Even through their masks, you could sense the smiles across the faces of John and Judy Nelson, of Asheville, as they waited to get into Friday night’s concert at Isis Music Hall.
“I am ready to sit back, have some good food and listen to some good music,” John Nelson said. “It’s gonna be a great night.”
And it’s the kind of night few in this region have been able to experience over the past 13 months—live music inside a club. But as North Carolina has relaxed some conditions for indoor gatherings, local venues have started booking indoor shows—with capacity restrictions and masking protocols in place.
The opportunity to reopen couldn’t come too soon for North Carolina’s live music venues. Last Thursday, club owners were ready to race their applications into the Small Business Administration’s Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program. Technical issues hours before the launch forced the SBA to shut down the application process before it started, without estimating a restart date.
Because it also houses a restaurant, Isis Music Hall, in West Asheville, has held some indoor shows since last June. But at the edge of the River Arts District, the Grey Eagle had an indoor show on its calendar Friday for the first time since the shutdown. Live comedy crept back indoors Friday with a show at Fleetwood’s. Most Asheville venues are either planning indoor shows further ahead on the calendar or waiting for improved conditions around Covid.
Sisters Audrey and Meagan Bolick drove from Columbia, S.C., Friday to see the quirky country artist Nick Shoulders at the Grey Eagle. They said it was their first indoor show since November 2019.
“Cuz I love him,” Audrey Bolick said of her reason for the road trip.
“Also, really, just missing live music,” added Meagan Bolick. “I love live music. I love being with other people and connecting with music, so it’s way more fun to do that in person than over Zoom or a livestream or something like that.”
At Isis and the Eagle Friday, audiences were seated at distanced cocktail tables and told to have masks on if they weren’t eating or drinking. Still, the Nelsons and the Bolicks each said they likely wouldn’t have come out if not for being fully vaccinated.
Jonathan Lloyd and Jesse Barry, who came to Friday’s show at Isis, said they’ve both suffered recent bouts with Covid. Lloyd and Barry are professional musicians who’ve largely been out of work since the pandemic, and they said they’re excited to return to indoor shows, both as musicians and as fans.
“I think we’re definitely making changes that are gonna feel a little more normal, but I don’t think we’re gonna get back to normal anytime soon,” Barry said.
“I don’t think there’s going to be normal anymore,” Lloyd said. “There’s going to be a new normal.”