On Jan. 11, Charlotte music fans were in shock to hear that NoDa's Neighborhood Theatre might close its doors at the end of March. Rumors began swirling, panic set in, blame was placed and ideas of how to save it were thrown around in a matter of minutes. At the same time, across town, plans were being finalized for the sale of another beloved music venue, Tremont Music Hall.
Fingers pointed toward Live Nation and The Fillmore, ticket prices and whoever and whatever was in shouting distance without waiting for any information to be released. So, what are the facts? Both music venues were hurt mainly by two things -- a poor national economy and a lack of attendance. It's that simple. While the Neighborhood Theatre was impacted by poor attendance over a period of six years, it was one show that significantly hurt Tremont beyond its owner's repair.
The future is not as grim as it might seem though -- it appears both venues will live on with new owners, and, hopefully, more community support.
Back in November of 2007, Korn front man Jonathan Davis decided to put together a solo tour while his band was on hiatus. Tremont owner Dave Ogden saw the concert as something fans would easily show up for -- if the band can sell out arenas, it should be no problem for the singer to sell roughly 900 tickets at Tremont.
Ogden booked the show and saw ticket sales trickle by. Instead of canceling the concert, he figured the show was one Charlotte needed to see. Only 269 people were there that night as Davis tore through a lengthy set. The concert also tore through Ogden's bank account.
"We lost our ass on that show," Ogden says. "We've never been able to recover since then. It's just part of the business. Every show is a gamble. I lost five years of profits that night. It was my fault and I take responsibility.
"I don't feel like I'm doing Tremont justice right now," he adds. "I'm not bringing in the bands that should be here."
It was the Davis show that made Ogden gun-shy. Instead of being ready to take risks on future bookings, he held back in favor of shows that might have a better turnout. When Hawthorne Heights -- a band that sold out a year-and-a-half earlier -- only sold four tickets and Skinny Puppy only sold a couple dozen, he knew it was time for a change.
Ogden is in final negotiations to sell the venue to John Hayes, a sales manager for HK Systems in Monroe. Ogden says he has turned down other offers because of what those buyers had planned for the venue. Hayes says he plans on being a behind-the-scenes/hands-off owner who will keep the staff in place and keep Tremont Music Hall moving forward.
"A deal is fairly close to being done," Hayes says. "I would say we're both fairly confident that this is going to happen. I can't imagine anything that would hold up the sale."
Both parties hope for a seamless transition of one of Charlotte's oldest continuously running clubs -- it's been open since 1994.
Ogden, who has owned the venue since January of 2004, has been in a number of discussions with potential owners in the last few months. He quietly announced his intentions to sell to his staff and word quickly spread throughout the music community. Hayes heard about it from one of Tremont's part-time employees. He had been looking to buy Tremont for a number of years as rumors constantly circulated.
"My hope is that we can have it finished by the first week in February, but I don't think that's a date that's going to make it through to reality," Hayes, who has lived in the area for 15 years, says. "Initially, I want to keep it the way it is. The group that's there now that's running it has implemented a few changes in the way they're booking shows and they're getting some positive momentum. I want to give those guys enough time to really get their feet under them to get some good shows in house. I need to keep my hands off from an artistic standpoint.
"From a business standpoint, I need to go in and stabilize the business. I need to minimize costs if possible without draining revenue. I want to reinvest profits into the club to try and get bigger bands in an effort to compete with The Fillmore and other venues."
Both Ogden and Hayes hope the vibe at Tremont remains the same.
"We're a dirty rock club," Ogden, who will focus his energy on a new bar he recently opened in Mooresville, says. "That's the great thing about Tremont. It's a dirty shithole, but it's supposed to be. I could have fixed it up, but we're supposed to be this way. I like having the two sides and hope it stays that way. Look at Guitar Hero -- where are the bands playing? Small shitholes like Tremont."