Goodbye Tremont, our conversation with Penny Craver and John Hayes

 By Daniel Coston

December 18, 2015

When Tremont Music Hall opened its doors on March 17 of 1995, the Charlotte music scene was much different than it is now. For many of the nation’s touring acts, venues in Charlotte were either too big or too small. Tremont Music Hall filled the void of the mid-sized venue in Charlotte, and welcomed local and national acts for the next 20 years. The long list of bands that played Tremont Music Hall during that time include such legends as Iggy Pop, Psychedelic Furs, Rollins Band, Danzig, and George Clinton; up-and-coming bands like Green Day, Blur, John Mayer, Goo Goo Dolls, Fall Out Boy, and Insane Clown Posse; and artists that would soon become big like Thursday, Drive By Truckers, and even the Jonas Brothers. The closing of Tremont this Saturday signifies more than shutting its doors– It ends an era of the Charlotte music scene, and one where so much was heard and enjoyed.

Tremont had three owners over its lifetime. Penny Craver founded the club in 1995 and saw it through some of its most famous shows. Craver, who now runs Dish Restaurant, later sold the venue to Dave Ogden in 2004. Ogden now operates the Bathtub Gin in Mooresville, but he sold Tremont in 2010 to John Hayes. We spoke to Craver and Hayes about Tremont, and the music and memories that still move them.

Penny Craver, founder of Tremont Music Hall and co-owner of Dish. Photo by Daniel Coston

CLTure: Penny, when did you first open Tremont Music Hall?

Penny Craver: I started looking for a place as soon as I left the Milestone Club in May of 1994, but it took a while to locate a venue. There were a lot of places with a big space, but they either had low ceilings…really crappy acoustics, Or they didn’t have any parking. We finally found the space, and we signed the lease on January 1st of 1995, and opened on March 17th. I was just glad that anyone came out. We were… putting together what we could to make it sound good. I think that I even used some of my old equipment that the Blind Dates (Penny’s band) had used in the late ‘80s.

CLTure: What do you currently do outside of Tremont, John?

John Hayes: I sell robots for a living– automatic guided vehicles used for movement of product through manufacturing facilities, think forklifts with out drivers. It’s a traveling job so my philosophy is not running the day to day operations at Tremont, I been blessed with a passionate and capable team.

CLTure: What were some of your personal favorite shows?

Penny Craver: I would have to say Squirrel Nut Zippers, Matchbox 20, Train, Green Day just to name a few. We had a lot of sold out shows. Psychedelic Furs, for sure. You’re listening to “Pretty In Pink,” and you think, “This song, along with [OMD’s] ‘If You Leave,’ defined an era.” The Goo Goo Dolls. They had this amazing engineer who brought in this $150,000 board, and it just sounded amazing. Anytime that Paula Cole played. Rollins Band, Frank Black. When Frank Black came in, he introduced himself as Charles. Later, Steve Haigler explained to me that his real name is Charles. When Squirrel Nut Zippers played here in early 1997, it was awful. We had somebody new at the door, and they [kept] forgetting to click whenever someone came in. We had two doors open, so I had 400 more people than I realized. I’m not going to say how many there were in there, but it was more than was ever going to be in there again.

I missed seeing a lot of the shows, because I was in the back. I’m dealing with the tour manager, I’m settling up with the opening act. So I would miss the show or I would say over the walkie-talkie, “When Psychedelic Furs play ‘Pretty In Pink,’ let me know,” and I’d go out and see that.

The Psychedelic Furs 1999. Photo by Daniel Coston

John Hayes: Because it happened before I bought Tremont, I would say WAR is one. Don’t forget that I was a fan before I bought the venue too! When I got home from that show at about 2 in the morning I woke my wife and told her not to be alarmed if I was covered in blood when she woke up. She jumped up and turned on the lights to see if I was actually injured!

My birthday shows have always been special and Lisa Barr always went above and beyond to get my favorite bands to play.

I always wanted Immortal to play, but we could not make it happen, however she did get one of the founders of Black Metal, the band Mayhem to play my birthday show. That was a show to remember!

But my favorite show, which was also a birthday show, was without a doubt the legendary ANTiSEEN. As a megafan, or a MARK as Jeff Clayton might put it, I asked for ANTiSEEN to play my birthday show and not only did it happen, I got to play guitar with them alongside Joe Young (who has since passed away). I will never forget that night! When we soundchecked before the show I not only forgot the chords, I swear my hands would not even move, I was petrified! Thank god that at showtime the adrenaline hit and I did fine. I will never forget playing as hard as I could, trying to keep up with the speed and aggression of the songs, then looking over at Joe Young who was grinning at me while just cruising along as cool as can be making it all look easy…

ANTiSeen have become part of our history and our family. They played their 20th, 25th, and 30th anniversary shows here, and are headlining the upcoming final show as on December 19th. I suspect that something crazy will happen!

Antiseen 2013. Photo by Daniel Coston

CLTure: What were some of your favorite everyday memories during your time at the venue, Penny?

Penny Craver: One of the things I really enjoyed was doing the New Faces Night, on Wednesdays. I have always been against pay to play, so what we would do instead is we would give the bands tickets to sell, but the bands would keep the money. Sometimes, we would get 200 to 300 people.

CLTure: John, what are your thoughts on the current music scene in Charlotte? How has it changed?

John Hayes: We have incredible bands that can compare to NYC, LA, and Nashville, but there are so many choices for your entertainment dollar these days that it gets spread thin. People used to go to see bands not knowing who they were, just for the experience and the love of live music. The digital world changed the experience, you can watch from the comfort of your home but you can not recreate the feeling or the energy for a live-music experience. It’s an experience worth far more than what you pay for it with the price of a show, in most cases, less than the price of a movie ticket.

CLTure: John, how has the neighborhood around Tremont changed in the last couple of years?

John Hayes: South End Charlotte has really just started changing in the past couple years between South and Tryon. We are located on the edge of what people believe is a bad neighborhood although I don’t think we see anymore crime than the middle of uptown. In the last couple years the area grew and became gentrified with thousands of condos and apartments which brought people, but it also meant that property values have skyrocketed. They became so high that the owner of our building really has not choice but to sell, and we can’t fault the guy for taking the opportunity to do something better with his life.

Fugazi January 13, 2000. Photo by Daniel Coston

CLTure: Do you plan on getting back involved in music, John?

John Hayes: Not sure. This has been a painful process and it is not quite done yet. I still have fun in a cover band, playing guitar. Tremont was such a volatile business. The way a music venue works, you bid on a show based upon an estimated number of guests. If you over estimate attendance or if something happens here in Charlotte to keep people from coming to the show, like bad weather or a competing event, you are still obligated to pay the guarantee. You can lose money very quickly and it is a bit like gambling.

A better option might be something like a bar with a stage. This allows you a revenue stream when you don’t have shows, Tremont is a true music venue which means we only generate revenue when we have shows. We will see, you never know what might happen!

Muscadine in 1996. Jonathan Wilson (Left), Hope Nicholls (Middle) and Benji Hughes (Right). Photo by Daniel Coston

CLTure: Penny, why did you end up selling Tremont in 2004?

Penny Craver: For me, health-wise, a nightclub is rough on you. Sometimes, I slept out there. Bands would leave at 4:30 in the morning, and I would have another one coming in at 9 or 10am. So I would just sleep in my little barcalounger for three hours, until the phone calls started in the morning. Sometimes, we would have three shows in a row, and I’d be there 20 hours a day. That’s 60 hours in three days, so that is hard on your health. I just wanted to always be there, because I had been in that position of being a touring musician, I knew what it was like when you had to deal with different people at a venue. So when it came for me to be in that place, I wanted to be there to say, “No, that’s not what I agreed to with your agent, and this is when I talked to them.”

I was relieved when Dave [Ogden] bought the place. I was supposed to help him with the transition for the first two weeks, because he had some big shows. But I got so sick, and I think that it was all of the stress leaving my body. For two solid weeks I was sick from 10 years of stress leaving my body and my brain.

CLTure: John, can you tell us a funny story about the venue?

John Hayes: In 2010, we had a band called Brand New Sin play at a Charlotte Roller Girl Party. Throughout the night the bass player was drinking heavily, headbanging, and generally having a great time. The right side stage held the amps and the back held all the mic stands. The bass player danced himself to the edge of the stage, and promptly cartwheeled off the 30 inch tall stage into the mic stands and amps, falling to his knees. But like a true pro he crawled through the broken mic stands, and never stopped playing the whole time! That guy deserves a medal for his dedication to his craft! It was hilarious!

CLTure: Talk about the family of people that you’ve worked with at Tremont.

Penny Craver: We’re still family. It’s amazing. I still see a lot of people from Tremont. They’ll come in to Dish every so often to say hello. We have our own Facebook page. We’re still very close. To this day, I think if I asked “Chainsaw” for something, he’d be here from Greensboro, in a heartbeat.

John Hayes: I inherited a group when I purchased Tremont and some of them are still with us. That group was like family when I got here and they adopted me. Some have moved on and are in important well respected positions here in Charlotte as well as nationwide. The group that I have now are passionate and are like family. Shane Deal our GM has navigated us successfully through some rough times and kept things running smoothly. His team Amanda Mulvihill our Director of Marketing, Lamont Brown our Bar Manager, and Taylor Knox our Booking Agent, as well as Dennis Gabor our Director of Security and their teams have kept Tremont alive and they will always be family.

Photo courtesy of Tremont Music Hall

CLTure: How are you feeling about everything.

Penny Craver: I can’t even tell you how sad I am. I’ve kind of kept it to myself, but I’m very sad to see Tremont ending. Apart from it being something that was my baby to start with it’s sad that, in general, we can’t support that venue anymore. There will definitely be a void in music in Charlotte. Another venue can pick up the act but they can’t duplicate the vibe.

CLTure: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, and thank you for the wonderful memories you provided for so many of us.

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