Note: Authored by David Menconi, this piece has been produced in partnership with Raleigh Arts. Menconi's latest book, "Step It Up and Go: The Story of North Carolina Popular Music, from Blind Boy Fuller and Doc Watson to Nina Simone and Superchunk," was published in Oct. by University of North Carolina Press.



Finally, a year into battling COVID-19, vaccine rates are on the rise and some downtown Raleigh concert venues are making moves toward safely reopening. But even as clubs resume gatherings, precautions will remain the order of the day for the foreseeable future, with everyone masked up.

Note that beginning Fri., March 26, 5pm, North Carolina's Phase 3 of its COVID-19 reopening plan allows for 50% capacity at bars, arenas, amphitheaters and other live music and performing arts venues. This will be in effect through at least April 30.

Here’s what some Raleigh concert venues have planned.
 

The Pour House Music Hall & Record Shop

The first downtown venue to take the plunge was The Pour House, which resumed live shows in early March. The club is open weekends with two one-hour shows per night (and a deep clean during the between-show intermission), strict protocols and limited capacity.

“Running shows like this is exhausting,” says co-owner Adam Linstaedt. “You check in with the door person and I take you to your table with a spiel along the way explaining drink and merch orders—from the table, brought to you. Then I do that 17 more times, get onstage for announcements before the show, reiterate rules and expectations, introduce the band, bartend. Five times the work for one-fifth the money!”

Table seating and social-distancing reduces The Pour House’s usual capacity to 54 per show, just 19% of the usual 284. While staff costs are also reduced, Linstaedt says the club won’t be able to survive like this indefinitely.

“At normal full operations, I need 200 people in the room Fri. and Sat. nights to break even,” Linstaedt says. “We’re just trying to hang on. Who knows how long it will be like this? But the validating part is most people’s reactions at how it’s so good to be back. That makes me feel like it’s worth it. And one thing that’s better is people are sitting and paying attention, not walking around on their phone the whole time. It’s like a movie, you sit and watch.”

Thus far, The Pour House is open just on those weekend nights. Tentative plans call for the occasional Sun. show in April, and expansion to some Thurs. nights in May and June.

Upcoming shows:

  • John Howie Jr., April 2
  • Arson Daily, April 3
  • Litz, April 9
  • Heather Victoria, April 10
  • Reliably Bad, April 16
  • Blue Footed Boobies, April 17
  • Dr. Bacon, April 23 and 24
  • Charles Latham and the Borrowed Band, April 30
  • Hoco & Mars, May 1

 

Lincoln Theatre

Just a few blocks away, Lincoln Theatre is also venturing into reopening. And as with The Pour House, venue management is using similar protocols while doing the best it can to figure out a situation with myriad complications.

“In technical terms, we’re at 13% capacity,” says Lincoln Theatre general manager Chris Malarkey. “We’ve had to do some crazy Tetris-type calculations, figuring out how to have tables and pods six to seven feet apart. We’ve tossed around every idea imaginable and we’re still trying to figure out what will be the most efficient and safe way to go. We don’t want to put anybody into a bad situation. You’re only as good as your reputation and we don’t want to tarnish that.”

In that, Lincoln Theatre and other local venues are grappling with similar issues that clubs all over the country are facing. Over the past year, Malarkey has spent untold hours on the phone with live-music colleagues elsewhere, comparing notes.

“It’s different everywhere,” he says. “You talk to somebody in Texas, and it’s wide open. But then you talk to somebody in Austin, which is even in Texas, and it’s a different story. Obviously nobody really knows where we’ll be in a month or a year. So it’s one step at a time, see how things go.”

In its initial phase, Lincoln Theatre will be open weekends through June and gradually expand to other nights through the summer if things go well.

“We’re doing the best we can to keep everybody safe,” Malarkey says. “There’s not much room for error. If someone won’t wear a mask or adhere, we’ll kick them out. We’re taking it freakin’ seriously.”

Upcoming shows:

  • Bring Out Yer Dead, April 2
  • Josh Daniel, April 3
  • Zoso, April 9 and 10
  • Idlewild South, April 16
  • 420 Reggae Fest, April 18
  • Travers Brothership, April 23
  • MoonWater, April 30
  • Blake Christiana, Rick Bugel & Mikie Sivilli, May 15
  • Chatham County Line, May 21 and 22

 

Pending elsewhere

Among other downtown club venues, Slim’s Downtown is open as a bar with limited and distanced seating both indoors and outdoors. But live music is not yet possible there because of the club’s long, narrow space.

“There’s no target date yet,” says co-owner Van Alston. “Because of our unique layout, we will not be able to do shows until it’s okay for bars to be open 100%.”

In Wake Forest, the Magnolia Roots Music Lounge may or may not be open again within a few months. Proprietor Mike Allen has a handful of shows scheduled for the summer months, but it’s not clear if those will be able to happen.

“We can only have 30 people per show,” Allen says. “I’m focusing on Sept. through Dec.”

 

Header photo by Brian Magee

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