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The art of sitting and listening

In a seismic move that will further propel the Asheville and greater Western North Carolina music scene into the national spotlight, Citizen Vinyl will officially open its doors to the public on Oct. 8. 

Situated in the historic Asheville Citizen-Times building on O. Henry Avenue in downtown, the property will become the new home for an extensive artistic collaboration. At the helm will be Citizen Vinyl, a record manufacturing facility (the first ever based in the state) at the heart of this musical project.

The collaboration will also include Session (Citizen Vinyl’s adjacent bar/cafe), Coda: Analog Art & Sound (an immersive art gallery and retail space) and Citizen Studios (WWNC’s former broadcast station, and now an in-house recording and mastering facility).

At the core of this melodic beehive is Gar Ragland of Citizen Studios. A longtime professional musician, record producer and label head, Ragland will bring WWNC’s legendary Studio A back to life — a piece of American musical history now entering its next bountiful phase.

Smoky Mountain News: With the opening of Citizen Vinyl next week, what’s the vibe going through the building right now?

Gar Ragland: We’re super excited. That’s where the real fun and magic is in this project, [which] is having the opportunity to build — and help build — a project where I find myself surrounded by people who really inspire me, who are so good at what they do. 

And we all share this sort of youthful enthusiasm that what we’re doing as a team, as a sort of collective, is something far more special, impactful and enduring for Asheville than any of us would be able to do on our own sort of respective silos.

SMN: That also plays into one of the things I love not only about Asheville, but Western North Carolina, which is the idea of collaboration. 

GR: Exactly. [And] I think that this project is a great case study for that. We feel like it’s a tremendous privilege and responsibility to be doing what we’re doing in that building. Our whole team has so much reverence for it and the architecture. 

Our whole approach with this project has been to be as minimally invasive to the building, to our design and our concept, as we possibly can be. And frankly, it’s to our advantage because [the building] has so much to offer. Why would we mess this up and try to reconfigure it into something that it’s not? This [building] is beautiful art. 

Obviously, our number one goal is to be a successful business. And we want to earn the reputation nationally for being the go-to for quality record manufacturing. But, as a collective under this building, we want to symbolize — and remind people of — the deep, historic and artistic history of Asheville. 

SMN: Of course. I mean, two of the pillars of American music, Jimmie Rodgers and Bill Monroe, got their start in WWNC’s Studio A.

GR: Yeah, exactly. And so, we have recently done a beautiful restoration of the studio. As of about three months ago, I moved my studio equipment from Echo Mountain Recording, just a few blocks away, to Studio A. 

[Studio A] is where Bill Monroe & His Bluegrass Boys played live on the “Mountain Music Hour.” So, that for me is a total added bonus. It was always my dream that, with a project like this, I would have an onsite room where I could continue to do the work that I love — as a producer, a mixer and a record label guy. 

Also, we ended up with a building that had a history of manufacturing. The [Asheville Citizen-Times] printed the newspaper in the building. So, we’re honored to be able to bring modern-day manufacturing back to this amazing building. 

And not only that, but we now have a first-class state of the art analog recording studio upstairs where we’re celebrating the history of that radio station. 

SMN: It’s been a very long road to this launch — a lot of logistics involved and probably a million obstacles. What’s going to be running through your head when the doors finally open?

GR: The first thought that’s going to come to my mind is — are they as inspired by this place as our team has been? Are they going to embrace the passion, the love we have for this concept? How effective is this going to be to draw and inspire people, in a way that they can come and feel like they’ve gained something from the experience of spending time in this beautiful building? 

It’s a very intentional experience. We want people to come in and feel as included, invited, welcomed and inspired by good sound and food. It’s a multisensory celebration of life. We hope that we can be the community resource that we have built this to be. 

SMN: In a very endearing way, it feels like a love letter to Asheville. 

GR: Yeah. I mean, Asheville has been really good to all of us. This is a way of celebrating and honoring. I think all great art is created in part by a sense of gratitude and grace. And if this is it, this is the way that we are manifesting that, then that’s a wonderful thing. 

If we can use this project as a way to really reaffirm our [artistic] identity [as creative forces in Asheville], and to help [those] new audiences that Asheville continues to attract [learn] about our rich cultural history and manufacturing — if we can serve that role as kind of an inspiration to the creative community, kind of a landmark in that way — then we would love that to happen to the benefit of Asheville. 


Want to go?

The grand opening of Citizen Vinyl will be from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 8, at the historic Asheville Citizen-Times Building. The business will hold those same hours Wednesday through Sunday. 

Masks will be required inside when not seated. Social distancing guidelines will also be in place.

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