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Triad venues look hopefully toward an uncertain future

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TUNES-employees work social distance at Monstercade_s third-base drive-in.jpg

Monstercade's "Third-base Drive-in Theatre"

While venues and nightlife remain in a COVID clampdown, operators are organizing, spaces are getting creative, as the “hows and whens” of reopening looms. The future remains unwritten as stages stay dark, with bills coming due as the entire industry reels from a grinding halt.

Venues aren’t a one-size-fits-all experience. Some are bars. Some are solely concert spaces. Catered crowd sizes range from 50 to 5,000. Major players in amphitheaters and coliseums across the state recently formed the N.C. Live Coalition, which is an advocacy group geared toward addressing unique challenges faced by the industry.

The little guys may have been left out on the state level, but thanks to the National Independent Venue Association, they’re not on their own. With more than 1,200 venues onboard, NIVA membership grows daily and reads like a venerable who’s who list of venues across the country, all focused on securing financial support to preserve the national ecosystem of independent venues and promoters.

Bull’s Tavern, Gears and Guitars Fest, The Ramkat, and the Blind Tiger are the Triad venues involved in NIVA’s #SaveOurStages initiative.

“It is a great collaboration of independent music venues all across the country, and we are honored to be listed among them,” said Greg Gerald from the Blind Tiger. “Usually, the venue business is pretty ‘cut-throat’ with everyone fighting for shows. It’s strange to have everyone working together, but the unity is wonderful.“

Economic recovery for venues extends beyond reopening front doors.

“Obviously, any type of government relief would be amazing through all the hard work of NIVA,” Gerald added. “It’d help give a boost into paying past due bills as well as helping to get artists booked to play the venues.”

All bets are on a safe reopening, though no one is sure exactly what that’ll look like. While sanitizers and temperature checks at the door are a likely common practice, Gerald also envisions a return to the Tiger’s roots.

“As we jump back into things, we may have to put more of a focus on local music and be more creative on how we get people in the door,” he said, acknowledging hesitations held by artists and audiences alike.

“Here at the Tiger, we feel confident that live music will never die. We’ll prevail. The agents are still actively working, booking shows and moving forward,” Gerald noted, with a plan to be back in business starting June 27. In the meantime, they’ve stayed active through free cookouts for artists and service workers; and by using the venue’s social network to share livestreams.

While the Blind Tiger’s eyes are set on a June reopening, the weirdos at Monstercade had planned on their activities as a bar returning under Gov. Cooper’s Phase II. As for a venue timeline, they’re heeding the doctors’ orders.

“As much as we would like to reopen, the science and medical stats don’t lie,” said owner Carlos Bocanegra. “Now is not the time for rebellion. Monstercade has always stood against the grain, but this pandemic isn’t about oppression. It’s about people’s health and safety.”

Praising creativity and adaptability, Bocanegra has focused energy on reinvention rather than “fighting for antiquated models that don’t make sense in this new world.” He said he finds more inspiration in livestreams and pop-ups than coalitions. “Asking for a bailout would help,” he admitted, “but that ultimately isn’t going to sustain our industry. It’s time to adapt. When the time comes to reopen, I’m confident in Monstercade’s ability to creatively find a way to remain relevant.”

And that ability has been tested. While ceasing operations as a bar and venue, Monstercade has transitioned into retail operations with a member delivery service.

“We cut prices in order to compete with grocery stores, which means we’re making 0% profit, but it’s keeping our employees paid throughout the closure,” Bocanegra explained, “and I’m proud to say we created more jobs.” They’ve also operated as a weekend plant market in partnership with Root Down Nursery.

Keeping in the entertainment game, Monstercade hosts the “Stuck at Home Sinema,” a bad movie watch-and-chat party airing three times a week. Monstercade also plays host to the Segreto dance parties, which broadcast over Twitch most Saturday nights.

“We’ve got some tricks up our sleeve, but we’ve been very cautious in implementing the ideas that require physically being together to ensure everyone’s safety,” Bocanegra noted.

Monstercade’s first foray back into gatherings, the “Third-base Drive-in Theater,” launched on May 17 in their parking lot with a 10-car cap. “Our staff has a say in almost everything we do, so we frequently run ideas by them and ask how they feel about it,” Bocanegra explained, “but with that said, we’ve got some interesting things coming up that we’ll be announcing soon.”

At this stage, no one really knows what nightlife will look like once venues reopen. But unwritten as their future may be, venues are working hard in the Triad for a safe return.

Wanna support?

Learn more about #SaveOurStages by visiting


Katei Cranford is a Triad music nerd who hosts the Tuesday Tour Report, a radio show on hiatus due to COVID-19.

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