July 13, 2021
Photo: Jalen Marlowe
After a long hiatus, Charlotte’s local music scene is finally beginning to see a post-pandemic return to full strength. Much to the excitement of neighborhood residents, one of the latest spaces to announce its return is Plaza Midwood venue and gallery, Petra’s, which has slated their reopening for August 1.
Petra’s has been a vital part of the Plaza Midwood nightlife scene since 2007, when Petra Fugger, her partner Connie Huddleston, and Jerry Brown began hosting a variety of events that ranged from cabaret shows to acoustic performances, attracting people from a multitude of backgrounds.
Long-time patron Curtis Tutt became a co-owner in 2011, serving as the managing partner responsible for general financial duties. Together, they shared a vision of Petra’s becoming a place “as welcoming, diverse, and eclectic as Plaza Midwood,” according to Tutt. They went on to realize that vision over the next five years, along with fellow co-owners Perry Fowler and Marta Suarez del Real, transforming Petra’s into one of the most comprehensive mainstays of the neighborhood to date.
After Brown’s passing in 2016, Perry Fowler took the torch and became Petra’s bar manager and talent booker. Fowler was an ideal choice for the job, having been a part of Charlotte’s local music scene with his two-man-band, Sinners & Saints since 2011.
Recently, Jason Boomhower has taken over duties as bar manager and Fowler has transitioned to full-time talent booker, armed with an ever-growing roster of local groups and artists to call upon as he fills out the calendar with live music. Over that time, he has developed intimate connections with performers, venue owners, and patrons, utilizing those relationships to launch unique arts events that consistently make Petra’s a must-go for any night out in Plaza Midwood.
The venue inevitably struggled over the past year. With all events shut down for the foreseeable future, Petra’s was one of many businesses that had to apply for the SBA Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (formerly Save Our Stages), a government action designed to keep small venues and theaters afloat during the loss of business. However, close to 90% of these businesses have yet to receive that aid, and have had to rely on other methods to keep the lights on.
For Petra’s, one of their most crucial methods was hosting the School of Rock’s Charlotte chapter at their space over the course of the pandemic. Beyond that, like many other artists and venues, they also took to the Internet. From July to September of 2020, the venue launched live streams on Facebook to crowdsource funds while providing a platform for local artists. Some of the most popular streams were the “from home” Hazy Sunday series with DJ sets, and an acoustic performance from Jimmy Turner of Charlotte band It Looks Sad.
Outside of the venue, Fowler occupies his time with an endeavor in real estate that flourished into a full-time responsibility. Now faced with juggling the duties of his new career and the reopening of his beloved venue, Fowler has been understandably stretched thin. However full his plate may be, Petra’s maintains priority status, and he’s looking forward to August with optimism and relief.
“I’m hoping by [the time we reopen], the trends can stay the way they’ve been going with vaccination counts rising and case counts declining,” he said. “I’m excited to be back in the thick of it. Starting up again has me anxious, but I’m excited to get to a point where [the pandemic] will be a distant memory.”
In spite of that anxiety, Fowler is getting the work done, doing his best to ensure that the venue has a healthy docket for months to come. In addition to the return of weekly events that Petra’s has hosted in the past, Fowler is booking shows and events well into the rest of the year.
“Most of all the static events are coming back, like Su Casa, Mirror Moves, Hazy Sunday, our karaoke night, and Hanna’s Jazz Night, which is moving to Mondays. We’re also trying to make our art gallery a more front and center part of Petra’s,” he said.
Petra’s will utilize that existing infrastructure with their kick-off on August 1. It also marks the return of Hazy Sunday hosted by local DJ, Will Gilreath, a historically well-attended installment for the venue. Following shortly after, they’ll host their first post-pandemic gallery event on August 6. The event is curated by Nicholas Holman and features live music from Petrov, Quad, and Alan Charmer. Fowler is hitting the ground running to make sure Petra’s return is a strong one, but he isn’t alone in filling the calendar. His wife and fellow co-owner, Marta Suarez del Real will also be returning with her curated fixture, the Lost Cargo tiki party, which celebrates its fourth anniversary on August 24, accompanied by an Aqualads performance. In addition, Hot Stuff Market, a bi-yearly pop-up market will also return.
Veterans of the long-lived establishment will also notice some updated features. The venue will be returning with a brand new rear patio stage and overhang, and an outdoor bar hand-built by local actor and host of the famed Bone Snugs N’ Harmony (at Snug Harbor), Bryan Pierce. To top it off, a mural for the patio fence was commissioned during the break, painted by local artists Nicholas Holman and Paige Reitterer. An improved Petra’s is in store, anxious to greet its old visitors and newcomers alike with its usual warmth.
While Fowler is excited about the reopening of Petra’s and Charlotte’s local music and arts scene at large, he is also wary about following through with this fervor as everyone falls back into old routines.
“I want to think that there will be some sort of thirst [for shows]. When The Milestone announced their show with Andy the Doorbum and Emotron, it sold out in three days. I don’t know how long that’s going to last. Hopefully people will appreciate what we’ve lost over the last 15 months,” he said. “It would be unwise to get to a point where we take it all for granted again.”
Adding to that uncertainty, Fowler highlighted the rising concern of losing the genuine feel of the Plaza Midwood neighborhood, as corporate interests continue to prevail at the expense of local institutions. Fowler sees the issue as one shared by patrons and owners alike, joined together to keep their neighborhoods within their control.
“Change and evolution are inevitable. You can’t stop it. What you can do is have a say so in the change that happens. That’s where I see places like Petra’s and Snug. There are still businesses in Plaza Midwood that are keeping it strong, making sure that people who are new to the neighborhood or the city understand what made these communities what they are,” he said.
While Fowler places a great deal of importance on local venues like his own in keeping Plaza Midwood dedicated to the arts and its residents, he also acknowledges that there are plenty of other businesses that support the authenticity and stewardship of the neighborhood.
“Businesses like Common Market, House of Africa, Mama’s Caribbean Grill, too. There are so many places that have been around for 15 plus years that make Plaza what it is. As long as those places can stick around, I think we’re in good hands. But like I said, change is inevitable,” he said.
Fowler’s concerns around keeping Plaza Midwood in the right hands are rooted in the momentum of this excitement. We’re currently seeing an enormous spike in interest surrounding local arts and businesses, but only after being deprived of them for over a year. Hopefully, the patrons of Charlotte can continue to rally around local music venues, keeping those establishments alive and well into the future.
Petra’s remains one of the crown jewels of the neighborhood, a space dedicated to showcasing the latest creative endeavors of the region with an increasingly eclectic calendar of events. In a place like Plaza Midwood, where the creative and business landscapes are constantly evolving, Petra’s has proven they can endure through tough times.