PBO’s live music scene poised for growth

Multiple venues, enthusiastic audience could make town a regional draw

Posted 10/4/19

atlanta rhythm section plays the roadhouse

PITTSBORO — This weekend, the Pittsboro Roadhouse will have a sound system on par with DPAC, Durham’s renowned Performing Arts Center.

The venue …

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PBO’s live music scene poised for growth

Multiple venues, enthusiastic audience could make town a regional draw

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Posted

atlanta rhythm section plays the roadhouse

PITTSBORO — This weekend, the Pittsboro Roadhouse will have a sound system on par with DPAC, Durham’s renowned Performing Arts Center.

The venue has been wanting to retool its sound system for a while, and that is in motion, but this is different. This is because 70s Southern rock band Atlanta Rhythm Section plays the Roadhouse on Oct. 6 and owner Greg Lewis wants top-notch sound. He’s taking the show very seriously and has hired a sound company that DPAC also employs; they’re sending eight engineers.

Lewis views the show from two perspectives: he came of age in the 70s and 80s, and Atlanta Rhythm Section was a band he listened to but never got to see live; he’s also a businessman, and he’s confident that this booking appeals to the venue’s demographic.

“This is Southern rock,” says Lewis. “There is no reason why we can’t fill the Roadhouse twice.”

It’s also the weekend of Shakori Hills GrassRoots Festival of Music and Dance. Not long ago, Lewis would book more conservatively on Shakori weekend. The audience simply wasn’t there to support multiple concerts in a single day. Yet Pittsboro has changed and now supports four — soon to be five — rooms within the city limits where one can reliably find live music. It’s not perfect and some rooms have seen attendance dip, but the overall trend is toward Pittsboro’s live music becoming a regional draw and, as Lewis has experienced, for audience members who travel hours — sometimes from outside of North Carolina — to see music in the Circle City.

Lewis thinks this could grow and grow.

“I would love for Pittsboro to become [like Carrboro],” he says. “I would love for Pittsboro to have six or eight or 10 venues.”

A few blocks north of the Roadhouse, Seth Wood sits at a City Tap patio table during a weekday afternoon lull. The City Tap has hosted music since its 2008 opening, and Wood has booked its bands for six years. Its calendar is all over the map, Wood says, with country, bluegrass, rock and reggae acts playing its outdoor patio and indoors in the winter.

City Tap is not a big place, Wood points out, and accordingly doesn’t have a big live music budget. Audiences tend to tip well, he adds, going on to say that money can’t be the prime motivator of the bands that play the Tap again and again.

“If you’re in it for the dollars more than the experience of bonding with the audience it works not as well,” says Wood.

Still, City Tap was foundational for country bandleader Sarah Shook. Before the Bloodshot Records-signed artist was touring internationally and garnering praise from Rolling Stone she was playing wide-open and rowdy City Tap shows.

“When my first band was in its infancy all three of my bandmates worked just a few streets over at Carr Amplifiers, so the Tap was our go-to spot to grab a PBR and hang,” Shook says. “One of the owners, Seth Wood, was a friend and supporter from the word ‘go,’ booking us regularly and pushing us to record and album or EP.”

“She cut her teeth here and would tell you the same. They did really well,” says Wood, who remains friends with Shook. “She learned what works – how to please a crowd.”

Indeed, the same organic growth that Shook’s career has seen is echoed in Pittsboro’s venue scene, as Wood describes. A few years ago, Wood says, he would expect low audience turnout if two venues in town had music on the same day. Though Lewis notes that the populations of Pittsboro and Chatham County have not grown substantially — not yet — he, Wood and other venue owners benefit from an available audience that has already grown.

This hasn’t been the story for every room, however. On the northern edge of town, the Carolina Brewery has been hosting a family-oriented summer live music series on its patio for ten years, making it one of the older venues of the current crop. Tara Brand, who has booked the Brewery’s music for four years, recalls impressive shows by acts like Diali Cissokho, Joe Bell & the Stinging Blades, Tommy Edwards and Rhonda Robichaux.

“Our audiences have decreased slightly as new restaurants and venues pop up in the area,” Brand says. Despite that, the last two years have seen a number of new bands reaching out to the Brewery.

West of downtown, Oddco is Pittsboro’s coziest and quirkiest room. It’s not a bar, say owners Tim Lee and Cristina Virsida, and it’s not really a music venue. Rather, it’s a pop art store that happens to host a few concerts a month.

“[We prefer] music that fits the artwork here — hard-to-find, spacey, fantasy, storytelling music as well as storytelling artwork,” says Lee.

“It’s small,” says Virsida. Indeed, Oddco inhabits a repurposed mid-century prefab home called a Lustron. Its interior is less than 1,000 square feet. “It’s more of a house concert vibe. You hang out in someone’s house who happens to know the band.”

It’s nice to have multiple live music options in Pittsboro, says Dylan Perry. Until very recently, Chatham residents had little choice but to drive to Raleigh or Durham to see good music, he continues. Pittsboro is in the center of the county, and he feels it’s becoming a music destination. Perry, who owns The Mod, is opening a second room — a bar with pool tables, a sound system and a TV the size of a billboard — the weekend of Oct. 11. The newly expanded Mod will host live music on a regular basis, and he plans on booking local bands for recurring dates.

Next door to the Mod, the Roadhouse is prepping for what could easily be its most successful concert. And if the Atlanta Rhythm Section show goes well, Lewis reasons, Pittsboro is going to see more touring bands. He doesn’t name names, but he’s in talks with a few such acts — and he believes there’s a large enough live music audience in Pittsboro to support the venues already open, as well as those yet to come.

“I never look at anyone else’s calendar,” says Lewis. “I can’t worry about it.”

Where the music happens: Pittsboro

Pittsboro Roadhouse

39 West St, Pittsboro

pittsbororoadhouse.com

919-542-2432

City Tap

89 Hillsboro St.

thecitytap.com

919-545-0562

Carolina Brewery

120 Lowes Dr.

carolinabrewery.com/pittsboro-location

919-545-2330

Oddco

684 West St.

realoddstuff.com

919-704-8832

The Mod

46 Sanford Rd.

themodernlifedeli.com

919-533-6883

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