Local Venture Gets You Up Close and Personal With Music Legends

Music With Friends
September 15, 2011

By Devin Grant

"Do you remember the 21st night of September? Love was changing the minds of pretenders while chasing the clouds away."Earth, Wind & Fire, "September"

It's one of Earth, Wind & Fire's best-known hits, and next week, on Sept. 21, a small group of hardcore music fans will get a chance to see that legendary R&B band at the historic Dock Street Theatre downtown.

Wednesday night's show is the latest performance made possible locally by Music with Friends, a club that brings well-known performers to town for intimate performances at a venue that holds about 450 people.

Music with Friends is the brainchild of Larry Farber, who for years has worked in the music business, first as a musician, and more recently as a senior partner with East Coast Entertainment.

Farber, the founder and CEO of the club, sat down to talk about the music club recently, joined by associate Becky Mitchener, as well as club members Cantey Hare and Chris Drummond.

Farber started Music with Friends in his hometown of Charlotte five years ago, believing that there was a segment of the music-loving population in Charlotte who would be willing to pay a bit more for the ability to see well-known artists in a small venue.

As it turned out, Farber was correct in his assumption. The inaugural season of the club in Charlotte featured acts that included Michael McDonald, Gladys Knight and Tony Bennett performing at the 700-seat McGlohon Theatre.

"It's like they're playing just for you," Dennis Purser said.

Response to the club was enthusiastic enough in Charlotte that Farber decided to expand to Charleston this year.

Motown Legend Diana Ross performed at Dock Street in May, and after Earth, Wind & Fire perform next week, members will be treated to what is sure to be a great performance by Bonnie Raitt on Nov. 3.

Membership in the club is open to anyone and works like this: A prospective member pays a one-time $500 initiation fee, which allows them to choose their seat at the Dock Street Theatre. Members then pay $1,500 each a year, which gives them access to not only three performances annually at the venue but also free parking, a pre-show party with free hors d'oeuvres and cocktails, and an after-show party at a local club or restaurant.

While some might look at the cost of membership and think it a lot to pay for three concerts a year, consider the fact that tours in recent years by Madonna, The Rolling Stones, and Paul McCartney all had seats near the stage that were selling for anywhere from $300 to $450.

The premium price for those shows puts you in a stadium or coliseum with tens of thousands of other people.

Throw in service charges, parking, and food and drinks at the show, and the difference in price isn't all that far off.

While there is nothing wrong in seeing a show at a larger venue, Farber believes that some music lovers are willing to pay a bit more for a different kind of music experience.

"I thought it would be cool to have a club that allowed its members to see world-renowned artists in an intimate venue," says Farber. "This is a club for music lovers, and it's really about the entire experience rather than just the artist that is playing."

Club members also get to have a hand in helping select the acts that play each year. Members vote on who they would like to see, and an attempt is made to book the most popular choices. Farber points out that the year Music with Friends launched in Charlotte, the club was able to book all three of the top choices voted on by its members.

Obviously, it depends on who is touring and whether they are interested in playing shows that are a bit out of the ordinary. But with the addition of Charleston, it is easier to book top-tier artists.

The club has no corporate underwriting, and despite the current difficult economic situation in the country, Farber says that membership actually grew during the recent downturn. Mitchener also points out that the club tries to schedule shows during the week so as not to be competing with larger venues, and avoids shows during the summer in recognition that many of its members plan vacations with their families then.