The good don’t always die young: The Blind Tiger turns 22 with an eye to the future

by Ryan Snyder

Jim Avett joins Amelia’s Mechanics at the Blind Tiger in 2009.

Everyone’s favorite band was born on a small stage somewhere. For bands like Holy Ghost Tent Revival, the Mantras and House of Fools, the Blind Tiger played an integral role in their development, prepping them with a built-in neighborhood audience and low logistical overhead. When the Blind Tiger hosts its 22nd birthday party this Sunday, fears that it could very well be is last still go unabated.

For the Mantra’s Keith Allen, the Blind Tiger more than just allowed him to cut his teeth on its stage. To him, it just feels like home. When news broke on June 1 that The Blind Tiger could be closing for good at the end of the month after co-founder and former co-owner Neil Reitzel purchased the building that houses the bar, the possibility that the longtime cultivator of many local music hopefuls might soon be no more was taken to heart.

“When I first found out, it was like a death in the family,” said the Mantras guitarist and vocalist, as he and fellow Mantras guitarist Marcus Horth were gearing up for their weekly Sunday night gig at Wahoo’s. Wahoo’s also shares a Walker Avenue address, though not the same booking philosophy.

This Sunday night acoustic gig is one of the regular shows that Allen and Horth have worked towards over the last six years thanks to the regional popularity garnered from six years of two-night Halloween and New Year’s Eve runs and regular Friday nights on the Blind Tiger’s stage. Allen can firmly attest that within the snug confines of the Blind Tiger’s smallish stage and its 175-head capacity, a band with the right mix of ability and fortitude can indeed go from jamming for fun and free beer to cultivating a faithful following.

The consequences of running a business without a lease aside, the Blind Tiger’s 22-year run could have hit a bump sooner rather than later if not for Reitzel extending the lease an additional two months, which gives co-owners Don “Doc” Beck and Danny Foreman until the end of August to find a new home. Where they will eventually land is still up in the air, though the current Suds N’ Duds location is under consideration for both its close proximity and custody of a liquor license. The former Caf’ Jam location on High Point Road was also considered until the space was recently purchased.

Despite stark differences in location, the common thread between to two potential venues is that of occupancy. Either one would allow the Blind Tiger to more than double its current head count, something Beck expressed as a priority in choosing a new venue. With that in mind, Allen also noted that the move of his band’s home venue wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.

“There’s a kind of ambiance you can really feel in there, but a larger venue means they can book a certain level of band,” said Allen. “And that can only help the bands that already play there.”

The general feeling is that Reitzel’s recently expressed sentiment that it’s time for a change in that space alludes to a perceived drop in bookings at the Blind Tiger among many in recent months. While they were booking more national touring acts and on a more consistent basis this time two years ago, the decrease in bookings represents something endemic to clubs all across the country — touring is down everywhere, not merely at the Blind Tiger. A quick look at the Friday nights in June on the Tiger’s calendar and you’ll see a few familiar names: Holy Ghost Tent Revival, House of Fools, Walrus and Electric Soul Pandemic, the latter two of which will join the Marcus and Keith duo as a part of the club’s birthday bill. Allen, however, dismisses the notion.

“People who don’t think it was doing anything for the music scene lately haven’t been going to the right shows,” he added. “I don’t think there’s any venue in town that brings the range of bands they do.”