If you’ve been passing by Emerald Lounge — the bar and listening room with the front window that opens, garage-door style, onto Lexington Avenue — you might want to actually stop in. Here’s why: The venue has a good sound system; a cozy, intimate room with exposed brick, cute booths and elegant chandeliers; and its already-packed roster of interesting shows from a wide range of genres is about to get even better. Emerald Lounge is making some big changes in the form of a new booking and promotions partnership and a number of community-minded initiatives.
Owner Christina Brunell-Fortini, an Asheville transplant by way of New Orleans, bought the venue in September 2012. She says she’s been surprised by how good the community has been to her. That, and her background in social work has inspired her to use the music hall to facilitate an all-inclusive platform for the local arts. Because, as she points out, “I’m in a whole new arena” business-wise, Brunell-Fortini finds herself free to embark on a new approach to running Emerald Lounge.
At the beginning of this month, the venue rolled out the first of its shows booked through a newly-forged partnership with QC Productions, helmed by Adam McMillan. McMillian previously worked with a number of musicians from North and South Carolina and organized CCX Festival in Asheville last fall. It was through that festival that he began the relationship with Emerald Lounge that led to his new role, with QC, as Marketing Director of Emerald Lounge.
This month’s shows include:
• A weekly bluegrass jam on Monday nights and a blues jam on Wednesday nights.
• Great Female Poets Showcase featuring internationally-renowned slam poet Andrea Gibson with multiple Asheville poets and artists on Thursday, Jan. 30. $10 advance/$12 at the door.
That’s only the beginning. “We’re giving the entire venue a community atmosphere, within the organization,” McMillan says. Which means that Emerald Lounge’s staff is playing a key role in its evolution. And those workers also happen to be well-known artists on the local music scene: Polly Panic tends bar, Ryan “RnB” Barber is the doorman and Andrew Usher runs sound. Brunell-Fortini says that she encourages them to hand out flyers for their own shows during their shifts because they might be working at Emerald Lounge on a Wednesday and playing its stage on a Friday.
And there’s this: Brunell-Fortini’s husband, Rob, is a brewer with years of experience and a family history in the craft. “That will tie into the future of the venue,” she says. “So watch out.” In the meantime, Emerald Lounge is working to bring in other area brewers. If there wasn’t much local beer on tap in the past, this is a whole new era. On New Year’s Eve, in celebration of Brushfire Stankgrass‘s show, Wicked Weed Brewing allowed the Lexington Avenue listening room to tap a keg of its Stankgrass beer.
Both Brunell-Fortini and McMillan also want to tap visual artists in the community. They’ve launched a monthly rotating art exhibit, beginning with a show by Tawny Asher. (The bar also features artwork by Brunell-Fortini’s late mother, and a blue dog painting by the late New Orleans artist George Rodrigue, to draw on the owner’s personal background.)
“We’ll continue to present great quality music,” says McMillan. “We want to have a strong local focus and be involved with the community because we want to make Emerald Lounge a go-to venue.” His vision is expansive — partnerships with music halls throughout the Southeast in order to cross-promote shows and create a network and support system for touring bands. And also immediate — offering Emerald Lounge during off-hours as a rehearsal space for local bands.
Sure, music is important. But as the venue evolves, there’s the sense that by broadening the focus to incorporate more mediums and purposes, the overall mission will be that much richer. “We don’t want to be CBGB,” says Brunell-Fortini. Not that the iconic and now-defunct rock club wasn’t one for the history books, but Emerald Lounge has more up its sleeves than just slinging beer and cranking up the volume.
Like this: An indie film recently used the venue for a shoot and incorporated the house blues band. That band is now recording music for the film’s sound track. Hate that you missed that? The venue will host open auditions for another film on Sunday, Jan. 26, from 1-7 p.m. Closed auditions take place in the back and the public is invited to general-call try-outs in the front. Or just hang out at the bar and watch the action.
Stay tuned for further lineup announcements, regular hours and more to be announced over the coming months. For info on booking shows or using the space during off-hours, email McMillan at email@example.com.
Photos from Emerald Lounge’s website.