Old grist mill in Bethania is area’s latest music venue

Winston-Salem Journal’s Relish
Eddie Huffman/Special correspondent

Bill Heath walked onto the stage at the new Muddy Creek Music Hall, past a vintage garage door that screened off the backstage area.

“This room, the acoustics, they’re just amazing,” he said.

The view from the 6-inch-high stage encompassed hardwood floors below and exposed beams above, dining room-style chairs lined up in front of an old millstone. A room that once housed a 19th century Bethania grist mill has become Winston-Salem’s latest music venue and the new home for Fiddle & Bow Society concerts.

 

“I want it be a pristine listening room,” Heath said.

Fiddle & Bow hosted its first music act here, Red Tail Ring, on May 1, with Harpeth Rising to follow this Friday night. Live music will take place most nights at the new venue, along with weekend shows at the sister venue that spawned it, Muddy Creek Cafe.

“We joked that we would open the balcony seating when we put chairs in the parking lot — that’s as fancy as we got,” said owner Shana Whitehead, who opened the cafe four years ago. “So this will be a big step forward.”

Dell Guthrie, a veteran Winston-Salem musician, was the first artist to perform at Muddy Creek Cafe.

“It got to be one of my favorite places to play,” he said. “It’s just room full of love, is what it is.”

Heath, 46, is Whitehead’s significant other. He wears many hats at Muddy Creek: booking agent, sound engineer, performer and all-around idea man. He has helped the venue grow beyond the early days of having a singer-songwriter set up in a corner to sing for tips from dinner patrons.

“I said, ‘Give me the green light and I’ll get you more music,’” Heath said.

Now the cafe regularly packs the house for shows by everyone from Winston-Salem singer-songwriter Khiana Meyer to one of Heath’s own bands, Billsfault. Muddy Creek hosted more than 200 shows in 2014, and Heath anticipates staging well over 300 this year with the addition of the music hall. Patrons can order food at the cafe and have it delivered to their seats in the hall.

Weekend shows on the cafe porch take place from 7 to 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 1 to 3 p.m. Sundays. Indoor shows in the music hall take place from 9 to 11 p.m. weekend nights and many other nights, as well.

“I want to do regional and national touring acts,” Heath said.

Muddy Creek Music Hall has already begun to feature local talent, as well. Regular shows include Authentic Jazz Open Mic Night with Jason McKinney, Bluegrass Showcase with Jody King and songwriter open mic nights with Country Dan Collins. The Muddy Creek Players, another of Heath’s bands, will perform regularly and back guest artists.

“A scene is starting to develop, and I feel like we’re helping,” Heath said.

The music hall’s summer schedule features Dell Guthrie, Tyler Nail, Dale & Dale and the Jon Shain Trio. Coming Fiddle & Bow concerts include Mean Mary, a Nashville singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, and Joe Crookston, an acclaimed folksinger-songwriter from upstate New York.

The Fiddle & Bow Society had to find a new home for its shows after the Community Arts Cafe downtown went out of business.

“We were hoping to find something similar to Community Arts Cafe,” said Sonny Thomas, the society’s co-founder and de facto president. “We knew it would be hard — there are not that many places out there.”

Fiddle & Bow plans to continue staging two shows a month at the music hall, as it did at its old location.

“Really our only concern right now is what will we do if we do draw a crowd,” Thomas said. “We don’t do advance ticket sales usually, but we may have to go to that just so we don’t get overwhelmed.”

Muddy Creek Music Hall occupies a room in Bethania Mill and Village Shoppes that most recently housed a retail store. It will comfortably seat about 125 people, Heath said, and he hopes to expand soon into an adjacent room to increase its capacity.

“We moved in and we already realized we could use more room,” he said.

It will take more work to expand, but Heath said the positive feedback he and Whitehead have received from musicians and fans makes it all worthwhile. Turnout for the first Fiddle & Bow show was smaller than organizers had hoped, Thomas said, but the venue was a hit.

“Everybody liked the room,” he said. “It’s got a lot of character.”

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