A full circle revival is underway for Asheville, NC’s Citizen-Times building. Once home to the daily paper’s printing facility and offices, the historic site will soon be unveiled with a new identity as a boutique vinyl pressing plant, record store and bar/cafe (and a new name): Citizen Vinyl. Founded by veteran music producer Gar Ragland and supported by a dream team of industry professionals and craftsmen, Citizen Vinyl is slated to become North Carolina’s first on site pressing plant, though its mission goes beyond just manufacturing great quality records.
With a craft-first approach that prioritizes quality and superior customer service, Citizen Vinyl hopes to make record production more manageable and accessible for both first-time vinyl clients and major label customers alike. With all shipping and manufacturing kept in-house, Citizen Vinyl will be able to fulfill low-volume orders at a budget friendly price and still maintain the bandwidth to execute large scale label projects.
Citizen Vinyl’s vision extends past vinyl manufacturing to embrace a role as a community hub and center for creative collaboration. Sharing the ground floor with the presses will be a fully-stocked record store, an intimate performance and lounge space and Session, a bar/cafe co-created by local culinary mainstays Susannah Gebhart of OWL Bakery and Graham House, formerly of Sovereign Remedies. The dining space will offer Citizen Vinyl visitors a casual, “workman's lunch” or pastry and coffee stop during the day, with more sophisticated cocktail offerings and dishes at night. Intended to be a multi use space, Session guests may choose between communal dining in the open concept seating area, or a “head down,” eat-and-work hour in one of the mezazzines. With vinyl as the soul of the project, a creatively curated and historically acute selection of records will provide the soundscape for the bar/cafe and record store from morning to night. Susannah Gebhart expands,
“We’re thrilled to be part of the team bringing life into this singularly distinctive space in Asheville — it’s going to offer an atmosphere unlike any other, at once grand and playful, inspiring and relaxed. The menu will be inspired by the legacy of the space as a working press, and pay homage to this region’s contributions to the world of music and food.”
A majestic three-story art moderne construction, the Citizen-Times building that houses Citizen Vinyl is steeped in a rich and dynamic history. In addition to its former life as home to both the Asheville Citizen and Asheville Times newspapers, the building’s third floor played host to Asheville’s historic WWNC(“Wonderful Western North Carolina”) which was once considered the most popular radio station in the United States. In 1927, the station hosted live performances by Jimmie Rodgers (“The Father Of Country Music”) shortly before he went to Bristol, Tennessee and made his first recordings. In 1939, the station featured on its Mountain Music Time segment the first live performances ever by Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys, the aggregation that marks the beginning of Monroe’s creation of a new sound called “bluegrass.”
Carrying this musical legacy forward, CEO Gar Ragland has set up shop in the former station’s Studio A where he continues in his roles as music producer and mixer, label head of NewSong Recordings, and organizer and co-founder of the internationally recognized NewSong Music Performance & Songwriting Competition. As Citizen Vinyl’s first official tenant, Ragland has reinvigorated the space into a fully operating music studio that, in addition to hosting private recording, mixing and mastering sessions, will be used for tracking future Citizen Vinyl in-store performances that will then be released as limited edition vinyl.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring this historic studio back to life, and to be able to work in a space with such deep history,” says Ragland. “The original co-existence here of music, radio broadcast, journalism and the printing of the newspaper is a rich legacy that will continue to inspire all facets of this project. It’s both a privilege and responsibility to build upon it with our own original programming and offerings, and to cultivate an inclusive atmosphere where guests can learn and grow in community with one another.”
In addition to cultivating a recreational music haven, Citizen Vinyl also aspires to revive some of the hope, camaraderie, and excitement surrounding independent arts that may have been muted in the wake of the pandemic. Plans for the multifaceted building include everything from album listening parties to rotating art installations and music history lectures and seminars. With an impressive list of collaborators including program curator Colby Caldwell (Revolve Art Studio), interior designers Karie Reinertson and Rob Maddox (Shelter Collective) brand director Eric Pieper (Homestead Creative Studio), and accomplished engineer Peter Schaper spearheading manufacturing operations, there is no doubt that the future of Citizen Vinyl is in capable hands. And although the ongoing health concerns of COVID-19 have meant shifting to a phased-in opening process, Citizen Vinyl will be ready to serve its community with updated safety protocols come September. Ragland concludes,
“We can’t wait to welcome guests to Citizen Vinyl. We hope that this space can provide a fun and restorative experience for both our community and its many visitors, and that the power of music, food and beverage will help grant some relief in these stressful times.”
Citizen Vinyl and Session bar/cafe plans to open on a limited capacity basis starting mid-September. For hours, menu and more information visit www.citizenvinyl.com.