Charlotte’s Music With Friends offers the ultimate intimate concert experience.
It was 2007, and legendary song man Tony Bennett had just finished an unplugged set at Charlotte’s McGlohon Theatre when he told the night’s organizer, “This is the way music was intended!”
“It’s an experience you just can’t replicate,” says Larry Farber, the longtime agent and music industry insider who brought Bennett to town as one of the first performers in Music With Friends’ inaugural year.
Now celebrating its 10th anniversary, Music With Friends is probably best described as a country club for music lovers. The idea took shape in 2006 with a few friends who wanted to see performers they loved in an intimate setting—and were willing to pay for it.
Members enjoy a handful of special shows every year. There’s always a well-known act, always a pre- and post-party for networking and socializing, and always a fantastic concert where, as Farber puts it, “You’re so close, you can see the artist’s pupils.”
“It’s as much about the experience as it is about the music,” he says, pointing out that the McGlohon has great acoustics and, because it’s so intimate, the artists end up telling stories and performing in a way they can’t in more typical concert venues.
Now 600 members strong, the club requires a joining fee of $550 and an annual fee of $1,650.
Chuck Dahlgren and his wife have been coming to the concerts for six years and say while it’s expensive, it’s worth it. “The fact that [Larry] has been able to put this group of people together that are the movers and shakers in Charlotte and put it in a social atmosphere where we have a great evening and get to hear great music…it’s just a lot of fun and that’s why we do it.”
Dahlgren says Earth Wind & Fire was probably his favorite act so far, but the group has managed to bring in an impressive list of talent, from Diana Ross to Bonnie Raitt, Aretha Franklin to Willie Nelson. Farber says that the demographic skews older and that the group purposely goes after the performers who no longer fill arenas.
“I’m proud of it,” Farber says. “We’ve become a model for VIP experiences across the country, for people throughout the music industry. We’ve learned that people are willing to pay for a better experience.”
Farber has expanded the experience, bringing Music with Friends to Charleston and Houston and says he has his eye on a few other cities. Part of the reason it’s working so well? He’s convinced the musicians are having as much fun as the members. And he points to what Glenn Frey of Eagles fame told him after performing for the club.
“He’s played every stadium in the world,” says Farber. “But he told me he and the band had more fun doing this, where they could see all the people who had come to hear them. He said, ‘Thank you for allowing us to come be a part of it.’”