By Callie Hietala
Rives on the Road is hosting its season kickoff party at New College Institute (NCI) on Saturday, March 19. The event marks the first time the Rives group has hosted an indoor concert since the onset of the pandemic.
“This is now the opening party for the 2022 Rives on the Road Season,” Johnny Buck, executive director of Rooster Walk, Inc. (which absorbed the Rives organization), said.
The kickoff includes dinner, an open bar, and music from the Eric Gales Band with the TC Carter Band opening. Buck said Gales, an internationally-touring blues guitarist, has never been booked at the Rives or Rooster Walk before, but has been on organizers’ lists for several years.
The TC Carter Band is local to Martinsville and Henry County and, though the members are young, they are also making a name for themselves, particularly in the blues scene, Buck said, and recalled the first shows organized at the historic Rives Theatre, back when the theatre was being leased to the nonprofit MURA (Martinsville Uptown Revitalization Association).
Buck and his cohorts were allowed to put on a few shows in the venue, using the small existing stage that was built for monthly bluegrass shows hosted by the Lions Club, and for the last decade of its life, that venue was home to between 10 and 30 live music shows each year, all organized by Friends of the Rives (now Arts at the Rives).
“We did surprisingly well financially,” Buck recalled, and the family-owned company that owned the Rives was willing to let the group lease the space “at an extremely generous rate” beginning in 2009 to continue hosting concerts.
Soon after the Rives Theatre was destroyed, he said two or three pop up shows were organized that same winter and all were well received.
After the 2019 fire, ‘Rives on the Road’ became the group’s solution to continue to offer indoor concerts in Martinsville and Henry County, Buck said of pop-up concerts that could be held in any venue with enough capacity for an audience of hundreds.
In January 2020, a Rives on the Road season opening party was held at Forest Park Country Club with the group Yarn.
But then COVID hit.
The 2020 show was the group’s last indoor concert for more than a year. Saturday’s event at NCI will be the next.
“We’ve been planning all along to get Rives on the Road going again for this year,” Buck said. Three shows were hosted outside at Pop’s Farm, the home of Rooster Walk, during the height of the pandemic to allow for social distancing. An indoor show was initially schedule for January, but was cancelled due to the onset of the omicron variant.
Only one other show has been announced thus far—the Lonesome River Band, a bluegrass group which will perform at NCI on April 1.
Dates/announcements of future acts this season have not been set yet – partly because most haven’t been booked yet, though season passholders are guaranteed free admission to five other shows this calendar year in addition to Saturday’s event.
Traditionally, going back to the early days of Rives shows, “a lot of what we’ve done intentionally over the years is wait to book bands once they have begun to put their tour together” to find groups that are already going to be nearby or passing through the area, allowing them to be booked at a more economical rate, Buck said.
As for the future of the Rives Theatre, Buck said his organization does not have the means to rebuild it, nor is he aware of any plans to do so.
Meanwhile, the administration at NCI agreed to partner with the group, Buck said. However, the group is open to exploring the idea of a permanent indoor home. It is not, he said, in a financial position to build or renovate a space itself. That, he said, likely would have to happen through a partnership with another business that sees value in hosting the group’s concerts.
However, Buck said, hosting shows in uptown is important. In addition to the many businesses and residents who call uptown home, many of the Rives’ most loyal supporters over the years live close to the area and have become accustomed for more than a decade to driving into uptown Martinsville for a music experience.
“But one of the neat things about Rives on the Road is it gives us a chance to spread our wings a little bit” to showcase other facilities, he said, and added that organizers always want the venues to be in Martinsville and Henry County.
Regardless, Buck believes continuing the Rives’ musical legacy—whether in one place or on the road—is important.
Not only are the shows a tourism driver—Buck said tickets to Rives shows have been bought by people living several hours away—but they add to the cultural fabric of the area.
“I think the arts in general and specifically live music is a really important part of the quality of life for folks living in and around Martinsville and Henry County,” he said.
Tickets for the season kickoff at NCI are $50.
Rives on the Road season passes, which include the kickoff and admission to five additional shows this year, are $125. Tickets can be purchased online at Eventbrite. More information and links to ticket sales can be found on the Rives Theatre Facebook page.
Buck said tickets for the kickoff event can be purchased at the door, but dinner cannot be guaranteed since it is a catered event.