The Ritz Raleigh, Staple of Live Music
By: Kelly McNeil and Carter Allison
It was any given Tuesday night in October, but not at The Ritz. It was the night of the Glass Animals concert, and the air was electric in anticipation. This venue holds about 2,000 people and was completely sold out for the show. The crowd was starting to fill in pretty heavily around the time the opener, Charly Bliss, played through the final song of its set. The past year, it seems as though The Ritz has been doing everything right. This venue went from being virtually nonexistent to the best indoor concert host in the Triangle. In the following months, they’ll be hosting concerts from the likes of Yellow Card, Chance The Rapper, Eli Young Band, and even NC State’s own homecoming concert, featuring Tori Kelly. The venue had not always been like that, so what exactly is The Ritz’s story? The Ritz has had an amazing history of hosting some incredible acts. Marilyn Manson, Modest Mouse and Muse have all played in the iconic venue. And the recent renovations have only made it better.
Late 2014, and announcement was made that The Ritz would be owned and operated by House of Blues, a division of Live Nation. Live Nation made the decision to renovate the property, which included replacing HVAC systems, remodeling backstage dressing rooms and bars and redecorating the interior. It was a $1 million renovation of the club that intended to create a bigger and better space for artists to rock the house in. However, the renovations ended up taking much longer than expected. The opening of The Ritz kept getting delayed month by month, and the venue ended up not reopening until Valentine’s weekend 2015.
Because of the delays of the opening, the shows that were booked at The Ritz were either canceled or moved to a different venue. Live Nation moved most of the shows to Memorial Auditorium and Meymandi Concert Hall in the downtown performing arts center. The shows at these two venues went well, and Jim Lavery, the general manager of those spaces, said he hopes Live Nation saw how successful the shows were and puts more acts who won’t fit in The Ritz in their spaces.
The new Ritz is equipped with a patio area for smokers. The idea of the renovations was to bring a number of different acts to Raleigh that have previously not put the city on their list of tour cities because the venues were either too big or too small. According to an article in Indy Week, the new-and-improved venue is more like a “bona fide rock club” and has speakers hanging above and behind the stage, along with an impressive light design and upstairs balcony. The bars at the club were also updated from the cash-only cheap bars of the previous Ritz. Now, there are sleek, black bars, three of them upstairs and five more downstairs, one of them stretching the width of the club. There were only a few complaints; one of which was the increased prices of the alcohol.
Another complaint concerned parking. They introduced a new a “First In, First Out” parking policy, which is $10 at the venue. It includes a door-side valet service. A parking spot on the side of the venue now costs $5. Before the renovations, parking did not cost any money. These were really the only two complaints the new venue received regularly. However, the pocket money for parking and the expensive drinks don’t stop attendees of events at The Ritz from having a good time. A reviewer on Yelp said, “I’m glad Raleigh finally has a pretty high capacity venue with some buying power to get some bands into town that typically would have only happened in Charlotte or [Washington] DC. Sure, the drinks are pretty spendy, but whatever, easy fix: pre-game. Paying to park? Because that’s a thing we should never expect going to a special event.”
The Ritz receives mostly positive reviews; one person from Chapel Hill, North Carolina said. “I really liked the venue itself. The dance floor was huge, the stage was nice and the bar was on point … I really liked the setup of the bar. The cash registers are on the bar, so people literally line up in front of the registers instead of playing the endless game of trying to flag down a bartender. It’s small for a concert hall, but I really liked how intimate it made the whole experience.”
I was there the night of the highly anticipated Glass Animals concert, an indie rock sensation with hip hop influence from the United Kingdom. The building itself resides on the quiet road known as Industrial Drive, just north of downtown Raleigh. It’s a rather unassuming building with a long walk way in the front. Once inside, there is a small area leading directly into the main stage area. The actual stage was put together in a way to resemble a jungle setting of some sort. As the crowd waited in anticipation, I couldn’t help but notice the variety of people attending the event. This particular event drew in a crowd with quite a bit of diversity, ranging from young college students to older music lovers of the area. The band certainly milked the crowd a bit longer than they should have prior to starting their set. As a ritual, Glass Animals sets out their iconic pineapple in the center of the stage, indicating that the band was ready to come on. The lights on stage began to change as exotic animal sounds came from the speakers, then the crowd erupted in applause as the bands lead singer, Dave Bayley, came out and started to sing “Walla Walla,” one of the songs off their studio album ZABA.
The album was released in 2014 and the band’s popularity took off rather quickly. Social media had a generous impact on their popularity, as many ‘discovered’ the band from an ad on Spotify that would play semi-frequently. As the concert proceeded, the dominant sounds were hip-hop influenced beats with an indie rock melody playing — the band’s unique sound. The crowd was rather active considering how mellow some of ZABA’s songs can be. We endured a solid hour of these beats and sounds, dancing as we watched their front man dance in a slightly awkward fashion next to Edmund Irwin-Singer, the drummer. Jake Nelson, a Glass Animals fan who attended the concert, said “I had already seen them in Richmond, but it was definitely worth it to come out and see them again!” The crowd certainly enjoyed what they paid for that night. Manasvi Khullar, a UNC-Chapel Hill student attending the concert, said “Tonight I learned that heaven is a Glass Animals concert.”
Upon leaving the concert, I was impressed with The Ritz as a whole. I plan to attend the Ritz for two more concerts just this year, plus hopefully any show that I want to attend in the Raleigh area in the foreseeable future. The newly renovated Ritz in Raleigh has shown incredible success and still upholds its reputation of being a staple of live music in Raleigh for years.