MusicMusic Features

Jade Moore Helps Rejuvenate Gastonia Music Scene at The Rooster

Michael Carpenter's venue showcases a wide range of genres in Gaston County

a photo of The Rooster's sound booth in Gastonia, NC
The Rooster (Photo by Nelson Stegall)

From the lasting to the ephemeral, the significant to the slight, Gastonia has made many contributions to American music. While there is a vast gulf in impact and delivery between “A Mill Mother’s Lament,” the heartrending mission statement by murdered labor activist and pioneering protest balladeer Ella Mae Wiggins, and “Break Stuff,” the high energy nu-metal anthem sung by Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst, the two musicians share one thing: They’re both Gastonians, and they’re not the only inhabitants of the Spindle City who’ve made their mark in music and culture. 

Raspberries guitarist Wally Bryson and early 1960s rock ‘n’ roll singer Diane Ray (Diane Peoples Waldrop) also hail from the Gaston County seat, and Gastonia bands past and present include rampaging three-chord renegades Van Huskins, folk-garage punks The Menders, Southern hip-hop rockers Ogres and many more. Despite the former mill town’s musical enrichment, however, there has been little sign of Gastonia’s bustling, burgeoning and creative musical community in the city’s downtown — until recently.

In the past few years, Gastonia’s quaint and historic downtown has become a destination for live music and nightlife. At the center of an organically grown scene that may soon rival the less-corporate heyday of Charlotte’s NoDa and Plaza Midwood is the 175-seat capacity bar and live entertainment venue The Rooster.

A key ingredient in The Rooster’s growing popularity is the venue’s eclectic Singer-Songwriter Open Mic, held every Wednesday night from 7 p.m. to midnight.

“We’ve got people that come from Charlotte, Asheville, Rockingham, Mooresville, even Greenville, South Carolina,” says The Rooster’s owner Michael Carpenter. “People come to our open mic just to do 15 minutes on our stage.”  

They come, he says, because they’ve heard about the vibe the event has created.

“It’s a community on Wednesday nights,” Carpenter says. 

He believes the supportive and eclectic atmosphere the open mic provides is due to its host, powerful singer-songwriter and Gastonia resident Jade Moore, a mother of two and professional full-time musician since 2015.

“When I brought Jade Moore in to host, it turned into what it is now,” Carpenter says. “Having her steer the ship has been the ultimate blessing.”

For her part, Moore acknowledges the accolade but demurs.

“I attribute the success of Gastonia’s creative scene to the artists,” Moore says. “It’s a plentiful scene here.” 

She says Freeman’s Pub, which closed in April after 15 years of service, was instrumental in bringing the music scene and artists together. Freeman’s hosted an Original Songwriters’ Night, which drew local artists like Shannon Lee, Shane Combs, Kevin Marshall, Robert Johnson Jr. and Kennon Knight.

“That was where that seed was planted,” Moore says. When the Original Songwriters’ Night was discontinued, Gaston Pour House picked up the torch and hosted an open mic on Wednesday nights. When that event ceased, downtown Gastonia went through a live music dry spell, Moore says. 

a photo of the stage at local artist venue, The Rooster
The Rooster in its infancy. (Photo by Nelson Stegall)

Happily, The Rooster launched its open mic as soon as Carpenter opened his venue in 2022. Moore had a reunion of sorts with the people she used to play with at the Pour House open mic as they all came out to The Rooster to hit the stage. 

“You could see how happy everybody was to be like a big family again,” Moore says. 

In summoning memories of Gastonia’s music scene, Moore acknowledges that she’s heavily involved in the city’s scene but emphasizes that it is in no way hers alone.

“It was here when I got here, and I’m just swimming through it,” she says.

A community cornerstone

In 2019, Michael Carpenter owned and ran a successful vending machine business but he felt bored and unfulfilled. He and his wife had been avid concertgoers for a long time and they started kicking around the idea of opening a live music venue in downtown Gastonia.

In the meantime, Carpenter had gotten involved with the business communities of Gastonia and Gaston County. He appreciated that everyone seemed to be working hard to make their community thrive.

“They were doing a great job bringing in manufacturing and other industries, [but] the question I kept asking myself was, ‘Why isn’t there anything for people to do?’” Carpenter took the plunge, sold his old business and bought a building built in 1915 by the B.H. Parker Cotton Company to store cotton before loading it onto trains. 

Read More: Swanee Theatre Renovation Drives Revival of Kannapolis Music Scene

After delays including the city’s shutdown due to COVID-19, The Rooster opened on Oct. 19, 2022, and one of its inaugural events was the Carolina Headbangers Ball. Carpenter, an avowed metal fan, was thrilled that the event was a runaway success, but he has striven for an eclectic, billing philosophy for the club. As a result, The Rooster has hosted gallery shows, stand-up comedy, jazz, hip-hop, country, rock ‘n’ roll, and singer-songwriter sets.

“A lot of people have this perception that we’re a metal bar,” Carpenter says. “It’s not true. We just do more metal than anything else because that’s what people come to.”

Carpenter says it’s a challenge to book something that will bring people out on weekdays. That challenge was met and surmounted with the Wednesday night Singer-Songwriter Open Mic. Moore first became aware of the event when she ran into the original host Cody Carpenter, a friend of her then-husband. 

Moore didn’t follow up on the open mic until 2023, by which time her marriage had ended. She reconnected with Carpenter, who introduced her to Carpenter. Moore started coming to open mics at The Rooster on Wednesdays when she didn’t have her own shows and wasn’t traveling to out-of-town gigs.

a photo of the Carpenters smiling with friends and people in the background
Michael Carpenter and his wife Christy at the Rooster. (Courtesy of Michael Carpenter)

“[The Rooster] started to shift focus,” Moore says. “Cody left, and Michael asked me to take on the open mic.” 

Moore agreed as long as she could get one Wednesday off each month to go camping. Though Carpenter agreed, it hasn’t come to fruition. The open mics are just too good to miss.   

“I still haven’t taken a single Wednesday off,” Moore says.

For the open mic, the club keeps a full time sound technician on staff and frequently has photographers at the event to take photos of every act. Outside of keyboards, the club also has a full backline. Such care and attention to detail ensures that acts will look and sound as good as possible.

“It’s a sweet space,” Moore says.

Jade Moore’s musical journey

“I’ve always been a musician” Moore says. “I always wrote, played and sang.”

Moore’s road to The Rooster and beyond has been marked by undeniable talent and hardship. A Navy brat, she was born in Tennessee, where she lived for just two weeks before her family bounced to Virginia, then Gastonia, then Mint Hill, then Charlotte, then back to Gastonia. Growing up in a mobile household, Moore took refuge behind her grandmother’s Yamaha baby grand piano. At age 5, she taught herself to play Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy (Symphony No. 9)” by ear. 

In addition to piano lessons, which she hated, and singing in school pageants, which she enjoyed, Moore began writing songs. Nowadays she calls most of her original compositions “diary songs” because they immortalize moments in her life marked by intense emotions.

“This Drink” falls into that category. A collaboration with songwriter Wil Putt, the tune begins amid plangent guitar, tingling and hissing hi-hats and rolling gospel piano. Moore’s lilting fluttering alto couches a razor-sharp edge:

I lose myself in my regrets/ And chain-smoke all my cigarettes/ To blow away the pain of yesterday…

The tune gallops to a ferocious rocking crescendo, and Moore’s commanding vocal intensifies to a hair-raising pitch as she celebrates her older-yet-wiser triumph over betrayal:

I’ll pour another glass of wine/ And play your lies back through my mind/ And smile a crooked smile as I say … Goodbye, goodbye…

Recorded in 2020, “This Drink” remains Moore’s only released single to date.

“Music fell into my lap as a career,” Moore says. Pregnant at 19 with her first child, Mason Lee, Moore befriended another teenage mother who worked at a since-closed Matthews bar called Beantown Tavern. There, Moore met and began singing with local musician Kelly Mullen. Soon Moore was playing and singing cover songs with Mullen, traveling to gigs ranging from Virginia to South Carolina on weekends and still holding down an office job on weekdays.

“[Mullen] taught me everything I know,” Moore says, “How to work the crowd, run a show, market yourself to venues and keep people entertained.” 

Moore took a break to have her son, then went back to gigging. One day, she discovered that her mother, who is an addict, was taking cocaine while watching her son.

a portrait of Jade Moore, a full-time musician and host of open mic nights, performing on stage
Jade Moore performs onstage. (Photo by Gregory Moore)

Moore took the boy, left the family home and stayed wherever people would welcome her. She quit her day job and jumped into playing music full-time because she couldn’t afford child care. Instead, Moore paid caretakers to watch her son in the evening while she played shows.

“[Department of Social Services] will tell you to just quit your job, because if you make any money, you’re not going to qualify for government assistance,” Moore says. “We were backed into a corner and homeless, and music saved us. It allowed me to spend every day with my boy.”

In 2015, Moore’s first year as a full-time musician, she made $12,000. Over the next two years she quadrupled her income. By the time she accepted the hosting gig for The Rooster’s open mic, she had a daughter, Mira James, with her then-husband. The divorced mother of two now has a successful solo career playing covers locally and regionally, plus originals primarily at open mic, which leaves her time during the day to raise Mason Lee and Mira James.

“Those three-hour, in the corner, me [playing] Neil Young gigs, they paid the bills,” Moore says. 

Recently, her songwriting has undergone a transformation. 

“My priority has shifted from these diary songs … to empowering music,” she says. “It’s the most impressive music I’ve ever written — instrumentally and vocally. The noise that is coming out of me is some shit that I want others to hear.” 

Moore says the open mic, which has showcased her older original and confessional material, may be the springboard for these new empowering songs. If so, the downtown Gastonia scene may be the ideal place for Moore to debut something new.  

A growing presence 

Last fall, at Carpenter’s urging, Gastonia’s nightlife establishments collaborated on the downtown’s first bar crawl. It was wildly successful. 

“Everybody killed it that night,” Carpenter says. “We had hundreds of people in downtown Gastonia, and we got to showcase all the different things you can do.” 

A subsequent spring crawl was also successful, and the businesses are planning to continue to do a spring and fall crawls.

“I really do believe that the rising tide lifts all ships,” Carpenter says. 

The Singer-Songwriter Open Mic is going from strength to strength, he says, because Moore imbues it with a sense of legitimacy.

“Putting her name on the open mic sent a message to the artist community that we’re for real,” Carpenter says.

a photo of the lounge and dining area at The Rooster
The Rooster (Photo by Nelson Stegall)

Moore feels the quality she brings to the open mic is quite different.

“I [bring] camaraderie,” she says. “I’m a mom. Maternal nurturing is very much a thing. Every time an artist is on that stage, I take the time to speak to everybody. I try to encourage everyone. I put a full band behind people, and I’ve watched all these … relationships and communities build. My goal is for the artists to achieve their wildest dreams.”

Carpenter echoes Moore’s sentiments.

“We’re not the place that’s going to book big national tours. We’re a springboard for local artists to hone their craft, integrate in the community, work out whatever kinks they have in their sets, then tour the nation or the world and inspire the next generation of artists to pursue a career in the arts,” Carpenter says. “I want people to walk off my stage feeling like a rock star.”

Moore’s and Carpenter’s headspace is echoed in The Rooster itself. When Carpenter asked Kathleen Finch and the Charlotte Street Art Collaborative to paint a mural for the venue’s stage, he encouraged them to do whatever they wanted, but he had one small request. He asked the artists to include a lyric from The Rush song “Spirit of the Radio” at the front of the stage: 

For the words of the prophets are written on the studio wall…

The lyric criticizes the commoditization of art while tipping a cap to Simon and Garfunkel, Carpenter says. 

“It’s a statement that The Rooster is not corporate. This is a place for artists,” he says. 

A less subtle sign of that dedication, evidence that Carpenter is motivated by a higher artistic calling, is right above the bar’s register. It could also apply to Moore and downtown Gastonia.

There, a familiar-looking picture of John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd as the Blues Brothers is labeled with a quote in cut-and-paste letters: “We’re on a mission from god.”

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