Carolina Beer Guy: Breweries tap into local music

TAP TUNES: The Appalachian Renegades performed last November at Ginger's Revenge.
TAP TUNES: The Appalachian Renegades performed last November at Ginger's Revenge. Photo by Steven Kautz

Beer and bands have become a popular combination in Western North Carolina, where live music has found a place at many area breweries. It’s a win-win for both the businesses and the performers who have found more venues to play.

Longtime Asheville musician Dan Lewis has played at both Catawba Brewing Co. in Asheville and Swamp Rabbit Brewery in Travelers Rest, S.C. He adjusts his performances depending on the mood of the crowd. “The trick is to recognize that,” he says. “When people are ready for a performance, you step forward a little more and interact with the audience.” Lewis does classic rock covers and original songs with instrumental guitar pieces and adds that the biggest challenge in breweries is often the acoustics.

A lot of the music is presented free of charge, but both Pisgah Brewing Co. in Black Mountain and Highland Brewing Co. in Asheville have diversified their offerings with ticketed outdoor concerts featuring bigger acts.

This year, Pisgah has Deer Tick for its 13th-anniversary party on Saturday, April 21, followed by moe. on Sunday, April 22, and the Punch Brothers on Friday, July 13. Highland has announced Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats on Friday, May 11 (already sold out), Trampled by Turtles and Hiss Golden Messenger on Thursday, May 17, and Moon Taxi and Moon Hooch on Friday, May 18. Both breweries also do many free shows inside their tasting rooms.

Highland works with both The Orange Peel and concert promoter AC Entertainment to book its bigger shows, says hospitality general manager Grant DeSantos. The brewery hosts music Wednesdays through Sundays. All concerts are currently held inside but will shift to a stage in its meadow space in April. Most of Highland’s shows are free, though DeSantos expects to present six ticketed outdoor concerts this year, with each expected to draw crowds of 2,500. “We try to find genres that will appeal to a variety of folks,” he says.

Ginger’s Revenge in Woodfin does live music every Friday night. “Music is a big part of our brand,” says co-owner David Ackley. “Some of that comes from my background as a musician. Being able to support musicians is a way we can be a force for good.” All the music at Ginger’s Revenge is free, including a one-year anniversary celebration that was held March 10, with three bands starting at 2 p.m.

In Hendersonville, Sanctuary Brewing Co. has ramped up its live music offerings. During the winter, the vegan brewery has offered music Wednesdays through Saturdays, but as warmer weather rolls in, co-owner Lisa McDonald will add a second Saturday show slot as well as Sunday performances.

“We book seven or eight musical acts a week,” she says. “We have Americana and bluegrass, but if a performer is good, we’re willing to try pretty much anything.” The brewery has added a stage that she says can accommodate a full band. Most concerts are free, but Sanctuary has charged admission for certain shows.

French Broad River Brewery has long offered free live music, a policy that has continued under new owner Paul Casey. “It’s an important component,” he says. “It gives artists an opportunity to perform. And it gives tourists and locals somewhere to see live performances.”

French Broad hosts shows Thursdays through Saturdays, as does UpCountry Brewing Co. The performances are often in the bluegrass, jam band or folk genres, according to owner John Cochran. So far, it’s all been inside the brewery and free. “When we took over [Altamont Brewing Co.] there was a door charge, but I thought it was important to give access to the music to the local community,” he says. “So we made every single show free.”

Another player is Oskar Blues Brewery in Brevard, which now has music Thursdays through Saturdays and will add Sunday shows in April. There’s also an open old-time music jam on Mondays, says marketing manager Aaron Baker. The music is always free, except the annual New Year’s Eve Hootenanny.

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About Tony Kiss
Tony Kiss covers brewing news for the Xpress. He has been reporting on the Carolina beer scene since 1994. He's also covered distilling and cider making and spent 30 years reporting on area entertainment. Follow me @BeerguyTK

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