Building a legend: The revamped Altamont Theatre

The Altamont Theatre, photo from the venue's Facebook page

The Altamont Theatre (located on Church Street in the former offices of paramount Asheville architect Richard Sharp Smith) recently revealed that it will re-open. “We’re happy to announce new ownership [and] a re-vamping of our beautiful space and events! More soon,” read a tweet posted on Jan. 2. The venue, which launched in 2010 under the ownership of Brian and Tiffany Lee, held its last show in November. The new Altamont hosts a soft opening this weekend.

Sam Katz of Charlie Traveler Presents is the current owner, with two partners. He filled Xpress in on plans for the revamped venue, what changes to expect, and how the new Altamont Theatre will work with neighboring venue Asheville Music Hall (where Katz was a previous owner).

Mountain Xpress: What is the official first show and grand opening planned for the Altamont Theatre?
Sam Katz:
We have some quick bookings that we’ve put in there this month. This Sunday, Jan. 11, is really our soft opening. We have The Revival Party at The Altamont with Red Clay Revival and Freeway Revival. Keeping it a party vibe with a $5 ticket. We have TEDx Asheville on Saturday, Jan. 17. We’re hosting Reasonably Priced Babies on Friday, Jan. 23, our first foray into comedy. And we’re excited to be hosting The Blue Dragons CD release party on Saturday, Jan. 24. Looks like we’re also about to confirm Mike Farris of the Screamin’ Cheetah Wheelies on Friday, Jan. 30. So we’ve scraped together some great, last-minute events for this month already — qnd we just took the lease over on Jan. 1!

How do you think the new Altamont Theatre will differ from its previous incarnation?
We will do more than has ever been done. We’re looking to work. All of us are ready to take this room to the next level, so we plan on really getting to work and hustling, booking all kinds of acts: National names that we can do intimate shows with at a higher ticket price, certain local and regional bands [and] we’re going to be getting into the comedy game a good bit. Right now we’re building a Thursday night comedy series that will feature national, regional and local comedians, some kind of local comedy showcase, possibly a comedy movie night or even a comedy open mic of some sort. The Altamont was originally built as a black-box theater, so I’m definitely looking to put some theater stuff in there — plays, musicals, etc.

What about the venue attracted you to it — why did you decide to take it over?
Well, the timing was right, obviously. We just sold Asheville Music Hall [and] One Stop, so I’ve got some of that investment money coming back and was looking for the next project when I got the call about The Altamont. And The Altamont is a room I’ve put a few shows in over the years [and] seen some great shows there. It’s always been a fantastic space. It’s gorgeous, the sound and acoustics are pristine and I always thought so much more could be done with it. It would’ve been a shame if the room had just closed and the building sold and no more music or shows [were held] there, so we decided to stop that from happening! For me personally, I’m at a time in my life where I don’t necessarily want to be at the club until 4 a.m. anymore. I’m about to have my second kid literally any day now, and burning it on both ends is exhausting. I look forward to getting home at 1 or 2 a.m. instead of 4 a.m. — though I will still be straddling both worlds for the time being.

What sort of music are you planning to book for The Altamont? Any special shows in the works or on your wish list?
I would love to start bringing some big-name jazz acts to Asheville. I tested the waters last year with Dr. Lonnie Smith at Isis, and even though it went really well — amazing show, great crowd — I still lost a good bit of money on it. So I’m trying to figure out how to make that work, that balance where I can bring a great artist to town and not lose my shirt.

We’re really planning on booking a wide array of music and other forms of entertainment, like comedy and theater as I previously mentioned. I’d like to continue to build on the great shows The Altamont has hosted here over the years: big-name singer-songwriters, bluegrass and acoustic players. It’s such a beautiful space and it’s truly a listening room. Once those doors are closed, you’re in that room and it’s just you and the music, or whatever show you happen to be seeing. There’s truly no other venue like it in Asheville. It’s a room that I can take to agents and say, ‘Even though the capacity isn’t too big, we can do intimate shows with big names still and charge a higher ticket price to make up for our smaller capacity.’ We can do about 150 seated and up to 220 or so standing. It’s a totally customizable room, so we can do some seats, some standing, we can put the stage right in the middle of the room, we can close the curtains all around the walls or leave them open, etc. Private events are going to be a major focus of this business, especially weddings.

Will you also still be booking shows for Asheville Music Hall?
I’m still happy to be working with Asheville Music Hall and One Stop as the marketing manager. And that is still my home away from home! We have a great team in place now, most of these folks I’ve been working with almost every day for the last three years, so I’m happy to be sticking around. I will also be putting shows into both of those rooms as an outside promoter under my Charlie Traveler Presents moniker. I’m really excited about our merger with New Mountain and New Earth MUSiQ taking over ownership and operations of the rooms.

You used the word “Co-op-etition” in describing the relationship between the new AMH and new Altamont Theatre. What does that mean to you?
I was actually referring to the new Co-op-etition between AMH and New Mountain now, not between AMH and Altamont. But with that being said, we will absolutely be in Co-op-etition as well [but] there’s no reason we all can’t work together. To me, it just means that we’ll always try and work together, rather than against each other. Obviously this town is changing rapidly and majorly. [There’s] a lot of competition, even in just the last six years since I’ve been here.

When we opened up AMH three-and-a-half years ago, we were the only mid-size venue in town. Flash forward three years later and now there’s Isis, The Millroom, The Mothlight, New Mountain, we’ve got The Salvage Station, all these new breweries that all have their own venues. It’s to the point where I don’t think anybody knows what’s going to happen — who’s going to survive and who’s not going to. It will be very interesting to see how this all plays out, if Asheville can sustain all these new venues, or if the bubble will burst. But that’s the great thing about The Altamont Theatre: it’s so unique, it provides something, the full package, that no other space in Asheville can, so I know we’ll be here for years. I would like The Altamont Theatre to become a mainstay — a legendary, storied venue, that people will talk about for years to come.

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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5 thoughts on “Building a legend: The revamped Altamont Theatre

  1. Jason W.

    I don’t think you guys should do theater. While I would wholeheartedly welcome a new venue, I don’t think the Alatmont space is good space for live theater, without a lot of renovation. Additionally most theater needs at least 2-3 days of “tech” in a space as well as at least a two weekends run. Theater is not usually a one-off thing like concerts, or comedy acts are, unless it’s a touring show. The idea of a music venue that occasionally does theater does not seem compatible.

  2. b.c.w.

    It would be great to see the Altamont become a new haven for LOCAL jazz again, functioning as a room that is a listening room environment – perhaps a concert series set up as a 2-part evening with 2 different ensembles for a reasonable price. Something to give the jazz community we have which is SO deep with talent a chance to network and share the space and present their works like the old Jazz Composers Forum used to be over a decade ago. High hopes!

  3. Cinco

    Microwave Dave and the Nukes would be a good name in blues to introduce to Asheville. Huntsville would be happy to share a regional treasure!

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