Chez Francois Music Hall: Rebirth of a Historic Theatre
Jul 01, 2018 08:30AM
● By Jason Huddle
Chez Francois Music Hall: Rebirth of a Historic Theatre
In the 1930s and ‘40s, 9 Union Street N. was home to Paramount Theatre. It offered entertainment that helped people cope with the challenges that enveloped Concord during the years of the Great Depression, followed by World War II.
Old photos show crowds lined up down Union Street to the Square. All were waiting to purchase a ticket for a few minutes of entertainment from movie star favorites.
“Before it was the Paramount, it was the Concord Theatre, dating back at least to the early 1920s, where it originally was the home of vaudeville and live performances,” historian, Michael Eury, explains. “Once it became the Paramount Theatre (as in Paramount Pictures) in the 1930s, it got a glitzy marquee, which jutted out over the sidewalk where the red awning of 9 Union Street N. is today.”
Cabarrusgeneologysociety.org says, “Tex Ritter, the singing cowboy, was a regular visitor, dropping by to say ‘howdy’ to his Concord friends at the Paramount Theatre anytime he was booked nearby. Concord saw a large selection of traveling actors of the 1940s from the Kemp Circuit out of Charlotte.”
The theatre operated under several different names from its opening through the 1970s when the
lure of the big covered malls took its toll on the downtown area and its largest department store – Belk –moved its location to Carolina Mall.
Following the building of newer, larger theatres, the ones located downtown finally closed and 9 Union Street N. no longer saw long lines waiting to be entertained.
During the next 30 years, the building was remodeled, and storefronts and offices occupied the theatre space. During the restoration process, however, the second floor of the building, which had once been the balcony and projection booth, was remodeled into what became known as The Ballroom. It retained the beautiful sculpture that once framed the projection screen and ceiling. The magnificent rotunda that at one time adorned the ceiling also remained as a testimony to an earlier era of entertainment.
There were several attempts, over the years, to make use of the ballroom by renting it out for events. Several times it was used as a restaurant or jazz club, but none seemed to last, reach the level of entertainment or draw people like the old theatre had done.
In 2016, Chez Francois Restaurant, which had formerly been operating in Pineville, decided that Concord would be a very good place to open a French restaurant. As an addition to the storefront restaurant – Chez Francois The Creperie – Pam Tolen (who grew up in Concord) and Francois Bouali (who originally came to Concord for a job opportunity and to attend the University of North Carolina at Charlotte for a master’s degree) looked for ways to expand the venture in an additional restaurant location in the expansive upstairs ballroom.
Finally, in February 2018, that dream became a reality with the opening of Chez Francois Music Hall in the old ballroom area. A new stage was constructed, tables and chairs brought in, acoustic sound panels hung and a new menu to accommodate the music hall customers was introduced.
On February 16, 9 Union Street N. once more returned to its former glory when it opened with the band Chicago Rewired. Now, every weekend, Chez Francois Music Hall offers live music on Friday and Saturday nights. Bands that play are the most popular in the area and represent the spectrum of music – from classic rock, rhythm & blues, country and every era of tribute bands. So far, the most notable performances have been by DECARLO, whose lead singer, Tommy DeCarlo, is currently the lead singer of the band Boston; and Darrell Harwood, who won the Carolina Music Award in 2016 for best male singer.
DeCarlo recently told Cabarrus Magazine he enjoys playing at this particular music hall because he believes it could be something special for this community and it speaks to who he is as a musician.
“I’m more of a (singer/songwriter) and I love to perform all kinds of different music, and that’s what I do with (my own band),” DeCarlo explained.
He said fans that come to his shows at the music hall expecting songs from bands like Boston, Styx and Journey are never disappointed.
“We tend to play all the songs that would be most (classic rock) bands’ ‘showcase’ songs. We play all the greats and we really consider our show a concert. From start to finish, there’s very little talk and lots of music. I hate taking breaks,” DeCarlo adds.
Now the music hall is continuing to expand. This summer it will begin offering other performing arts options. For example, on August 11 and 12, Old Courthouse Theatre will be hosting their 10-minute plays. On October 26, Chez Francois Music Hall will be hosting a masquerade murder mystery dinner theatre. The show will feature a performance by The Murder Mystery Company.
Other forms of performing arts are planned for the future, such as a comedy night and professional dance exhibitions, open mic nights, and DJ and karaoke nights. The goal is to make Chez Francois Music Hall a source of performing arts entertainment in lieu of local residents needing to travel to Charlotte.
The ballroom is a spacious facility that will seat 177 people with a capacity for 377 standing. It has a 24-foot by 12-foot stage. The bar, purchased at an auction in March 2017, is more than 100 years
old. It’s originally from Red Springs, NC, where it was a countertop for a department store during that time period.
The music hall food is traditional pub faire with burgers and fries, nachos, quesadillas, pizza (where the dough is made in our own kitchen), bratwurst, etc. If you want a more upscale menu of grilled scallops, filet mignon, lamb chops, duck or beef bourguignon, or Chicken Cordon Bleu, or even their delicious crepes, you can place your order with the Chez Francois restaurant downstairs and it will be delivered to your table in the music hall. The bar is fully stocked to meet most any request from customers.
The wood floors, sculptured accoutrements and rotunda all testify to an era of refinement when entertainment was live and people socialized in a relaxed setting.
Chez Francois Music Hall is embracing the Concord Downtown Development Corporation vision to bring activity back to the historic district with new restaurants, boutiques and forms of entertainment that will draw people from all over the area. Chez Francois Music Hall is proud to be a part of this renovation and renewal of the Concord downtown district.
Photos Courtesy: Michael A. Anderson Photography and Pamilla Tolen