This room in Raleigh's warehouse district holds a crowd of 100. They're bathed in red light as the singer of Las Vegas rock band The Higher struts across the stage. The area is spacious and modern, 30 feet separating the mass from the tattooed merch guys hawking brightly colored T-shirts along the back wall. Several small troupes of high school and college kids are here for a four-band bill—The Higher, We Shot the Moon, Houston Calls and Sherwood. For a Monday night, it's a great crowd.
A little more than 24 hours ago, those congregated in the same space had a different motivation: The company V21 Productions leases the non-traditional church Vintage 21, directed by pastoral assistant Rob Davis, for its shows. That is, a church becomes a rock club. Other than the schedule for three Sunday services displayed at the entranceway, though, there's little overt evidence tipping showgoers to the building's other use. And while the bar is currently stocked with sodas and Nutri-Grain bars, V21 Productions has applied for a license to sell beer. Sound like a conflict waiting to happen?
Not for a community that offers a monthly "Theology on Tap" meeting, where members gather over a brew to ruminate on life and spirituality, explains Davis. "Vintage21 church does not take a prohibitionist stance toward moderate alcohol consumption," he says. "We're not endorsing outrageous behavior through drunkenness, but we want to encourage people to have a good time. Moderate alcohol consumption can be part of this."
V21 Productions is financially separate from the church, so revenue from shows doesn't pay the church's bills. It's just a symptom, you could say, of Davis hoping to separate religion and rock. The venue even requests that Christian bands sign an agreement stating they will not preach from the stage.
"Just like any other venue, we don't want bands preaching or having altar calls," says Davis. "If you're going to a show, that's what you expect to experience, not a sermon." Davis admits there is a spiritual aspect to his mission, "but it's completely relationally based. We honestly want to get to know people and find ways to serve them."
At the moment, V21 is also serving a city that's had its share of venue problems in the last year. Since it opened as a club in mid-October, V21 Productions has been hosting shows that otherwise would likely be held at The Brewery, including the Sherwood bill with The Higher. Graham Bennett, manager of V21, wants to book local bands, and with a capacity of more than 600, V21 could start siphoning acts away from more established stops like Cat's Cradle and the Lincoln Theatre.
The bulk of the schedule consists of touring bands of the indie pop-rock variety, but Bennett says he doesn't want to pigeonhole the venue. The space hosts a new art show in its front gallery each month, and he wants to be open to both expanding and to the unexpected. In addition to a spate of upcoming Gouge Pro Wrestling events and fashion shows, Bennett is willing to book any bands that will bring Triangle residents through the door of this multipurpose space.
"We want a wide range of genres in the indie or underground scene, from solo acoustic to brutal death metal," he says. Indeed, a few all-day metalfests are on the schedule, but a spring concert from N.C. State's female a cappella ensemble Acappology is slated for April 19. The frequency of shows has increased from monthly to at least weekly. Bennett hopes to expand to three to five nights per week. Turnouts have varied, but Davis says that most nights have attracted more than 100 listeners.
Bennett's expectations are modest and steady: "We would love to work up to booking bands that would fill the space."
Upcoming schedule for V21 Productions:
For more, see www.v21productions.com.