At the corner of Pecan and Central Avenues, a crane hovers several stories above the parking lot where Plaza Midwood landmarks such as Sammy’s Deli, Elizabeth Billiards, Yoga One and Family Dollar once stood. CVS still clings to corner terrain, but many of the old stops are gone.
Yet across from CVS, an unassuming brown building with faded picnic tables out front flaunts its pirate flag.
This week, this neighborhood bar/live music venue – Snug Harbor – celebrates its 15th anniversary with back-to-back nights of special live shows.
Thursday marks the return of Shiprocked!, the dance party that started it all. Friday welcomes New York-based Afrobeat guitarist (and former Fela Kuti sideman) Kaleta and the Super Yamba Band. On Saturday, Charlotte’s Yardwork (once one of the hottest bands in town) reunites for a special anniversary show with Boone’s Naked Gods.
The lineup is indicative of Snug talent booker Zach Reader’s go-anywhere style when it comes to constructing the schedule.
Throughout its history, Snug Harbor has hosted country Tuesdays, the Shiprocked!, rap and breakdancing battles during the Knocturnal run, weird theatres, rock operas, cookouts and swap meets – in addition of his standard indie rock, punk and local rock.
“Diversity has always been there,” says general manager Chris Burns.
“And we’re trying to match that with the booking,” adds McCannell.
“It’s hard to book a room that size,” says Taylor Knox of Yardwork, whose duties at Tremont Music Hall included lining up bands. “I don’t know how many times I’ve seen something on Snug’s calendar and thought, ‘How did they get that?'”
Much of the club’s success can be attributed to its ability to continue to attract a young clientele without losing the older generation.
“They don’t live in the past,” Knox says. “They follow what (younger crowds) want to see.”
“I knew it would work”
McCannell was 14 when he started attending shows at the Milestone.
While still in high school, he began booking local bands to play fundraisers for The Relatives’ youth outreach program, where he served on the youth advisory board. He worked in Fat City and NoDa’s Steeplechase (where Peculiar Rabbit is now) and ran short-lived shows at nearby Dish. He also booked occasional shows at The Room/Mojo’s and Tremont Music Hall.
He says he learned a lot from the original owner of Tremont and Dish, Penny Craver. “She said, ‘There’s no money in it,’ but I knew it would work,” he says.
He and a former partner teamed up with the late Kelly Call, opening up Snug Harbor in the space vacated by Fire & Ice. “The most important thing is that the place is run by musicians,” says McCannell. As a sound engineer, he likes to surprise touring bands with the quality of the sound and its general behavior.
“We conquered them,” he says.
Over the years it has been home to music legends Slick Rick, the Pharcyde, Andre Williams and Mike Watt.
Burns, who had worked nearby at Thomas Street Tavern and the Diamond, was eager to join the team and started holding the door during Shiprocked!
“They take care of the staff and it shows,” Burns says.
“The location is cool. They get good shows,” adds Knox, “but the staff make this place.
During the pandemic, which shuttered Snug for 15 months, staff members — most of whom had been there for more than a decade — were able to get unemployment. On top of that, landlords (including Brooklyn-based Derrick Ghent) have teamed up with other sites to lobby for help and rent relief, while Dilworth’s Just Fresh actually delivered boxes fresh vegetables to employees every week during the shutdown.
When Snug Harbor reopened, most employees returned.
Since then, the club has launched quarterly charity concerts with proceeds going to benefit a local non-profit. its premiere benefited the Mutual Aid Free Store, which provides goods to the homeless in Charlotte.
And his owners hope Snug can keep doing what he does for as long as possible.
“It’s scary to watch it all,” says co-owner Scott McCannell, who recalls similar gentrification on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill and South Street in Philly, places where artsy neighborhoods gave way to chains like Gap, Starbucks and Ben & Jerry’s.
Stores like CLTCH have helped Gordon Street retain its funky vibe, but quirky thrift stores like Century Vintage, Stash Pad and Buffalo Exchange – and hip spots like Reggae Central and Nova’s Bakery – have moved or closed.
“It’s crazy to think that we’re one of the oldest businesses along with Common Market, House of Africa and Mama’s Caribbean Grill,” McCannell says. “It was interesting to see the neighborhood evolve. There are always new faces.
Snug Harbor 15th Anniversary Celebration
When: 9 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
Or: Snug Harbour, 1215 Gordon Street
Tickets: $10 Thursday; $15 Friday and Saturday.
This story was originally published May 5, 2022 1:21 p.m.