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The downtown bar and grill, which opened in 2005, will host its 2,000th live show that night.
STEPHANIE KLEIN-DAVIS | The Roanoke Times
Jason Martin, 37, is the owner of Martin's Downtown Bar & Grill, which celebrates its 2000th band since opening in 2005.
Courtesy Ben Trout
Ben Trout is scheduled to perform Tuesday at Martin's.
Courtesy Charlie Hamill
Charlie Hamill is scheduled to perform at Martin's Downtown Bar & Grill's 2,000th show.
Thursday, May 9, 2013
When restaurateur Jason Martin opened Martin’s Downtown Bar & Grill in December 2005, music was not the first thing on his mind.
Martin was a music fan, and he had booked acts into rooms including the old 309 Market Street Grill and Awful Arthur’s in downtown Roanoke. And he aimed to have music on Fridays at his own business.
“We knew that we needed to be a restaurant first, to make money and survive,” Martin said this week. “I had booked music at other places before — not quite on this scale, but I was a big fan of music, so I definitely wanted to incorporate it.”
Soon, his music offerings expanded from Fridays only to Fridays and Saturdays. Then he added Thursdays. Then Roanoke-based Southern rockers Crobar Cane approached him about being the house band on Tuesdays. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and the occasional Sunday and Monday gig followed.
“It adds up pretty quick when you do five shows a week,” he said.
On Tuesday, Martin’s Downtown will host its 2,000th live music show. Crobar Cane will reunite to headline it. Also on the bill : Ben Trout, whose trio is Martin’s house band these days, and Charlie Hamill , an old friend of Martin’s who has played both 309 Market and Martin’s Downtown.
“I think this is what really built it all: Jason and his staff have always been great to work with from the musician’s point of view,” Hamill wrote in an e mail this week. “They are truly big fans of great music there, and it shows.”
For much of its early history, Martin’s didn’t charge a cover for its shows. And a music lover can still walk in many nights and hear a great band for free. Jonathan Scales Fourchestra , a jazz-funk outfit led by an Asheville, N.C.-based steel drummer, will be the 2,001st show, and it will be cover-free. Most of the shows with admission fees are between $5 and $10.
“We love doing free shows, and for a while I prided myself on only free shows,” Martin said. “That was kind of our schtick, our thing.”
But he found that in order to bring in bands that were using the natural routing of I-81 to hit Roanoke, he would have to charge for some of his shows. Cover charges lured bands that didn’t expect too much from a Wednesday or Thursday gig but needed to make something more than a relatively small guarantee.
“But we try to keep it to a minimum, because I realize, this is a club room,” Martin said. “It’s not a listening room. It’s not a theater. It’s not a performance hall. So, you’ve got some sightline issues. You’ve got people drinking and making lots of noise and chattering.
“I personally feel like you can only charge a certain amount for how we’re presenting the product. I think it’s generally worth it. When we charge a cover, I hope people realize that, hey, Martin’s doesn’t always charge a cover, but when they do … .”
The next 2,000
The formula is working so far, and Martin has no plans to change what he has been doing. But fans of the venue can expect more outdoor shows, like its St. Pat’s Block Party on March 16.
The city allows four per year, with Martin’s blocking part of Luck Avenue and bringing a bar and grill onto the sidewalk. The bands play on a stage built right next to the restaurant. A June outdoor party is in the works, and Martin has plans for fall.
“There’s always a new band coming down the pipeline,” he said. “I’ll try to stay on top and try to bring in the best artists I can, at the best price.”
But for now, Martin is looking forward to Tuesday.
“I think we should have the best party in town that night.”
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