June 22, 2021
Photo: Brian Twitty
It’s been a long, difficult road since Charlotte’s music scene was forced to come to a screeching halt. With no tours to book and no crowds to call on, patrons could only watch as beloved venues shuttered their doors for the past 15 months, some of whom closed up shop for good. Thankfully, most of Charlotte’s mainstays have weathered the storm and are already planning a comeback. Owners and employees of once-packed local venues are returning to business, ready to give their full attention to revitalizing the stages they’ve loved for years.
Charlotte will soon welcome back Snug Harbor, a venue and bar that has served as a staple social hotspot in the Plaza Midwood neighborhood for over a decade. To get things started, they’ve announced the return of their fan-favorite event, Shiprocked!, which sold out days after its announcement. Beyond that, the venue has several shows booked, stretching from the end of June into October. The lineup is packed to the brim with local talent like Junior Astronomers, Petrov, and Paint Fumes, as well as nationally recognized acts such as Nashville’s punk outfit, Bully.
While this is quite the return to full speed for owner Scott McCannell, the despair of the last year and a half is still fresh in his memory.
“The first challenges were worrying about the employees, y’know? What were we going to do moving forward without anything coming in?” McCannell said. “Us and other venues linked up to see what we could do around the city and nationally.”
In addition to venue owners spearheading grassroots campaigns to raise funds for the local arts, a federal-level effort was also passed earlier this year. Purported as a financial life raft for music venues across the country, the Save Our Stages Act seemed to receive strong support from owners and patrons alike. However, many venue owners still have yet to see the emergency funds that were promised. Even with this setback, McCannell is looking to the coming weeks with anticipation and confidence as Charlotte’s vaccination numbers continue to rise.
“We’re all gonna look at [operating] differently and hope people are more responsible about crowds, but our staff is fully vaccinated, and we’re ready. We’re finally at the point where we do feel like people are taking their own initiative, getting the vaccine, and want to come out and be a part of life again,” McCannell said. “I’m ready to see people’s smiling faces again. This neighborhood stayed awake during all of this, and now that we’re back working, I see people drive by and honk and wave. People are ready.”
McCannell isn’t the only member of Snug’s team that’s chomping at the bit to get back to work. General Manager and bartender, Chris Burns, has been working alongside owner McCannell and talent booker, Zachary Reader, to get Snug Harbor in top shape for its return, and Burns didn’t mask his exuberance about the reopening.
“A big thing for me is getting to work with these people again. It’s a family thing over here. I’m really just stoked to work with all my old coworkers,” Burns said. “Almost everyone is back on board, which is really lucky, and it says a lot about the owner.”
Burns’ excitement transitioned into a more serious tone when he discussed what needs to be done to keep the momentum of Charlotte’s live music scene moving forward.
“I expect the listeners and fans to come out more and be more supportive, because now we’ve got the chance. That goes for all the venues, not just Snug,” he said. “It’s a lot easier to get a big Friday or Saturday night, but it’s the local shows on a Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday that help keep these venues open, and it helps keep the acts on stage, working on their craft. It’s those slower nights that we need more people to come out and support.”
Talent booker Zachary Reader had similar thoughts on the matter, acknowledging the patrons’ duty to keep spaces like Snug Harbor functioning, while also highlighting the responsibilities that rest upon the live music venue.
“I think the consensus moving forward is going to be featuring and prioritizing every bit of music, instead of just having shows sometimes,” Reader said. “We need to do whatever we can to strengthen that footing of being the live music place and not just the bar.”
Their concerns about support are warranted, even during this fervor surrounding the return of live music. Before the pandemic, most privately owned live music venues were already in decline, doing their best to keep the lights on as attendance became scarcer and scarcer, outside of the occasional blow-out night. Venue owners’ and workers’ fears over a return to that status quo are rooted in what they’ve already seen happen.
The way we escape that repetition is through mutual support. When venues rise to the occasion and book bigger and better events, patrons need to step up, too. Going to shows will always be important, but taking those small extra steps to bring a newcomer and buy a T-shirt or album from the artist is what will keep the music scene thriving. The bottom line is that any arts scene will only be as strong as its supporters. We have a new chance to make Charlotte music into what we want it to be– let’s not waste it.