When you walk into Hotel Appalachia, the audio recording and rehearsal space that opened Feb. 10 in downtown Harrisonburg, it feels like being on a stage right before the curtain opens. And yet there’s also a sense of intimacy. Various tapestries are spread throughout the room and a mirror stretches across the entire length of the wall. There’s plenty of room to breathe, but it’s undeniably cozy.
Overhead, fluorescent stage lights cast a performance-worthy amount of light over the room. Guitars and instruments are everywhere, organized into their specific corners and stations. Various cords and cables line the floor.
Hotel Appalachia started because the members of the local bluegrass band Shenandoah Alley needed a space to record their music and other side projects. After initially searching for houses to serve as a DIY studio, the band’s realtor showed them the studio space at 111 E Market St.
“We all had the same expression when [the realtor] opened the door and flicked on the lights,” Michael Stover, a co-owner, said. “There was this kind of dim that was cast over the studio and it soon became apparent that it was much larger than we anticipated.”
Once the group, consisting of Stover, Eric Shy, Nick Boucher and Blake Cramer, realized the full potential of the space, they set off to work on building the studio. After over a year of preparation, Hotel Appalachia is finally open for business.
Hotel Appalachia differs from other studios, offering hands-on help for those wishing to record, but also encouraging artists who are comfortable with recording technology to simply rent the space. The owners recognize that different bands have different needs when entering a studio.
“It’s cool to be able to put [the artist’s] vision first,” Stover said. “And it all starts with what the customer is comfortable with.”
Some might crave the perfect live sound, others prefer the precision of overdubbing. Some prefer the help of an engineer, others need complete solitude. Whether an artist needs to record a whole album or a drummer just wants to use the space to practice, Hotel Appalachia charges a flat rate of $50 per hour.
The owners wish to foster a sense of community with the musicians around Harrisonburg. Hotel Appalachia started with the hope that “if you build it, they will come.” By providing an affordable space for bands to record or rehearse, the owners know that talented local musicians will cultivate art.
“You walk in the door, give us a feel of what you’re looking for and within 30 minutes we’ve got this room rigged up,” Cramer said. “In the case of a live session everyone is semi-isolated, so the mics won’t be bleeding into each other, but you’re all able to still look each other in the eye— that makes all the difference.”
Already, local artists have begun to line up to take advantage of the space’s natural sound. The folk band Strong Water has used Hotel Appalachia to start recording its new EP.
“It is one of the most natural sounding rooms I have ever been in,” Evan Hunsberger, the drummer, said. “It's so nice to be in a room that doesn't have too much reverb or too much decay. And with how it's setup and the style they decided to go with, it feels homey and welcoming; never intimidating.”
In the future, Hotel Appalachia hopes to film live studio sessions similar to KEXP or NPR’s Tiny Desk series. The owners also hope to expand beyond traditional music recording into other realms of audio production, including spoken poetry and podcasts.
For now, the owners wish to work with people who have a clear passion for their art. With the high density of burgeoning musicians in the greater Harrisonburg area, they know that there’s no shortage of customers.
“If it’s got heart then it is vital and it works,” Stover said. “To me it is most important to give artists the ability to bring their hearts into the session.”
Contact Drew Cowen at email@example.com.