SELMA — When musical groups perform on this stage, the audience listens. And that caught the attention of the two who are taking over.
A little-known but well-loved concert venue in downtown Selma will reopen soon. Called The Ice House Theater, the venue closed briefly last month but will reopen April 18. The family-friendly country music hall is in an old white building still painted, for now, with “Selma Ice, Coal & Oil Co.”
The building, built around the 1940s, was formerly used for ice breaking. Now old church pews line the floor, all facing a stage that looks like a front porch. Walk in through the sealed door, and a chill still lingers in the air.
People come here for the country music, friendly environment and the sense of family.
“It feels like you’re back home, like you know everyone,” said Erin Wise.
Wise and her husband, Phil, have taken over the Ice House Theater. They’re adding new lighting and sound but otherwise will keep the same theme and feel, a place they can bring their 11-year-old daughter, Scarlet.
The couple lives in Selma and first came to the Ice House to perform. Unlike the crowds at bars, people actually listened to their music. The two loved the atmosphere and came back, and by the second time on stage, they were getting hugs from the regulars.
When the couple heard the venue was closing, they felt compelled to jump in. “When we heard the place was closing, we, like everyone else. were sad to hear that,” Phil Wise said. “We hated to hear such a treasure would be removed from the community.”
Jonathan and Candace Parker of the Bentonville community ran the show until March, when they decided to close shop after life got too busy. Jonathan Parker is the lead singer for Jonathan Parker and the Bel-Airs. His band is picking up more gigs, and his wife, Candace, recently got a new job.
“I didn’t know if someone would come in and try to change the format and the whole nine yards, but when Phil approached me, I could tell immediately that he was really interested in making sure these people knew that he was going to do the same thing we did with it,” Jonathan Parker said. “Which is really a relief to me, because as a musician, I’d love to see the place go on.”
When the Ice House reopens, music fans will be able to come for shows once again every Friday, from 7:45 to 10:15 p.m. The theater will sell concessions but not alcohol. Wise hopes to offer more shows on nights other than Fridays.
The building’s story starts before the Parkers. Billy Yeargin bought it in 2000. “It had actually been sitting empty, except for a rusted metal crane and saline and ammonia,” he said.
Yeargin turned the inside into a theater, using the veneer from old farm buildings to give the place a country ambiance. He said he loves that the Wises are there to take it over. “I’m fully expecting Phil and his wife to make it grow,” he said.
The theater can seat about 170 people but had about 70 regulars for the Friday shows. Doug and Trish Jones of Goldsoro were among the regulars. Doug said they went for the music and the camaraderie. “Everybody’s friends and knows each other, and we visit and catch up on the news,” he said. “We’re like a big family.”
Jones said he was sad when he heard the Parkers were shutting the theater down. “I felt like I was going to lose a friend,” he said. But he’s excited now that the Wises are bringing the tradition back. “I’ve already got our seats reserved for every Friday night,” he said.
As the Wises prepare to reopen, the two are working days and nights on the theater. Phil Wise, who plays guitar, said he’s loving the business side of music – the task is not like work at all.
Wise said many people drive to Raleigh for concerts, but he wants to show people they can stay in Selma and Johnston County. “There’s some really good music coming through, and we’re hoping to also get some higher-profile acts coming through as well,” he said.
Wise said he has been amazed at the support from the community, including local musicians who have reached out, asking how they can help. “You don’t find that kind of love for a place typically,” he said.