“We’ve got about a seven-week notice to get the heck outa Dodge,” said Bert Ivey, co-owner of the Grey Eagle Tavern & Music Hall, the beloved Black Mountain venue that recently announced it was closing its doors.
But Ivey’s partner, Tyler Richardson, is optimistic that the club will soon reopen. “It’s bad timing all the way around,” he allows. “But we’re gonna hopefully find somewhere to reopen by Dec. 1. We’ve had a lot of people call, sad about the news — [and] people calling with possible places for us to move to.”
The two are on the lookout for a space to rent that has both a stage and a light system, notes Richardson, adding, “We’re looking at everything. We still wanna be a music club.”
Why the need to move? Aisha Moughrabi, who helps manage the club, reports that the Grey Eagle lost its lease because the landlord (who, ironically, was the first to suggest making the former garage space into an acoustic listening room) simply made other plans.
“They might make it into a little antiques mall,” said Moughrabi, which leaves this reporter scratching his head befuddledly, as if to say, Lord, we need one more of those like Carter needs another of his little pills.
The club is slated to close Nov. 1 — a sad day for Black Mountain, Asheville and an international community of musicians and fans. Opened four years ago, the Grey Eagle boasts a reputation as one of the country’s premier acoustic venues. No small feat for a little ol’ club tucked away in the mountains, and an honor earned by consistently putting art ahead of income.
For the club’s owners, the performances have always outweighed profit. “There’s been some great shows in here, and at the end of the night, when everybody’s packed up and left, Tyler and I have lost our ass financially,” recalls Ivey. “Only we’ve thoroughly loved the show. That’s the joy of the music.”
Richardson concurs. “If I’m gonna run a music hall, I wanna see the people I wanna see. … That was just a personal dream of mine, and I made that happen, and [we] just sorta kept it rollin’ by keeping the people in here that we personally want to see,” he observes.
And as Nov. 1 looms ever larger, it’s the loss of that kind of exhilaration that has the partners mourning.
“We lost a lot of good shows [because of the closing], some pretty big-name acts that are gonna be routed elsewhere [now],” Ivey laments. “But they’ve played with us before. Hopefully, they’ll come back to our new spot.”
The Grey Eagle’s music-first philosophy has won the club a legion of fans — performers and audiences alike — whose phenomenal loyalty made the place seem less a nightclub and more a kind of community gestalt.
Austin singing sensation Kelly Willis said she was saddened by the news of the closing. “Those kinds of places are important, and it’s just unfortunate.”
But the loss, says Ivey, will be more than purely musical. “The commerce will be the first loss. … [The Grey Eagle draws] people from all around the United States,” he maintains. “People make plans months in advance to come to a show here, to see their artists. They’re buying hotel rooms in Black Mountain, eating dinner, going out on the town, loading their car with a tank of gas down at the Texaco. … It will be a sad day if we don’t relocate in Black Mountain.”
At least a touch of silver lining does lie ahead, though, notes Ivey. “Hopefully, our next venue will be a little bit bigger in size,” he says, enabling the club to book bigger-name acts.
But for this month, at least, the old Eagle will continue to stretch her wings. “That whole three/four-day stretch going into Halloween’s gonna be just a very musical carnival,” Ivey predicts .
Expect the club’s final night, Halloween, to be a blowout. But the evening, stresses Ivey, will not represent the venerable bird’s grande finale — simply the end of a chapter. “Close the book on this room,” he concludes.
— reported, with feeling, by Tom Kerr