Asheville Music Venues in a Post-pandemic World, Part 2

Continued from Part One

Guarded optimism
While most indications suggest that the worst of the pandemic is now history, the teams that run local music venues don’t want to get caught off-guard like they did in 2020. “We had plexiglas screens everywhere for awhile,” says Santiago. “Between the monitor person and the stage, between our front-of-house technicians and the crowd, between bartenders and the crowd.” And while all of those screens have now been removed, they’re being kept handy. “We can’t afford to toss this stuff when we might have to possibly reuse it,” Santiago says.

In 2022, it wasn’t unusual for a concert to be canceled at the last minute due to an artist’s illness. That happens much less frequently these days. “And if a band needs to postpone due to Covid, we immediately try to rebook the show within a reasonable time frame, based on routing and venue availability,” says Santiago.

Rabbit Rabbit. Photo by Tom Farr

It’s in everyone’s interest for the show to go on as soon as it’s practical to do so. “At this point, only mandates closing down shows and/or venues can be considered a force majeure,” Santiago explains. “That motivates venues and artists to quickly work out rebooking a canceled show.”
Ultimately, for concertgoers in the region, there are reasons for optimism. While Ambrose West closed its doors at the beginning of the pandemic, a new venue, AyurPrana Listening Room, recently opened in the same space near Beacham’s Curve in West Asheville. Director David Newman says that the new music venue has a character that sets it apart.

“The Listening Room is a peaceful and pristine setting with stellar acoustics to enjoy music of diverse cultures, genres and traditions,” he says, noting that AyurPrana is alcohol-free and “focuses on the music.” With regard to health and safety protocols, Newman emphasizes that because AyurPrana is new, “we have nothing to compare it to.” He notes that any policies related to health are “a collaboration” between artists and the venue.

Hybrid indoor/outdoor music venue Salvage Station managed to maintain a reduced schedule of live events during the pandemic; “booking seems to be back to normal at this point,” says Katie Hild, the venue’s marketing director. “We have lowered our indoor capacity, and we are definitely more cognizant of air flow for indoor shows.”

Artist meet-and-greets made a comeback at Salvage Station in 2022, and like AyurPrana’s Newman, Hild says that any safety protocols for those events are the result of collaboration to ensure everyone involved is comfortable, healthy and safe. “All of the changes that took place due to the pandemic ended up making our team stronger, the venue better, and the love for live music in Asheville to shine even brighter,” she says.

Both Rodriguez and Santiago see a bright future for their venues, and for the local live music scene as a whole. And talent booker/consultant Sam Katz of Charlie Traveler Presents agrees. Running a music venue is “a tough business model, and the landscape has changed a bunch since Covid,” he says. “But we’re getting huge [touring] acts in this city, and I don’t see that stopping.” He believes that bands and ticket buyers alike recognize Asheville as a “destination town” for music. “It’s a place that people want to come to and bands want to play. And I see that continuing on for many years to come,” he says.

Entertainment ecosystem
Jeff Santiago believes that the lessons of the pandemic – and the creation of NIVA – have taught him a great deal about the business of music venues. “I think we’ve understood for a while here in Asheville that we are all part of an ecosystem together,” he says. The venues are connected to the artists, whether they’re local or nationally-touring acts.“We watch and help artists develop,” Santiago says. “And because we’re such a tight knit community here – we all know each other, we’re all friends – we figure out how to make it all work.”