This past Saturday on December 5th, Asheville cut the ribbon to its first public access music rehearsal studio in the historic Rabbit’s Motel in the southside of the city.
Leading the charge for this multi-use music and arts facility known as SoundSpace, is Asheville resident Claude Coleman Jr., widely known as the drummer for legendary New Hope, Pennsylvania, rock band Ween, along with fellow lifelong musician and arts proprietor Brett Spivey.
With three private studio rooms and a variety of backline and P.A. equipment, the facility will be available for rent on an hourly basis. Each studio will come complete with its own entrance, allowing for a “motel-style” load-in process ideal for social distancing. SoundSpace aims to be the city’s Johnny on the spot when it comes to both local and traveling artists alike needing a tried and true space to play, as opposed to renting out storage units or unheated warehouse spaces.
But that’s not all this establishment hopes to provide its community. Coleman Jr. says, “Our Phase II is to include a soul food kitchen, a dance and movement studio, and additional artist studio spaces. Our rehearsal space facility will also implement a robust schedule of workshops, clinics, and programs as part of its operations to support and foster music in the community. We’ll also be running a livestream performance series, SoundSpace@Rabbit’s Live, that will feature the kaleidoscope of talent funneling through Asheville, with an Afrocentric focus.”
And when asked why Rabbit’s Motel was the ideal location for SoundSpace, Coleman Jr. said, “Its downtown proximity to all the tourist-driven event spaces, restaurants and bars, and to the over 15 music venues such as The Orange Peel and major highways. It’s also less than two miles from River Arts District music venues such as The Grey Eagle, popular riverfront restaurant and 2500-capacity venue space Salvage Station, and only six minutes from the music venues of West Asheville, including Isis Music Hall. There were other locations under consideration, however the property owners repeatedly passed us over for more tourist-centric businesses such as breweries and spas.”
Rabbit’s Motel was known for providing lodging and dining for Black visitors in the segregation-era south, including Chitlin’ Circuit band musicians, entertainers, and athletes, and ran strong until the turn of the 21st century. Established in 1948 by Fred “Rabbit” Simpson, Rabbit’s Motel served as a treasured cross-section of Asheville’s communities, and remains a significant cultural landmark and figure of Black entrepreneurism in the south. Carrying on this legacy, SoundSpace will breathe new life into the historic construction by providing functional practice quarters and an accessible gathering place for artists of all mediums.
With community and inclusion being the nucleus of SoundSpace’s philosophy, it’s most fitting for a city like Asheville. We asked Coleman Jr. what makes Asheville such a unique music hub and ideal location for his endeavor: “Asheville, as it’s been for over a hundred years, has attracted tourists and vacationers to its mild summer climate and scenic topography, but music has been deeply steeped into all of its traditions and heritage for over a hundred years. It was directly tied to the Chitlin’ Circuit as well, having so many prosperous African-American neighborhood communities and business districts, and one of the largest Black-owned business districts in the South. This created a uniquely special connection for an abundance of music being created in Asheville for its history, as well as touring music coming through the area. It’s the biggest music city not many people associate as such, like a Nashville or New Orleans, however it has had a similar robust scene and industry. There are over 4,000 music-related jobs in Asheville; music is 40% of the city product output and tourist-related dollars being generated.”
And when it comes to what will soon be home to modern-day Asheville’s first soul food eatery, which was inspired by historic culinary figure Lou Ella Byrd’s famous kitchen within Rabbit’s Motel, Coleman Jr. finished with this: “The tentative date for the kitchen is November, 2021. Folks are more excited about this aspect of the project than anything else, and for good reason: chef Clarence Robinson’s food is extraordinary.”
There’s lots to be excited about with SoundSpace @ Rabbit’s Motel, and no doubt it’ll be a much welcomed and appreciated establishment to the Asheville arts community.