By mid-November, legendary Atlanta music figure Eddie Owen could be presenting name musical acts at the Red Clay Theatre and enlivening the nightlife in downtown Duluth. Owen, the founder and former manager of Eddie’s Attic in Decatur, also plans to offer workshops and classes for singers, songwriters and musicians during the daytime.
The Duluth City Council Monday night (Oct. 10) unanimously authorized city staff to draft an interim agreement subject to review by the city attorney and council to allow Owen to manage the Main Street theatre and book musical acts. Staff had recommended the council accept Owen’s proposal to use the Red Clay Theatre as a live music venue over another proposal to use the facility for traditional dramatic activities.
New Dawn Theater Company located across the street had submitted a proposal to operate the Red Clay Theatre for dramatic productions and acting classes. A similar proposal by a group of local drama professionals had been withdrawn after council members disagreed over the future use and direction of the theater. The city owns the Red Clay Theatre building, and city staff has been booking the venue for plays, concerts, comedy acts and special events. Most of the time the theatre is empty.
Duluth Economic Development Manager Chris McGahee, who has been meeting over the past several months with Owen about the possibility of taking over management of the underutilized theatre, said a short-term agreement could be ready by the end of this week for the mayor and council to review. The council agreed to consider approving the agreement at an already scheduled called meeting during its Oct. 24 work session.
“A live music venue presents the greatest opportunity for the city,” McGahee said. “We already have theatre in the downtown area and in surrounding communities.”
Owen, who appeared at the council meeting to answer questions about his plans, said he had identified open dates between Nov. 15 and Dec. 31 to launch “Eddie Owen Presents” at the Red Clay Theatre. Owen assured the council that he would retain the Red Clay Theatre name and honor already booked events. Owen also expressed interest in booking large concerts at the nearby Duluth Festival Center Amphitheatre located on the Duluth Town Green.
The music promoter said he had been attracted to Duluth by the excitement and enthusiasm evident downtown and the recent opening of new businesses. The city also has existing facilities conducive to operating a music venue, he said. “Not in Atlanta, Decatur, Lawrenceville or Snellville have I seen this,” he said. “You’ve had the foresight to have infrastructure in place.”
He told the council that the theatre would be operated on a profit basis and would be busy night and day with stage concerts and the music school. Owen confirmed that he had departed as manager of Eddie’s Attic last Friday. “I’m now a freelancer. I now have wings,” he said. “I’m looking to fly to Duluth.”
Owen and Eddie’s Attic, which he opened in 1992, have been credited with launching the careers of the Indigo Girls, Shawn Mullins, John Mayer, Sugarland, and the Zack Brown Band. In March 2002 Owen sold Eddie’s Attic to Todd Van Sickle, the then husband of Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles. The club was then sold to Bob Ephlin, the current owner, in June 2005. Owen had remained as general manager with duties of finding and booking musical talent.
Chuck Mason, a member of the New Dawn Theater Company board, said it supports plans for the music venue. “We did put in an RFP (proposal) for Red Clay, but we are very happy where we are,” Mason said. “The whole board wants to give Mr. Owen the opportunity to bring more people to downtown Duluth.”