Why Now – More Than Ever – We Need to Support Our Live Music Venues

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Sylvan Esso on stage in May 2014 at Cat’s Cradle, a readers’ favorite place to hear live music. Photo by Beth Mann

By Niklaus Steiner

As someone who grew up in Chapel Hill, music was always all around me and my friends. We’d pile into buses every year at Seawell Elementary School and drive to Memorial Hall to see the North Carolina Symphony play. Highlights of those field trips included watching a percussionist play a garbage can and looking for Carolina basketball players outside the building.

As we got a bit older, we headed to Cat’s Cradle when it was still on Rosemary Street to see these extraordinary bands coming through. They were touring the East Coast and would drive from Boston to New York City to Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., and then couldn’t quite make it all the way to Atlanta, so they stopped off in the Triangle – lucky us! As amazing as it was that national acts like Nirvana and Public Enemy played, I could never get enough of our hometown heroes, the Pressure Boys.

The music continues to thrive here, and we are lucky to have so many options. Grab a lawn chair and a picnic basket to catch a great outdoor show on the green in Southern Village. Memorial Hall, renovated in 2005, looks more grand than I even remember it from my childhood. And if you have never been to The Kraken to see Jonathan Byrd, it’s hard to describe what you are missing. 

It’s about more than just listening to music, though. All our local venues, including Local 506, The Cave, The ArtsCenter, The Station, Nightlight Bar & Club, 2nd Wind and Imbibe, also strengthen our community by bringing us together. It’s a hard business, and these independently owned clubs were already in precarious positions because of changes in the music industry – now the pandemic is pushing them to the very edge.

Of the many losses we face because of the pandemic, I’m especially heartbroken by the suspension of the music scene, which has meant so much to me and my family. We started the Be Loud! Sophie Foundation to support adolescent and young adults facing cancer, and our success is due to our extraordinary musicians and venues. Cat’s Cradle owner Frank Heath has generously hosted our annual Be Loud! concerts at his venue each August with dozens of local bands donating their time and talent. The Pressure Boys even reunited after many years for our first show in 2014, selling out both nights. I simply can’t bear the thought of our towns without music.

Just like we are rallying around local restaurants, bookstores, coffee shops and other independent businesses, let’s also rally around our venues. There are concrete ways to help – see below for a list of ideas. 

It takes a long time to build something up, but it can also be torn down quickly. Let’s not let that happen to our music scene. 

The Beat Goes On

Visit the National Independent Venue Association’s website for news and ways to take action, such as writing to your legislators. If you’re able, consider donating to support the staff at one of your favorite venues: 

  And catch Jonathan Byrd and The Pickup Cowboys streaming live at The Kraken each Wednesday.

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