How Do We Keep Venues? A Lesson From The Masquerade

Photo courtesy of The Masq's Facebook page.

Four years of my life were spent in Atlanta. Some wonderful (and not so wonderful) things happened to me there, but the shining gem is the Masquerade. It is absolutely the best venue in Atlanta. With three rooms inside – Heaven, Hell and Purgatory – and an outdoor music park, it is a haven and mecca for music lovers. Situated on North Avenue, the all black building stands on the corner with loud, rhythmic thumps, crashes and muffled vocals leaking out into Atlanta’s night air. 

Now a Nashvillian by way of San Francisco, I recently revisited the Masq for the first time in about three years. I’d heard about all of Atlanta’s changes, saw a few of them, but I didn’t realize what was going down on North Ave.

We pulled up and parallel parked next to a park directly across the street from the side of the Masquerade. I paused before getting out of the car. I considered the nights I had illegally parked at the Murder Kroger for a show and walked down North Ave. Usually at night, I could have sworn the things surrounding the Masquerade were empty lots, alleyways, a slight thrill and silent hope of Maybe I won’t get mugged out here

“Has this park always been here?” I asked my boyfriend, and he confirmed that this was all new.

On the drive approaching the Masquerade, I marveled at the Ponce City Market and the new apartments going up on the block. Atlanta was changing right before my eyes and it was beautiful, but then the panic set in. How long could the Masq survive these changes? Block by block, Atlanta was being “built up,” making the Masquerade look a bit old and tattered – perfect for the venue, detrimental to the new North Ave neighborhood vibe.

Crossing the threshold into the Masq was about as bittersweet as coating a lemon in sugar. The familiar walk up the wooden stairs into Heaven brought back memories of my college years, feverishly finishing homework and projects so I could spend a few hours at the Masq and leave any worries behind where they could greet me at the door once I returned from my musical escape. Going to see bands that I had been listening to since my emo teenage years (Turns out at 26 I’m still the same pop punk princess I’ve ever been.), the fear set in instantly. Is this my last night at the Masquerade? 

A question overheard in the bathroom, “Does anybody know when this place is closing?” wasn’t answered. There wasn’t an “I don’t know,” a specific date, or even a rebellious, “Never!” There was nothing – just the usual sounds of toilets flushing, house music playing before the next act and kick drum hits from the band on stage below us in Hell.

After living in San Francisco, you get used to the natives complaining of how everything’s changing. I wasn’t an Atlanta native, but it is crucial to my identity. I did a lot of growing up there; I feel bound to the city. My city. Atlanta feels like home in ways San Francisco really couldn’t and I’m in the process of finding out how Nashville will compare. I’m not ashamed to admit that I don’t want Atlanta to change. I want the Braves to stay at Turner Field. I want to take my kids (or little cousins since I’m not sold on the whole kids thing just yet) to their first shows at the Masquerade. I want Georgia State University to remain a city locked college, strewn about with various buildings downtown adding to Atlanta’s skyline. I don’t want to sound like the San Franciscans terrified of change, but I am scared. The Masquerade has publicly said that they aren’t going anywhere. So far, the Masq stands strong and is continuing to book shows into 2016. So, what do we do? 

We do what we’ve always done. We go to shows. We take the residents by the Ponce City Market to shows. We buy tickets, get drinks at the bar (tip your bartenders, ladies and gents), and we give them so much business that it would be a suicide mission for anyone to even consider telling the Masq to start packing. We won’t do a fundraiser to “save” the Masquerade; we’ll give them our continuous business so they won’t need saving.

The beauty of this plan is that it can be applied to just about anything. There are the “can’t afford the rent” stories (hello, SF), and tons of other factors, but what we can do is show our community what they’ll be missing if they let it slip away into oblivion. It is a top-notch venue with experts running sound, friendly but still can-and-will-kick-your-ass bartenders with good pouring hands and a fantastic security team to catch crowdsurfers. Above all of this, musicians love playing there.

This venue has lasted 25 years, and I don’t see a reason why it wouldn’t last another 25. They constantly book new and upcoming artists, scattered with the bigger names and return customers. People go to the Masq to hear new music and old favorites, and we always will. Let’s keep that purple neon sign burning.

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