Blue Ridge Rocks, Signing Off.
By Mason Adams
This is an excerpt from an article that appeared in Roanoke Business Magazine, Oct. 2017
The Roanoke region has rebranded itself as an outdoors destination over the past half-decade, and at the same time has developed into a musical hotspot.
Music venues have popped up so rapidly it’s hard to believe the 2008 Roanoke city council election split in part over the question of whether to build an amphitheater in Elmwood Park or along the Roanoke River. Today, both sites are home to outdoor music venues that book a steady stream of acts through the warmer months. The Berglund Center — formerly known as the Roanoke Civic Center — is upgrading its facilities, and the Jefferson Center continues to serve as a cultural anchor for live music and performance.
Half an hour to the south, the town of Rocky Mount bought, refurbished and opened the Harvester Performance Center, which now books a steady stream of national acts. In the next county over, the Floyd Country Store is operating under new ownership with renewed dedication to live music. FloydFest, a multi-day music festival, annually attracts crowds of more than 15,000 to see a variety of national touring acts, many of whom eventually return to play smaller regional venues. And across the Roanoke and New River valleys, bars and restaurants regularly open their doors to a wide variety of musical styles.
That’s a dramatic departure since the early ’90s, when Dylan Locke first began booking music in Blacksburg. Since then, he worked at the Jefferson Center for 13 years until 2014, when he left to buy and operate the Floyd Country Store with his wife, Heather Krantz.
“Ultimately, the reason I started doing what I was doing back in Blacksburg was because it needed to happen,” Locke says. “We had a cultural void in western Virginia. To see what’s happened now is awesome.”
For music fans, the growing number of venues means a wider array of entertainment options on any given night. For localities, it translates to larger revenue from residents and visitors who spend money on food and lodging, both of which can be taxed. For economic development officials, the extra activity creates a sense of buzz and excitement that’s attractive to business prospects looking for a rich local culture. And for neighboring businesses, these music venues generate spill-off activity, which builds their bottom lines.
“If there are people in the Roanoke Valley or New River Valley who say they don’t have anything to do, they’re not looking,” says Robyn Schon, general manager of the Berglund Center. “There’s so much to do on a weekly basis that you have to make a choice. That’s a great problem to have.”
Lisa Garst, director of Partnership for a Livable Roanoke Valley, says live music boosts the region’s quality of life, attracts visitors and supports businesses located near venues with increased traffic and marketing opportunities. There’s a deeper effect, too.
“Surveys show millennials and younger residents are all about the experience of a place—that’s the main takeaway,” Garst says.
Jenna Lazenby created the website Blue Ridge Rocks (blueridgerocks.com) to collect show listings and regional music news in one place. “Roanoke’s done a good job with branding the outdoors and craft beer,” Lazenby says. “I believe that music is the next piece of that puzzle to strengthen our brand and national allure. A robust music scene is an important community connector, and that’s a driver of economic development.”
The growth in the number of regional venues resulted from a variety of factors. The creation of a residential neighborhood in downtown Roanoke through the renovation of warehouses and office buildings starting in the mid-2000s means that people spend more time there on evenings and weekends, which in turn has fueled nightspots such as Martin’s Downtown. When it opened in 2005, owner Jason Martin booked music one night a week. Today, bands play there five nights per week.
“Things evolved,” Martin says. “We developed a reputation as a live music spot, and we’re bringing in bands in from all over the country.”
When Roanoke economic development officials were courting Deschutes Brewery, they took visiting company dignitaries on a tour that included a concert at Martin’s, where Deschutes’ site consultant was smitten with a dancer with an LED-lit hula-hoop.
“A vibrant music scene is part of what they were interested in,” said Roanoke Regional Partnership Executive Director Beth Doughty of the Deschutes officials. “We went to Martin’s, which had these young women with LED hula hoops who would hula hoop in front of the band. The consultant thought this was the greatest thing… The hula hoops are not going to close that deal, but the emotional attachment which comes from a good cultural fit is what closes the deal.”
A few blocks down the street, the newly renovated amphitheater at Elmwood Park is attracting nationally known acts — Old Crow Medicine Show, Huey Lewis and the News, Blondie and former Beach Boy Brian Wilson. Martin says shows at Elmwood aren’t really competition — they actually boost his business.
“If more people are coming downtown, I’ll be busier, whether for music or for food,” Martin says. “If Elmwood has a big show, we have a big night.”
Finish reading the rest of the story “Music and Money” online at: https://issuu.com/veronicagarabelli/docs/digitalrb1016