Let 'Er R.I.P.

Why Atlanta clubs seems to be closing or heading out of town

Is Atlanta losing it? That certainly seems to be the case when it comes to live music venues. Recently, Clear Channel Entertainment stated that it would no longer be booking acts at the Cotton Club, a downtown nightspot that has survived for 15 years. This news follows announcements that 9 Lives Saloon, a longtime Little Five Points staple, has closed, and that the Masquerade, a magnet for the alienated and under-aged, is planning to shut its doors. All of these happenings, while unrelated, threaten to sap some of the vitality of the local scene.

"Anytime a club closes its doors," says Patrick Hill, promoter/booking agent for the Earl, "it means fewer options for live music."

There are a variety of reasons behind what's going on with these clubs. Clear Channel maintains that it is not closing the Cotton Club, but simply choosing not to hold any more concerts there. "The venue is now strictly a special/private event facility that is available for rental through the Tabernacle," explained Adam Cohen, a Clear Channel-Atlanta talent booker, in an e-mail.

Cohen elaborated in a story posted on the website www.atlantamusicguide.com, stating that Clear Channel plans to switch its energies from the Cotton Club to a larger venue, the Roxy Theatre in Buckhead. "We have opted to book the bigger Cotton Club shows in the Roxy in a half-capacity set up," Cohen said. "Of course, this came after a tremendous amount of thought to both our bottom line as well as the future of the scene in Atlanta."

The question, then, is what happens to those developing acts that are too small for the 1,100-capacity Roxy but would have been perfect for the 600-capacity Cotton Club?

One place these up-and-coming bands I>won'tP> be playing is the Masquerade. Since 1989, this tattered but seemingly stable venue has catered to an eclectic mix of younger, dramatic goth and punk crowds, bringing in acts such acts as Skinny Puppy and Fugazi. But, according to management, they plan on permanently bolting the doors sometime within the next year.

The owners are now focusing their attention on other clubs. In August, co-owner Dean Riopelle opened a decidedly family-friendly place in Alpharetta called Paradise City. It's a tri-level joint that features a Kids Zone, a restaurant, the Enchanted Forest Cafe, and a Rock Star Saloon, which features live music on weekends.

Another Masquerade owner, Brian McNamara, is involved with a new club in Underground Atlanta called the Alley Cat. Scheduled to open on New Year's Eve, it's a 4,000-square-foot rock 'n' roll bar/restaurant that will feature live and acoustic performances.

While both of these new spots will feature live music, none seem poised to replicate the mosh-pit, pierced-and-tattooed vibe of the Masquerade.

Also unlikely to be replaced is the recently closed 9 Lives Saloon, which hosted a seedy, biker-esque clientele, and featured regular performances from Southern punk and rock acts, including Bitch, Lust and the Road Hawgs. The space was recently acquired by Holy Mother Tattoo owner Colette Thompson and a slew of other partners. Thompson plans to turn the place into a restaurant that will appeal to the family types who own homes in Little 5 Points. "[We want to] lighten it all up and make it cleaner and brighter, [adding] chandeliers, mirrors and a lounge area," she says. "No speed metal, but maybe some acoustic punk rock. We all love speed metal and punk, but I don't know how to combine them with a nice restaurant."

While some observers are concerned that Atlanta has lost three live music venues in such a short period of time, others aren't surprised by the way things have played out.

"9 Lives, God bless 'em," says Steve Coffee, guitarist/vocalist for the Rocking Pontoons, a local country act that performed at the club. "Nobody ever expected them to go on as long as they did. They ran out of enthusiasm, and booking gigs is a tough deal that takes a lot of energy and everybody gets burned out. It was time for them to close."

Others aren't even sad to see these particular venues go. "Those clubs were shit anyway and won't be missed, Cotton Club excluded," says local music enthusiast A.J. Sheppard. "9 Lives was just shitty. It wasn't getting any good shows and there are plenty of smaller clubs and bars that can pull the same bands and probably do it better. It won't be missed. I walked past it every day for a week before I noticed it was gone. As far as the Masquerade is concerned, I'm glad to see it go, too. It might affect Atlanta's nightlife, as far as the youth go, because that's where all the 'nu' industrial, metal and hardcore kids hang out, but I could give a shit less about them. Someone else will pick up the slack."

Hill, booker for the Earl, largely concurs. "Things in this business are always in a state of flux," he says. "When the Point closed, Echo Lounge had recently opened, and the Earl came soon after. You'll probably see something similar to that. Certainly there are drawbacks to having the Cotton Club close its doors. However, anytime Clear Channel cedes a portion of its control over the way music is disseminated, music, its fans, and its livelihood as an art form are the beneficiaries."