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Growing the Blues 

The Double Door Inn approaches 35-year milestone

Eric Clapton. Buddy Guy. Stevie Ray Vaughn. Keb' Mo.' Pinetop Perkins. Eric Johnson. Derek Trucks. Koko Taylor. The Turtles. G.E. Smith. David Childers. The Belmont Playboys.

Aside from being musicians, what do all of the people above have in common? They've all played one of the oldest blues clubs in the country -- and it's located just outside of Uptown Charlotte.

Opened in 1973, The Double Door Inn is the second oldest blues club that's owned by a sole proprietor. Owner Nick Karres originally opened the Charlottetowne Avenue location as a bar, but was quickly drawn into the music world. He started having local acts play in what is now the game room for 50 cents, before having a stage built up front.

Signs of the "old days" still adorn the house-turned-music-venue -- an old fireplace hearth carves out a bump on the floor near the stage -- but it has been remodeled over the years, as well. The bathrooms were moved. The game room and bar were connected. Decorations have come and gone.

"Charlotte was a different scene back then," Karres says. "We had a jukebox. It was just a bar for people to hang out. As other bars started to open, we realized the fickle nature where everyone wants to pet the new cat. So, we had to decide if we wanted to do a food thing or music. The music crept in. We decided that if we could give quality music, people would hopefully support us."

The People

Karres has continually brought in music on a nightly basis. And they didn't give up on food. (Lunch is still served on weekdays.) But one of the biggest things holding the place together is the people.

Regulars stop by for lunch during the week, carpentry work has been done by friends, Karres doesn't hesitate to unclog a stopped-up drain and most employees consider the place a second home. Bartender Mike Martin, who also works in real estate, has been there for 32 years.

"This job has afforded me a lot of luxuries," says Martin, 54, who hung out in the club before being employed there. "I went back to school at UNCC and got a degree in history and then went to graduate school. It affords you luxuries with the schedule. This is almost leaving one part of your house and going to another. Instead of going to listen to your stereo, you have a live band playing for you."

While the club has always been a consistent location for the blues, times have changed and the genres have expanded recently. While blues greats have stopped touring as consistently and blues fans have grown older and stayed home more, the Double Door has welcomed in more local artists, as well as jazz, jam bands, reggae, rock, folk, etc.

While some may not be happy with the changeover from a strict blues venue, Karres sees it as something that had to happen to stay open. "If country music loses 5 percent of their acts to age or not touring, they're still strong," he says. "If blues loses 5 percent, it takes it below the line where it needs to be. Clubs like this are disappearing because of urban renewal, not having enough business or losing their lease."

That last item is one thing Karres hasn't had to worry about. He purchased the building and parking lot back in the '70s and opened the Double Door with his brother, Matt. While there were times he didn't take much of a paycheck, Karres says building a world-renowned reputation has made it all worth it. He also notes the support of his family over the years.

"When this place first opened, it was very much the place to go," Micah Davidson, marketing director and talent buyer for the club, says. "It's still an incredible place to go, but the majority of the younger generation still doesn't know about it. It was our parents' bar or music venue. I'm trying to make it more of a straight-across-the-board music venue. I want people, when they're looking for live music, at least know what's going on at the Double Door and check it out."

Davidson, 30, was hired nearly one year ago to help take some of the weight off Karres' shoulders. Until recently, Karres was doing all of the booking, since he knew the business side of the club and had a firm grasp on what acts they could or couldn't afford to bring in. "I needed a young guy like him that's all about the music," Karres, 59, says of Davidson, a bassist who has lived in Charlotte for 10 years. "My problem was that I'm not a musician and that I wear all the hats. The electronic age also came, and more and more is being done on computers. I found myself outdated, and I'll admit it."

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