Making a Scene
Monterey Live launches ambitious performing arts calendar.
Thursday, June 9, 2005
With the smell of fresh paint in the air, Vince La Rocca climbed onstage last Thursday to introduce a crowd to Monterey’s newest music venue. While waitresses served mixed drinks in hand grenade-shaped cocktail glasses to a seated, almost-full house and T-shirt-wearing contractors walked into the unfinished kitchen area, a battery of stage lights on the ceiling pointed towards La Rocca.
“Good evening,” he said, in a blast of sound. “You can tell this is my first night because I didn’t know we had so much power.”
After telling the crowd that this new venue is the final realization of a personal dream, La Rocca introduced the entertainment at the sneak preview concert: the Robin Nolan Trio with special guest Howard Alden. On the stage, framed by red velvet curtains pulled to the side like a redhead’s bangs, the trio started to play as the lights started to dim. A few seconds later, while the trio performed some Django Reinhardt-inspired Gypsy jazz, the elegant venue started to feel like a Paris jazz club.
Before launching into the second number, Reinhardt’s “Tears,” the band asked if everyone was having a good time. Without hesitation, the mostly middle-aged crowd answered with a round of applause.
For La Rocca, the moment must have been a validation of his years of hard work.
Back in 1981, La Rocca bought a small “submarine rock and roll bar” called Deep Six, located in a portion of this building. Then, in 1984, he took over management of the whole building and renamed the bar Viva Monterey. In the beginning years, La Rocca says, what came to be called Viva’s by locals was a video music bar broadcasting MTV. Then, after showcasing original acoustic music, Viva Monterey became known as a quirky little downtown haven to catch an eclectic range of music from touring ska group Warsaw to local acoustic performer Bryan Diamond.
Despite honors like being voted Best Club for Rock in this newspaper’s 2005 Best of Monterey County issue, La Rocca was slowly pursuing a dream to transform the space into a state of the art performing arts venue. Five years ago, La Rocca purchased the building and slowly started towards his goal by restoring the front of the historic adobe and retrofitting the building. Finally, after three years of securing building permits and funds, La Rocca shut Viva’s down this past January and started to create Monterey Live.
For those who are familiar with Viva’s, walking into Monterey Live will probably be a pretty shocking experience. Though the building’s small bar to the left and small room to the right are pretty much intact, the backroom is nothing like the former establishment. La Rocca demolished the whole back of the building and replaced it with a 100-person capacity theater. Gone are former barroom fixtures like pool tables, replaced by sophisticated touches like two ornate chandeliers hanging from the ceiling.
In addition to the new room, La Rocca added a new light and sound system installed by Tony Mocita.
“I want to be able to taste the sound,” La Rocca says, explaining why he purchased what he asserts is the best sound system available for the room. “I want the performers to want to pay me to play here ‘cause it sounds so good.”
La Rocca says he decided to build Monterey Live to offer locals over the age of 25 a venue for something different from partying in a bar.
“I decided to fill what I considered a void,” he says. “There is no place to go and just listen to music.”
La Rocca has hired Tom Miller—a concert programmer who has worked for more than 25 years in the Santa Cruz area booking venues like Ben Lomond’s now-defunct Henfling’s—to book the venue’s premiere performances. Miller is looking at booking an ambitious 25 to 30 days a month. So far, he has about 30 acts booked through late November. The performers range from a Norwegian vocal ensemble to a Beatles cover band.
“The whole idea is to have music for the whole neighborhood,” he says. “We have a multifaceted neighborhood, so we are going to have multifaceted music.”
In addition to international acts, Monterey Live will also showcase local artists. Next Saturday, the venue will launch a weekly jam event featuring local high school jazz musicians. Also, La Rocca has tapped Robin McKee, founder of the Carmel Performing Arts Festival, to book readings of poetry and plays.
Along with performing arts, Monterey Live will offer hors d’oeuvres developed by Ken Spilfogel, owner of Lenny’s Deli in Carmel. Spilfogel hopes to pair food with specific events—for instance, Cajun food might accompany a performance by a Cajun band.
La Rocca has a plethora of ideas for Monterey Live. “The possibilities are endless,” he says.
ANGELO DEBARRE PERFORMS AT THE GRAND OPENING OF MONTEREY LIVE, 414 ALVARADO ST., MONTEREY, WEDNESDAY AT 8PM. $18/ADVANCE; $20/AT THE DOOR. 646-1415.