Monday, January 25, 2010

Improving the music scene isn't easy

Posted By on Mon, Jan 25, 2010 at 11:04 AM

Jeff Hahne’s recent music blog post about the lack of support for live music in Charlotte generated some good discussion on the Creative Loafing site. I’d like to take a second to throw a thought or two into the ring with the hope that my thoughts might focus in on what I take to be the root of our problem.

If you missed the recent turn of events, the Neighborhood Theater was rumored to be closing its doors in March and that created an outcry. A facebook page called “Save the Neighborhood Theater” was created to which over 5,000 people joined. The ins and outs of the Theater situation aside, Jeff rightly called attention to the problem the Theater (and any other live music in Charlotte) faces concerns revenue. Simply put, they all need more people going out to shows and supporting live music.

After Jeff posted the blog, many people started posting replies that began speculating about why Charlotteans don’t tend to support live music. Maybe it’s because Charlotte is too spread out and you can live quite happily in your section of Charlotte without ever venturing into NoDa, Plaza-Midwood, etc. Maybe it’s because Charlotte is a banking town and everyone is too obsessed with making money. Etc., etc. Since, we’re talking about a large city with many demographics, it would be difficult to pin-point exactly what the central causes of the problem are and this leads me to think that trying to nail down THE cause is hopeless.

Regardless, the point I’d like to make is that cities and communities tend to identify themselves in light of commonly held cultural values. Those values can be political, religious, philosophical or artistic in nature. What I would like to point out is that Charlotte is still quite young when it comes to its artistic identity. Of course, the city supports the fine arts by funding museums and the North Carolina Dance Theatre. It also provides grants to independent artists whether they be painters, photographers, sculptors or jazz composers.

However, Charlotte’s live music scene and especially its LOCAL music scene is not intertwined with Charlotte’s identity as it is with other cities in the Southeast such as Asheville, Athens or Greenville S.C. Of course, as a reply to Jeff’s post rightly noted, we’re not the only city with this problem (I went to graduate school in Columbia, S.C., and was always puzzled that a city with a robust university in the city center didn’t have a burgeoning local music scene).

So, with all this said, the million-dollar question is: What do we do to change? What do we do to turn Charlotte into a city that has a robust live music scene that is part-and-parcel of the city’s identity?

You can see that this is a difficult question to answer and that’s because changing widely-held values is a Sissyphean task. It’s akin to trying to get people that have little concern for the environment to change their values and to start recycling and living “greener” lives. How do I get my neighbor to recycle if he just doesn’t care anything about the environment? How do I get him to change his values?

I don’t have THE answer but I’d like to suggest a few and I hope that folks will post their own ideas. All the negativity and “Charlotte Sucks” attitude aside, I don’t doubt that Charlotte can become a city that supports and feels proud and excited about its local musicians and bands. Let’s spend more time trying to fix the problem than we do complaining about it by considering what we can do to get people to see the value of local live music:

1. Jeff’s idea: Vote with your dollars. Make it a point to support Charlotte’s live music venues including the large, intermediate and smaller venues. Regularly see shows at the ampitheaters, music halls and music rooms. The only way Charlotte can draw quality touring acts and can develop a sense of identity with regard to music is if the music venues stay open.

2. Every music venue in town has e-mail lists that they use to let folks know about the month’s coming shows. Get on the lists so you can keep an eye out for upcoming shows you might be interested in.

3. Get involved with the Carolina’s Live Music Society. Micah Davidson and Chris Adams are doing wonders about letting people know about upcoming shows in the region. They also post live recordings of many shows at Charlotte venues and there are many discussion boards with people talking about developing Charlotte bands, regional festivals, and much more. Hell, you can even write your own review of a show that you saw and post it on their website!

4. If there is a local band that you like, contact them and ask them what you can do to help promote their next show. Trust me, they would greatly appreciate your help. It only takes a sec to put up a flier or two or to drop off some handbills.

5. When you go to see a show take someone new with you. I am astonished at how many people I meet who have never seen a show in NoDa (or don’t even know what NoDa is), who have heard about the Double-Door but have never been, and who think that the Epicenter is the only place to go for “entertainment” in Charlotte. The only way to fix that is to trick, con or otherwise drag people kicking and screaming to shows. I’ve found that everyone that I’ve gotten to go to a show has had a ball and can’t figure out why they hadn’t done that before.

6. As I’ve said before, if you’re a musician yourself, don’t think that it’s enough to play your music in town. Go out and support your fellow musicians. A robust community of musicians that mutually support one another sets precedent for live music fans that support local musicians.

7. Support the Crowntown Showdown.

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