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N.C. Music Factory is ready to rock 

You've heard the rumors and read the news, but there are definite opening dates for Charlotte's two new music venues opening up at the N.C. Music Factory in Uptown's Fourth Ward area. The Uptown Amphitheatre will kick off its inaugural season on June 13 with The Fray, while The Fillmore opens on June 19 with Corey Smith.

The new venues, both of which will be owned and operated by Live Nation, are unlike anything else in the Queen City at this point -- an outdoor amphitheater smaller than Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre and an indoor club larger than those such as Amos' Southend and the Neighborhood Theatre.

The ARK Group, the developers who established the N.C. Music Factory, said they always had plans to open music venues at the location. "It was our hope that we would be fortunate enough to have Live Nation own and operate one of them," Ken Thomas, vice president of entertainment for the ARK Group, wrote in an e-mail. "As it turns out, our dream came true and then some. Live Nation definitely stepped up to 'put the music in the N.C. Music Factory.'"

The Uptown Amphitheatre

The new outdoor venue will seat approximately 5,000 people with 2,000 in reserved seating and 3,000 on the festival lawn. Along with views of the Charlotte skyline, the venue has traditional seating along with premium box seats, and an indoor VIP area with private restrooms and private bar. The concession area will reportedly have a "Bourbon Street" feel to it.

Much like Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre, the Uptown Amphitheatre will have an abbreviated season that is based on the months with warmer weather -- late April through early October. Live Nation expects to book approximately 25 shows per year there. The venue will also have the same noise ordinance regulations as Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre, stating that concerts will have to end by 11 p.m.

While simply being called the Uptown Amphitheatre or Boutique Amphitheatre at this point, there are plans to try and find sponsorship of the venue. "We are currently working toward another strategic partnership with a corporate sponsor," Wilson Howard, president of Live Nation Southeast, said by e-mail. "The name of the venue would be dependent on that sponsorship."

The shows booked as of press time are: The Fray with Jack's Mannequin and Richard Swift on June 13; The Offspring with Sum 41 and Frank Turner on July 14; Jason Mraz with G. Love and Special Sauce on July 28.

The Fillmore

Along with state-of-the-art lights and sound, the Fillmore is themed in the tradition of the legendary San Francisco music venue. Live Nation, which began leasing and operating the original venue in 2008, has opened similar clubs around the country.

The Fillmore will feature red oak hardwood floors, vintage posters of live music performances, chandeliers throughout and stadium-style tiers toward the back to provide better sight lines. Bars also feature small chandeliers, as well as flat-screen televisions. There is also a VIP area off to one side with its own bar and bathrooms.

Live Nation plans to book approximately 80 shows per year at the indoor venue. The shows booked as of press time are: Corey Smith on June 19; Gov't Mule on July 24; Edwin McCain with The Freddy Jones Band on Aug. 29; B.B. King on Oct. 6.

Howard said Live Nation will try to avoid booking two of the same genre of concerts in the same time period to prevent self-competition. "We are always looking for new ways to promote live music, and Charlotte is a great music market," Howard wrote in his e-mail to Creative Loafing. "When the developers of The Music Factory approached Live Nation about operating the venues, it gave us an opportunity for more flexibility to book artists in the proper size venue."

Thomas agrees and hopes the new venues will provide a place where bands that normally skipped Charlotte in the past will go to perform. He also noted that there is an outdoor stage at the front of the property which is unaffiliated with Live Nation, that will host shows by more regional and local acts. "There is a lot of great talent right here in the Carolinas, and the front stage will be the perfect place to foster the local music environment for these artists," Thomas said.

If anyone has concerns about traffic during concert days because of the property's location off of Graham Street, Howard and Thomas feel they've done all they can to help with those worries, especially with the widening of Seaboard Street last year -- the property's biggest hurdle because of right-of-ways and federal, state and city ownership of nearby roadways -- and coordination with local law enforcement to help direct the flow of vehicles.

"We have more than 2,500 free-surface parking spaces available directly across the street from The Fillmore and Amphitheatre entrances," Thomas said. "No parking decks and no one at the entrance hitting you up for $10." He added that there will also be valet parking available at the front courtyard and in front of the box office, adding that they are working with local cab companies and CATS to improve services to the area and a future light rail stop will be only three blocks away.

At this time, tickets for shows at either venue will be available through livenation.com (www.livenation.com/venue/charlotte-fillmore-tickets and www.livenation.com/venue/music-factory-amphitheatre-tickets), the Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre box office, by phone at 877-598-8698 and at select Blockbuster stores. A box office that is built at the venues will only operate on show days, for now, Howard said.

Offering new venues, both large and small, to national, regional and local acts can only help the music scene as a whole. "Charlotte has never been known as a 'music town,'" Thomas said. "We're going to do our best to change that."

The N.C. Music Factory

The N.C. Music Factory, which opened in 2006, is currently comprised of roughly 300,000 square feet of existing buildings -- a former textile factory -- on 35 acres of property on Seaboard Street on the northeast side of Uptown Charlotte. ARK Group president Noah Lazes said future plans for the property, which will be known as the Uptown Village, will expand the space to 2 million square feet, including 1,500 residential units and space for anything from retail or a corporate campus to an aquarium or baseball stadium.

"What's unique about Charlotte is that it doesn't have a Soho -- a true stroll district that combines offices with food, entertainment and residential," Lazes said. "The first residential units will go on sale as soon as the market is good again. This is the biggest tract of contiguous property inside the Inner Loop that has development opportunity. It's a 10-year plan, but it could happen faster whenever a company decides to move in."

Along with the two music venues, other new businesses are scheduled to open at the Music Factory in the coming months and years. "Wet Willie's Daiquiri Bar will follow in late summer or early fall," Thomas said. "Butter, a high-end lounge from Manhattan, will open in October; and Crobar, a large dance club with locations in Chicago, Miami and Buenos Aires, is shooting for an opening toward the end of the year. A wine bar, an Irish Pub, an upscale Asian/sushi sake lounge and a two-story brew pub will also open in late 2009; 2010 will bring many more pubs, clubs and restaurants as we continue to develop the property." He added that every food and beverage location on the property of the N.C. Music Factory will have a deck or patio.

On a recent walk-through, Thomas noted that the deck at Wet Willie's partially faces the concession area of the amphitheater. While the music can be heard, patrons will not be able to see the stage. The patio at Crobar will not be open until after the end of amphitheater concerts on show days.

Thomas added that Wet Willie's and some of the other smaller venues set to open will be featuring local and regional music. In addition, there are currently 30 band rehearsal rooms at the N.C. Music Factory, which is also home to a variety of businesses, including the Garden & Gun Club and the Creative Loafing offices.

While some people may see the N.C. Music Factory as another version of the Epicentre in Uptown, the inclusion of the amphitheater and Fillmore help to set it apart, and the addition of the other components of the Uptown Village will ensure there are few similarities. "The Epicentre, the pubs on Fifth and so many Uptown locations are a vital part of our success. We as a group need to succeed so that we can draw regionally," Lazes said. "People don't typically go to the same club two nights in a row, so I'm supportive of everything else because it helps to raise the bar and get better quality in the city."

Lazes, who helped to put on City Fest in Uptown beginning more than 15 years ago, hopes similar, smaller music festivals will be a regular occurrance in the Uptown Village as permanent stages and bathrooms will eliminate the need for a good bit of festival production costs.

"We're beginning to draw from regional markets for things like NASCAR and the NFL and NBA, but we haven't drawn regionally for entertainment," Lazes said. "People have driven to Atlanta for entertainment for a long time. Now, we're getting close to the tipping point where people will look to Charlotte to hang out here and see what's happening."

For more information about the N.C. Music Factory, go to ncmusicfactory.com. You can also get updates via Twitter at http://twitter.com/ncmusicfactory, and social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook.

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