Atlanta needs clubs like the Masquerade and Smith’s to nurture a vibrant music scene

Smith's and the Masquerade have provided critical mid-level venues for up-and-coming local bands.
Smith's and the Masquerade have provided critical mid-level venues for up-and-coming local bands.
Smith's and the Masquerade have provided critical mid-level venues for up-and-coming local bands.
Smith’s Olde Bar and the Masquerade have provided critical mid-level venues for up-and-coming local bands.

Clubs in Atlanta have closed before — and others have opened to replace them, regenerating a music scene for another type of music in a different kitchen. But in the past, music on the national local level — from the Electric Ballroom to the Great Southeast Music Hall to the Masquerade and Smith’s Olde Bar — was vibrant, creative and sometimes even lucrative. 

Things have changed. That’s not to say that Atlanta does not have a vibrant and creative scene now, but it does have a more fragmented one. Bands don’t move as easily from one venue to another, and they don’t start playing in a smaller club in hopes of playing to a larger audience at a larger venue, because such venues no longer exist on the scale they once did. 

The news this week of the possible closing of the Masquerade and Smith’s Olde Bar at the hands of developers only further drives a deep wedge into an already splintered scene — and takes away the two venues local bands “making it big” could hope to play in order to cement larger followings, and get the hell outta town and on the road. 

Both clubs could be anchors for new developments.
Both clubs could be anchors for new developments.

There are still other good clubs in Atlanta, but where will bands that are building a following at the the Star Bar, the Earl, 529 and a few other other smaller bars aspire to perform with the Masquerade and Smith’s gone? 

The Variety Playhouse, The Buckhead Theatre and Center Stage don’t really enter into this discussion because those three theaters — offering a mixture of national and local touring acts — are not open for live music seven nights a week. 

They also are more concert venues than bars or clubs, and one wonders where bands that build larger audiences at the smaller clubs will play in the interim before they are able to make the jump to those three revered stages and the large, paying audiences they demand. 

In the past, for every Catacombs and Hedgens, there was a Funochio’s, the Point and 688. And for every Funochio’s and 688, there was the Electric Ballroom, the Great Southeast Music Hall, the Cotton Club and the Agora Ballroom. 

But that was before a higher legal drinking age, when records and cassettes and gas were cheap — and beer even cheaper. Admission at the door was a pittance, not half-a-day’s wage. And people went out to hear music, make the scene and go from one to two to maybe three or more clubs all over town in one night instead of staying in one area, close to home. 

What’s most saddening about the possible closing of the Masquerade and Smith’s Olde Bar is not that they are choosing to close because of a lack of revenue, the death knell for so many bars and clubs in this city’s past, but, having developed profitable revenue centers after many, many, many years in business — a testament to the owners’ fortitude as well as the city’s need for such places — they may be forced out of business by developers of multi-use high-rise developments who can’t see that their best anchor tenants are already there. 

They just need to build around them, not destroy them.

(Tony Paris is the former music editor and former editor of Creative Loafing.)

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