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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Why Raleigh's Volume 11 Tavern is closing

Posted by on Wed, Dec 19, 2012 at 3:37 PM

click to enlarge If it's too loud...
  • If it's too loud...

When Volume 11 Tavern, the metal-centric Maywood Avenue music venue in Raleigh, closes its doors for the last time on January 1, the bands that served as the venue’s talent pool will lose more than just a room; they’ll lose a sanctuary for decibels.

Motrendus is one such unapologetically hard rock band. “We’re not a low-volume band; we’re a loud band,” says bassist Steve Msarsa. “We’re a band that has Marshall stacks. If we were playing in 1973, ‘74, ‘75, you’d get it.”

Having logged 49 shows at various venues across the state in the past 18 months, Motrendus was accustomed to being told to turn down—except at Volume 11, Msarsa says. With Raleigh's other loud-rock club set to close, the situation for such acts is dire.

“Keith [Fairweather, Volume 11’s’s owner] has a club that’s got a full stage and a big PA and lights and a big room,” Msarsa says. “You can get up there and if you’ve got a Marshall stack, hell yeah, crank it up.”

But as Fairweather admits, that wasn’t enough to keep the club open. On Nov. 30, the club announced its closing online.

"Sadly, the end of an era has come," the announcement read. "Volume 11 Tavern will be closing at the end of December.

"We had a good run for the last seven years, hosted countless shows and had soooooo many drunken good times together. We would like to thank everyone that visited us over the years for your patronage. Please join us for one last round as we toast goodbye during the month of December. The last hurrah will be held on New Years Eve, so get ready to party...we're gonna go out with a bang!"

In its seven-year run, Volume 11 held on to a strong local niche, but despite the prevailing wisdom, courting national tours didn’t help the business. “The nationals were losing me, like, nine out of 10 shows,” Fairweather admits. “Not enough support around the area: Most of the people that were coming to see them were people from out of town—South Carolina, Virginia, Charlotte, Greensboro, Greenville, all kinds of stuff.”

He adjusted his business plan to focus more on local talent and invite more hip-hop and EDM shows, but it wasn’t enough. “I just finally made, like, a smidgeon this year. And then the tax man eats me up,” Fairweather says. “I’m not saying I didn’t turn it around a little bit, but what it’s doing is just not paying off.”

Fairweather and Msarsa agree that people just weren’t coming out to shows. The reasons for this are many. Fairweather acknowledges increasing competition for live music (“Every room that’s out there has a stage with somebody in the corner,” he says.), but mostly he says people just aren’t coming out. “The problem is the people that don’t play don’t go out and really support it enough. We’ve got enough people. They just sit at home. Maybe it’s DUIs; they’re afraid to go out and drink,” he explains, laughing.

Msarsa blames apathy, too. “The musicians around here support each other,” he says. “It’s probably the biggest saving grace of the local scene.” But the audience, he says, hasn’t been engaged with harder, heavier rock music in the Triangle. Msarsa has worked to help promote Raleighmusic.com, a site he sees as a comprehensive guide to live music in Raleigh, but that’s another outlet working to find an audience without an assist from established broadcast media. Local radio stations, he says, don’t work to promote local bands—especially those playing hard rock and metal. For his part, Msarsa and Motrendus worked to build the scene, hosting a weekly full-band open mic and helping upstart bands land weeknight gigs.

But maybe, he suggests, audience apathy is a sign of the times. Rock music doesn’t hold the same market power it once did. “The rebel element, the bad-boy element now cleaves more toward your hip-hop, because that’s where rebellion is personified now, much more than old warhorses like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin,” Msarsa says. “I’m not saying that rock is dead by any stretch of the imagination. I just don’t think it has the reach that it used to.”

The audience of local hard-rock musicians Volume 11 built will have its final chances to say farewell in the days leading up to the club’s closing. This weekend’s KIFFmas Bash boasts an 11-band bill encompassing much of Volume 11’s all-things-loud niche. New Year’s Eve will be headlined by Bonz, the original frontman of the rap-metal hybrid Stuck Mojo. In between, showcases for local rappers and EDM producers, original metal bands and classic metal tribute acts will have their last say.

Even as the concert hall closes, Volume 11 continues to offer a space for loud rock bands. The attached rehearsal spaces and recording studio—in which Corrosion of Conformity recently recorded its latest EP, Megalodon, and filmed a video for “Feed On”—will remain open.

“If I had another five years to stick it out with some backing, yeah, it might work and I might keep climbing,” Fairweather says. “But in this area, it’s kinda tough to tell.”

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After New Year's Eve, both of Raleigh's heavy music clubs will close. Volume 11 Tavern explains why they're finished.

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