bakalao Stars, Yardwork, Babyshaker and Evelynn Rose. O'Keefe says he hopes the open house and grand opening event will help them fill those remaining.
As for the future, Colt hopes to open other studios in other cities around the country. A planned location in Las Vegas was bought out, but Colt still eyes that city along with other places, such as Greensboro, N.C.
"You really need a long pair of glasses for something like this, to see down the road far enough," Colt says. "You need enough of a community to support us being there, but we also support the community by being there. I just want to keep giving back to music scenes that have given me a lot over the years. We're not really selling walls and rooms; we're selling community."
The open house will be held on March 28 at 1 p.m. RSVP for the 4 p.m. NoDa Studios panel by sending an e-mail to NoDaStudios@gmail.com. The concert featuring Tommy Ray and the Ray Guns, Thomas O'Keefe and the Shitbirds, Ultimate Sin, Evelynn Rose and Johnny Colt will be held at Snug Harbor at 8 p.m. Tickets for the show are $8 with the money going to a local charity.