By Kim Barto Meeks

The organizers of live music at the Rives Theatre are still searching for a temporary home after a fire on Sept. 8 rendered the historic building a total loss. 

Investigators have ruled the blaze accidental. According to a statement from Martinsville Fire Chief/Fire Marshal Ted Anderson, “the origin is believed to be in an upstairs room in the left front corner, in the vicinity of a surge protector that the two refrigerators were plugged into.”

Rooster Walk, Inc., the nonprofit organization that rented and managed the Rives Theatre for concerts and other events, had to relocate a show planned for the night of Friday, Sept. 13 to the Black Box Theatre on Franklin Street in uptown Martinsville. However, the space is not big enough to house future shows, according to Rooster Walk Executive Director Johnny Buck.

“First off, we’d like to thank Black Box for stepping up and offering use of their venue on such short notice for the Forever Doo Wop show on Friday, which was sponsored by King’s Grant. It was a sellout and a really great event,” Buck said.

“The only snag with Black Box, for us, is that their 118-person capacity isn’t big enough for some of our shows, so we’re still looking for a venue in Martinsville-Henry County that can hold around 250 to 350 concert goers,” he added.

The first venue Rooster Walk reached out to was the New College Institute, due to its size and nearby location. Rentals of the lecture halls and banquet spaces are managed by the New College Foundation, which is a separate entity from the college itself. However, the foundation’s board of directors turned down the request on Monday for reasons that are not clear to Rooster Walk organizers.

“The lecture hall at New College Institute was our top choice, but unfortunately we just learned that space isn’t available to us,” even on dates where the space has not been reserved, Buck said. “It was very disappointing to us because it would’ve kept the shows in uptown Martinsville, which was the ideal situation.”

The next major event is a concert by bluegrass band Town Mountain and the instrumental, genre-defying Jon Stickley Trio planned for Saturday, Nov. 2.

“There were some shows in the works that we had hoped to get scheduled before Nov. 2, but when the fire happened, we hit the pause button,” Buck said. While they are still searching for a suitable location, he added, “We feel confident that we will hold that show.”

Organizers have been “actively looking” and have a “short list” of potential venues in mind, Buck said, but they encourage community members to reach out with ideas at roosterwalk@gmail.com.

“We’re still confident that, when it’s all said and done, we will be able to find a home in Henry County for our music. It could be a situation where our shows in the coming months are all held in different places,” he said.

Hundreds of community members have reached out directly or on social media to express support for the Rives Theatre. Some have called for the building to be rebuilt or have asked how they can help.

The Rives was owned by the Brown/Coleman family and rented by Rooster Walk, so it is beyond Rooster Walk’s control whether or not the building itself is rebuilt on the exact spot, Buck said. The organization is “not ruling out that we could one day decide to make an effort to renovate an existing building or build a new venue from scratch,” he said. At this point, it is too early to tell.

However, for those wanting to help the cause of live music in Martinsville-Henry County, he said, “We absolutely anticipate added costs during this transition over the next year or two while we hold concerts in various new spaces. Donations made now would be used for that purpose – to cover any extra costs incurred by not holding concerts not at the Rives.”

For more information on live music and other events planned by Rooster Walk, Inc., visit www.roosterwalk.com or the Rives Theatre page on Facebook.