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Altamont Closing at Year's End; Owners 'Surprised and Devastated'


The AltamontTheatre is one of Asheville’s most celebrated music venues, and the people who own it say they’re being forced to close at the end of this year.

The original owners of the Altamont, husband-and-wife Brian and Tiffany Lee, still own the brick building housing the theater on Church Street. That building also features two floors of condos above the theater.

The theater’s current owners, Sam Katz and Richard Barrett, say the Lees want to add more condos there. That means the theater has to go.

Katz and Barrett apparently learned of the Altamont’s fate some time ago, as they revealed in a note sent early Thursday morning to the Altamont’s email subscribers. In the unsigned note, they wrote: “This is not what we want, and we were very surprised and devastated to receive this news.” The note added: “There is nothing we can do to save the place. To say that we are incredibly bummed out would be an understatement.”

None of the principals involved responded Thursday to calls and emails requesting details.

The Altamont only came into existence seven years ago, but its impact on local music is profound. This is because the Altamont isn’t a typical bar or club, but what musicians here call a “listening room.” That means people who go to shows there aren’t chatting with friends or looking at their phones. They’re paying attention to the music.

Asheville’s other noted listening rooms are the Isis Music Hall and Grey Eagle. People who appreciate local music voted the Altamont “best listening room” in Western North Carolina six of the past seven years.

Ashley Heath is an Americana artist and longtime Asheville musician who has performed about a half-dozen shows at the Altamont, including her gig as the opening act Sept. 21 for Sean McConnell.

“What a bummer, dude,” she said in response to news of the pending end of the Altamont.

The Altamont’s intimacy stands apart, Heath said.

“The people are literally sitting right in front of you. It’s very personal and close,” she said. “The uniqueness of being in that room is connecting with someone on a real level because, ultimately, that’s what we’re trying to do, right? And now there’s more competition to get into the other (listening rooms).”

For now, it appears the Altamont’s current mix of folk, blues, roots rock, tribute shows and even what is billed this Sunday as a “family circus experience” will continue unabated, at least through 2017.

Matt Peiken, BPR’s first full-time arts journalist, has spent his entire career covering arts and culture.
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