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The need for speed ... and bands

Roswell entertainment complex dabbles in live music


Local musicians and bands are like weeds. They come and they go, and there's just no telling where they'll pop up next.

A few of them may even wind up at Andretti Speed Lab in Roswell, a recent discovery in the "Most Unlikely Music Venue" category. The 100,000-square-foot, $4.5 million facility, which opened 14 months ago, offers adult and youth kart racing on two indoor European-style tracks; interactive video and virtual reality simulators and a four-story climbing wall. The venue offers a sports bar which features a glass floor that enables patrons to watch the action on the track below.

Andretti Speed Lab is situated, not coincidentally, in a wealthy area where the average income within a seven-mile radius of the location is $88,000, says Eric Varah, ASL's director of sales. That way, the place is near a clientele that can afford this sort of amusement.

So with all that in mind and amid all that activity, one might ask, "Why does Andretti Speed Lab (where 'speed is our middle name') need live music?"

The plan is to generate traffic and create "brand" identity for the bars, says Varah. As for exactly what kind of music will make that happen, the venue -- which only began booking music within the last two months -- is still feeling its way. Varah expects that a blend of pop and rock will do well.

"We're really willing to try most anything. We've done country and western, and alternative and cover bands. We do DJs and things like that occasionally, too," he says. Recent and/or upcoming performers have included the blues-based Donna Hopkins Band, alt-rockers Seven Sharp Nine (7#9) and country singer/songwriter Jeffrey Alan Byrd.

Byrd plays a broad range of country, from vintage Hank Williams to the more contemporary Brad Paisley and Gary Allen, peppered with classic rock and Southern rock offerings from the Eagles, the Marshall Tucker Band and others. Big country hat and belt buckle notwithstanding, he might even mix in an occasional alternative tune.

Byrd, who recently relocated to Atlanta from Vail, Colo., is a veteran of several American Cabaret theater tours, and strives to bring a theatrical sensibility to his performances. He enjoys the Andretti gig and seems up to the challenge of overcoming the audience distractions, which are considerable.

"Right over my head is a big TV screen. I see people in front of me, and I'm not sure if they're staring at me or right above my head," Byrd says. With the glass floor, he adds, people will stand in the middle of the dance floor, staring straight down at the kart action below.

Clearly, ASL is test-driving (so to speak) the prospect of live music at its Roswell site, the first Andretti location in the nation. One can only wait to see whether it will continue to be part of the formula as the company pursues its objective of adding nine or 10 more locations over the next five years.

In any case, don't worry about the musicians. They're bound to pop up somewhere.

Seven Sharp Nine (7#9) performs Sat., March 2, at 8:30 p.m.; Jeffrey Alan Byrd performs Sun., March 3, at 4 p.m. Andretti Speed Lab, 11000 Alpharetta Highway, Roswell. No cover for either show. 770-992-5688.

This column covers music outside the Perimeter. E-mail or mail "outside" music news to Bryan Powell, 830 Josh Lane, Lawrenceville, GA 30045.

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