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Arts & Culture

Owner Of The Evening Muse Reflects On 15 Years In NoDa

Since 2001, The Evening Muse has sat on the corner of North Davidson and East 36th Street in the heart NoDa, Charlotte's arts district.

Over the last 15 years the music venue has been a witness to the changes of the neighborhood: the ebb and flow of crime, the fall of other local music establishments, and now the expansion of the light rail and its constant construction.

The owner of the Evening Muse says he's confident the Charlotte staple will last, but not without adapting to the changes of the time. WFAE's Sarah Delia sat down with him and has this story.

When Joe Kuhlmann was 26, he had a crazy idea. He wanted to be the owner of a music venue. He wanted it to be small. And he wanted it to be the best sounding room in Charlotte.

The name he picked would be a play on words:

"Evening Muse...evening news…I've always been a news hound. As a kid I always enjoyed knowing what was going on around me. The term Evening Muse was the idea to come here, get your daily dose of inspiration and kind of seeing people that are out there in the world pursuing their life's passion," said Kuhlmann.

Now 41, the audio engineer/music producer/musician says that mission hasn't changed. It's still the kind of place were musicians are taken seriously and it's still the kind of venue where you get shushed if you're that obnoxious drunk person.

"I always think it's amusing that people are willing to pay money to listen to someone else and then proceed to talk over someone. So that's part of our mission, too, is to honor the artist and give them their due and give them a space to connect," said Kuhlmann.

Every show has a cover—even open mics cost a few bucks to get in. Kuhlmann says it's important to support the artists and their growth.

The stage is the first thing you see when you walk in the door and because the venue holds 80 sitting, 120 standing, there's not a bad view in the house. Local art hangs on the exposed brick walls, lights strung across the ceiling set an inviting tone.

There is no greenroom for the musicians to retreat to, which Kuhlmann says, catches some off guard, like legendary country musician Charlie Louvin who played the Muse before he passed in 2011. 

"He was one those people that was like 'really? No green room?' And I was like, 'no I think it's important that you are out there with the audience and the people' and he was, 'like well I'll be, more places should probably be like that,'" Kuhlmann recalls. 

Maybe it's the layout, the necessary interaction between the musicians and the crowd, but there's something comforting and familiar about the Evening Muse. Like you're a local before you've stepped in.

"With Charlotte being such a transient town all of those people come here and it reminds them of their hometown and it gives them that sense of calm peace whatever when it comes to them being able to enjoy and listen to music," he says. 

Kuhlmann is part of that hometown appeal. He welcomes people when they come in and thanks them on their way out.

Being this community center for the NoDa neighborhood (Evening Muse is even the meeting place for the neighborhood association), he's seen shifts in scenery since the venue first opened.

"I used to have to walk people to their cars with a baseball bat and make sure people got into their cars back then. The neighborhood has really changed a lot over the years," he said.

There's a long pause when Kuhlmann is asked if it's changed for the better.

"You have to say yes, I know that sounds silly. You have to be adapting you have to change. There are forces that are bigger than you. I get the rock and roll fight and the punk attitude of damn the man, damn change, gentrification. But from a business perspective you have to be able to shuck and jive and move with the punches," he said.

He's added comedy to the Muse's schedule. And he'd like to work with the symphony to have smaller shows with quartets and trios to expand his audience.

As he sees other local staples close their doors because of redevelopment, he says staying relevant is important. And that means making the Evening Muse known to the developers.

"I've been fortunate to talk to these developers and kind of work with them in the sense of what was created here is the reason why you are coming here…so don't destroy it."

On certain days with heavy construction, it can look like the venue is just opening or has closed its doors. Parking is a constant source of frustration for the venue because of construction.

But part of the magic of the Muse is that it's an incubator for talent and it's not trying to be some huge arena. Kuhlmann sees his place in Charlotte's music scene as the guy who cultivates the talent and then hands them to the next big venue. And he's ok with that.

Groups like the folk rock duo Shovels and Rope first played the Muse when they came to Charlotte. Then they moved to the larger venue down the street, Neighborhood Theatre. Then graduated to the Music Factory.

Kuhlmann points out the band gives the Muse a mention each time their on a stage in Charlotte.

Because that's the type of place Kuhlmann has created on his little corner in NoDa. A venue where musicians will be respected, and a place where people can go to find community.

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