'We'll Bounce Back': After A Year Of Silence, Musicians And Music Venues Ready To Rock Again
A year ago, music venues in North Carolina had to close under the first round of coronavirus restrictions. And they remained closed until last month when Gov. Roy Cooper lifted some restrictions and allowed venues to operate at 30% capacity.
Being closed for so long has taken a toll on venue owners as well as local musicians. Perry Fowler is both. He co-owns Petra's in Charlotte and is also a member of the group Sinners and Saints. He joined us as part of our series Rebuilding Charlotte.
Marshall Terry: What was the state of the Charlotte music scene before the pandemic hit?
Perry Fowler: It was pretty robust, I feel like. Everyone you talk to in any scene, no matter what city you're in, they're going to say it's clique-y and all these things. And there is a lot of that. But I think we had so many different types of bands and so many musicians — like really, really, really good professional-level musicians that live in Charlotte. The music scene was pretty hot, I think.
Terry: And what toll has the pandemic taken on the local scene?
Fowler: I'm not going to say it's erased it because, you know, we're still here. But it's dampened it, for sure. it's hard to put on a rock show when you can't get together safely.
Terry: How difficult has it been for you as someone who was not only a local musician, but also, as I mentioned, you are a venue owner?
Fowler: You know, I'm going to be completely honest: I mean, it's been really tough. You know, for the last 12, maybe 15 years, I've worked towards achieving this goal of having independence through music. That doesn't mean that I wanted to be some famous rock star or anything like that. But I wanted to support myself and my family. And I was getting to that level. Sinners and Saints was touring a good bit. You know, we weren't making a ton of money, but it wasn't a waste of our time, let's put it that way.
And Petra's was doing great. I owned this great music venue and I was a part of it. My day-to-day life just revolved around music. Kind of overnight, it just went away. So it's been hard to try to figure out where I'm at, where do I go from here. And it's not just me. You know, I can't own that mentality. I know it's been hard for a lot of other people too.
Terry: What have you been doing to get by the past year?
Fowler: Well, recently I decided to get into real estate. I figured it kind of would allow me to still wear the same hats that I do as a business owner and as a musician and kind of put those skills and traits that I've developed over the years into another line of work. But it still would give me the freedom with my time to still do other things.
Terry: Did Petra's get any COVID Relief money?
Fowler: We did, yeah. We've been fortunate. We got a few grants. Obviously nothing that replaces a year's loss of revenue, but it's been keeping us afloat. And we were fortunate enough to have the local music school — School of Rock -- they've been using our space since I think the end of last summer or the middle of summer of last year. And they're still there. So it's been great just to have the space being used. And it's not sitting there, you know, gathering cobwebs.
Terry: How optimistic are you that the Charlotte music scene — both musicians, themselves, and venues — will bounce back from the pandemic?
Fowler: Oh, we'll bounce back. There's no doubt in my mind. Creating music and going to see live music — it's not going to go away. I think it'll return. I think it'll be strong.
Terry: What's the biggest challenge, do you think, bouncing back?
Fowler: Oh man, the caps (capacity limits). So I'm a member of, there's a local venue group that we kind of formed together early on last year during the quarantine. And we're called CIVA — the Charlotte Independent Venue Alliance. It's pretty much meant for us to put our heads together and try to figure this thing out and see what we can do best-practice-wise to make sure when we do open, we can reopen safely.
And, you know, the cap (capacity limit) is just really, really tough because this is hard enough to keep shows on the calendar on a nightly basis and trying to make sure you can fill the club. But now you're trying to worry about not promoting enough to where you can only have 30% capacity. For Petra's, that would be like 25 or 30 people. It's not sustainable.
Terry: What's the most important lesson you've learned over the past year as a venue owner and as a musician that you will take with you as Charlotte does begin to come out of the pandemic?
Fowler: Oh, man, just not take things for granted. It's easy. Especially when things are going well. You know, you're rocking and rolling and quality acts are hitting you up left and right, and it's getting to the point where you're having to say no to shows that you would really love to have, just because there's not enough time on the calendar. Just not to take that for granted because, you know, it could just go away.
Terry: Thank you for taking the time.
Fowler: Thank you, Marshall, I appreciate it.
Terry: That's Perry Fowler, co-owner of Petra's in Charlotte. He's also a member of the local group Sinners and Saints.