In early January, Chris Tamplin, a bartender and booking agent who has supplied sounds and spirits at Tir Na Nog in downtown Raleigh since 2005, was worried he wouldn't be able to fill his club for a long weekend. He'd just announced Raleigh Undercover—his biggest event of any year, a charitable concert series where local bands cover superstars like Meat Loaf and David Bowie.
But The Pour House, just two doors down on Blount Street, had other ideas. The Rosebuds and Megafaun, two of the Triangle's biggest bands, would share a pair of bills for two of those three nights. Tamplin knew his attendance would suffer. Were there enough listeners to fill two big spaces on Blount Street?
Over those three days, though, 1,900 people filed into Tir Na Nog. The Pour House sold every ticket it had on Friday and Saturday.
"At first, I was a little leery of two shows going at the same time," Tamplin says early on a Monday morning after a late shift at the bar, offering a tired chuckle at the memory. "I was very much proven wrong. The more you talk to people, you realize that there are more than 300 folks in this area that want to hear live music. There are thousands of people that want to go see shows on any given weekend."
That's what Tamplin is betting on with his latest venture, a new club just outside of downtown Durham called The Geer. Last week, Tamplin and his three partners began the long process of demolition and construction inside the 6,400-square-foot upstairs space. Located at the corner of Rigsbee Avenue and Geer Street and expected to open late this summer, the venue will hold just more than 450 people, making it the fourth-biggest consistent rock club in the Triangle.
It's just one piece of a Triangle venue picture that's been busy shifting shapes early this year. Rumors of at least two new clubs are widespread in Raleigh, while construction on another rock club in Durham with a capacity of fewer than 500 people is tentatively scheduled to begin at the sprawling Golden Belt later this year. That's in addition to The Pinhook, a downtown Durham club that's been open just more than a year, and Broad Street Cafe, which recently received its nightclub permit after an extended zoning battle. Tamplin and his partners don't see the new club as emerging competition, though. Rather, they hope that these spaces can combine to offer more locals chances to play and to serve as a magnet for national talent.
"We view it as more of a complementary space," says Jeremy Roth, one of The Geer's four partners. "You have to have a scene, and you have to have smaller venues. We want to foster a place where people know about Durham, even through a venue like Durham Performing Arts Center, and bands know that Durham is a place you go on your tour."
The Geer is a partnership among four people, collectively called Bull City Group—Mike and Candy Webster, the parents of Durham musician Duncan Webster of Hammer No More the Fingers; Roth, their neighbor for 11 years in Durham's Watts-Hillandale neighborhood; and Tamplin, who plans to move to Durham sometime after the venue opens. Mike Webster stumbled across the idea when he was surveying downtown Durham for available office space. He saw a chance for a new music space. Inspired by the popularity of The Pinhook, he and Roth pursued several options. Due to rental rates or states of disrepair, they'd all but given up on the idea when they met Tamplin. He offered experience and connections they didn't have. Plus, he wanted a bigger, stand-alone space with which he could pursue bigger acts. Tir Na Nog books at most three nights of rock music each week. He knew Durham could support more.
"I'm not worried about it. I welcome it," agrees Nicholas Williams, one of three co-owners of The Pinhook. He sees the growing crowds for small venue shows in Raleigh as evidence that Durham, like its neighbors, can support several clubs. For instance, The Pour House, that club beside Tir Na Nog, just finished its best 12-month span yet. "Raleigh has been a big surprise to me since I've played there with my band, just how many people want to go to shows," Williams says.
Tamplin's not surprised: For the last four years, he has helmed Local Beer, Local Band at Tir Na Nog, a popular Thursday concert series presented in conjunction with N.C. State's WKNC-FM, 88.1. After Kings Barcade closed in downtown Raleigh in April 2007, Tamplin used those nights to extend reliable gigs to area bands and a consistently worthwhile bill for listeners. His success with the series—or the large, consistent Thursday crowds—landed him this opportunity to run the Durham venue. "One of those things that fell out of nowhere," he happily describes it.
He doesn't think his move puts Tir Na Nog's nebulous reputation as a decent rock room in jeopardy, though. In fact, he picked his own replacement, Mikey Perros, a former WKNC deejay who not only worked with the popular weeknight concerts but also helped to coordinate the release and promotion of Hear Here: The Triangle, an excellent sampler of local talent issued last year. Perros is now a paid intern at Ground Control Touring in Carrboro, where he's training to become an assistant to the agency that books, among about 100 other bands, indie titans Sonic Youth, Belle & Sebastian and Polvo.
In Raleigh, Perros already works as an independent promoter, booking shows at venues like The Pour House (Friday's engagement with Benji Hughes, for instance). He wants to expand the influence of Local Beer, Local Band by bringing in the best new acts from other scenes throughout the state and billing them with top locals. And he doesn't worry that everyone would rather go elsewhere—next door to The Pour House, to The Geer in Durham or to Cat's Cradle in Carrboro.
"I feel like there's enough people that are interested in live music to go out to these things," says Perros. "I'm not worried about having too many venues. I think if there are good shows in these towns, people will go."
There's only one way to find out.