Neighbor of the Quarter: Garrett Ladue
November 28 @ 8:00 am - 5:00 pm
Fall 2018 Neighbor of the Quarter
Garrett Ladue, Kensington Rd.
The first time Garrett Ladue visited Plaza Midwood was in 1990. He’d taken a taxi out to the Van Landingham Estate for the annual White Party, and when he emerged onto the street and peered down the long boulevards of The Plaza and Belvedere, he was struck by how gorgeous it was.
“Like a little secret in Charlotte,” Ladue said.
The party was great, the people he met were fun, and the more Ladue thought about it, the more this felt like home. It wasn’t long before he bought his own place in Plaza Midwood on Kensington Drive, where he quickly became a fixture in the neighborhood.
Back in those days, Plaza Midwood was quite a bit different. Ladue remembers the house next-door was a flop house, where a dozen people were living at one time. Down the road were adult bookstores and seedy characters, and the nightlife was limited to a few hole-in-the-wall bars. Common Market was a print shop, Boris + Natasha was the library, and Thomas Street Tavern was the post office.
“I like dive bars,” Ladue said. “And Midwood was sort of a dive neighborhood. But with potential.”
So much of that potential has become reality in the 25 years since, and Ladue has been at the center of much of it.
He served six years on the PMNA board. He worked with the Plaza-Central Partners to push for the pedestrian overlay district that’s allowed our commercial area to thrive. He helped put on events to expose the rest of the city to the well-kept secret that was Plaza Midwood.
“We had a music festival here in maybe ’93,” Ladue recalled. “We closed Central Avenue from Pecan to The Plaza. I still have a t-shirt from it.”
That’s the other thing that’s driven Ladue’s time in Plaza Midwood: The music.
When he moved here, Ladue was in a band called Lunch Money “because that’s all we made,” he said. He’d played guitar and sang in bands since junior high, and loved being a part of a cool music scene that flourished in the neighborhood, from the music studio on Central Avenue where R.E.M. recorded to the jazz club that’s now The Edison.
Ladue’s band played one of the early Midwood Maynia events, too, and when they wrapped, he got to talking to neighbor Wendy Tonetti, who booked all the bands. She was ready to hand off the responsibility to someone else, and she thought Ladue would be a perfect fit.
It proved a fortuitous moment for Plaza Midwood. Ladue has been booking the music for neighborhood events ever since, expanding to Fall Crawl in the 2000s, including this year’s event on Oct. 29.
Ladue has plenty of stories from the shows, too.
There was the year he booked a band called Mustang. They were teenagers and embraced a punk rock vibe and, as Ladue recalls, the lyrics got a bit explicit. The controversy made headlines in the Observer afterward, but the members of that band now tour internationally, he said.
He’s had mariachi bands, blue grass, and bagpipe players. He’s even allowed a few open-mic performances that, more often than not, didn’t go well.
A number of local artists got their first taste of playing a crowd at Maynia, too, he said. Ladue said one of his favorite memories came in 2015 when a young girl from the neighborhood asked to sing an Adelle song with the band. Sophie Teague took the stage and blew away the crowd. Ladue invited her back the next year as a paid performer to open the day’s festivities.
Booking the music for the events has also kept Ladue plugged into the local music scene, too, even if Lunch Money moved on to other endeavors long ago. Ladue is a design consultant for Best Tile on South Tryon these days — and, he notes, is single with 15 goldfish — but he still makes a point of seeing each band playing a Midwood event live, and he goes out of his way to ensure a wide variety of styles.
“I can spot a good band from a mile away – even if they’re rough,” he said. “I love a garage band that has some soul.”
And as much as Ladue has enjoyed seeing the musicians at Midwood’s festivals grow, he’s especially proud of how the neighborhood has grown up, too. The place he stumbled upon back in 1990 has changed a lot — mostly for the better, he said — and Ladue has certainly had his hands in many of the biggest improvements.
“It’s more than I ever dreamed of,” he said. “You wouldn’t believe how sleepy The Plaza was, and now you drive through, and there’s cafes and restaurants and people walking and out with their babies. That’s what you want in a city. If people knew what it was like, you didn’t want to live here back then. You had to be a pioneer. I was one of those pioneers.”