Tonight, indie band Best Coast is playing at Haw River Ballroom, anticipating a big crowd of both locals and UNC students at the Cat’s Cradle-sponsored show. This isn’t the first show that Cat’s Cradle has sponsored at the ballroom and certainly won’t be the last — in October, they’re working together to host Beach House, a sold-out concert.
About a 20-minute drive from Chapel Hill, in the small town of Saxapahaw, the ballroom blends tradition with high-tech innovation.
“We tried to make it a cool getaway that people would enjoy,” co-owner Heather LaGarde said. “It’s become this crazy space that is used for weddings, concerts, dances and just about everything else. It’s pretty special.”
The large, three-level ballroom has a deck overlooking the river, a state-of-the-art stage and sound system and is run on solar and geothermal power. Sound equipment is hidden in the original cotton-dye vats and engineered into the architecture of the mill.
“No one wanted this part of the mill because it was so awkward,” LaGarde said. “But we decided to take on the challenge and are just amazed by the reaction we’ve gotten.”
Owners Heather and Tom LaGarde moved to Chapel Hill in 2004, but they are no strangers to the area. Tom played basketball at UNC from 1973 to 1977 and Heather grew up roller skating through Hill Hall, where her parents were professors.
Conscious of her and her husband’s UNC roots, Heather LaGarde said they have tried to cater the venue to students and locals looking for a quick getaway. By day, the space is transformed into a trendy coffee shop with free Wi-Fi and views of the river.
The Haw River Ballroom is not only a relaxing place to study, but also a rejuvenating stop for traveling musicians.
“When the bands arrive, we bring them baked goods and organic produce,” she said.
According to Libby Rodenbough, fiddler of the Americana band Mipso, this kind of special treatment makes a difference.
“We play in a different venue every night, so I’ve seen tons all over the country,” Rodenbough said. “But this one feels more like a community center and is very homegrown. And this experience you have with the venue totally colors how you feel about the show and how you play.”
The reputation of the Haw River Ballroom far precedes it.
Linda Pereira is a sophomore at Central Carolina Community College and is making the trip to Saxapahaw for tonight’s concert.
“I’ve never been but I’m just as excited to see the place as I am to see the band.”