Major, promising changes are afoot for a number of local music venues.
Thursday, January 10, 2008
For anyone who is an avid fan of Monterey’s rock bands, the scene in front of me would seem a bit strange. Decked out in all black, including a Nor Cal hoodie, and with a large tattoo of a screw showing on the side of his right leg, local metal enthusiast and longtime manager of the Lava Lounge Paul Hastey sits in the sleek interior of Monterey’s Doc Rickett’s Lab nightclub. Known for his throat shredding vocals as the lead man for the punk/metal outfit Plaster and his regular booking of the region’s metal and punk acts at the Lava Lounge, Hastey now sits in front of a table with a black table cloth and near a bar with a forest of top shelf vodkas. Poppy dance music blares on the sound system overhead.
It’s a weird sight because Hastey has been the driving force behind the cavern-like Lava Lounge since it opened five years ago, but it’s a sight to get used to since the longtime Monterey music fixture will now be in charge of booking and running shows at Doc’s starting this Saturday. This will mean big changes for Doc’s, which will scrap their Friday and Saturday comedy shows and replace those performances with live music every night of the week. (The club will still feature dancing on weekend nights around 10:30pm, after the bands leave the stage.) But his is far from the only upheaval on the local landscape: the former Club Octane, Sly McFly’s, Monterey Live and Sunset Center have all undergone significant changes in recent weeks which, on the surface, bodes well for local music fans.
Hastey’s approach to booking at Doc’s will differ with what he did at the Lava Lounge.
“I’m not going to be pounding metal in this place,” he says. “We are going to cater to everyone.”
Hastey is hoping to fill the most popular nights of the week—Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays—with local reggae rock outfits including 3 Hour Shower and Wasted Noise along with out-of-town acts that can draw a good local crowd, including Reno alt rock group Pushbox and Reno reggae punkers Levitz Levitz. Mondays through Wednesdays will most likely feature local cover bands like Roadhaus and the Dead Ringers, while Sundays will tap into Monterey’s robust metal scene with Retribution and Hate for State among others performing on what is being billed as “Sunday, Bloody Sunday.” The venue will also offer a free food buffet with items including tacos and pizza on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at 6pm.
Hastey’s former employer, Club Octane, a dance club where the Lava Lounge was located, changed owners in the middle of November. The new owners, Joe Shapiro and Sean Herrera, officially changed the establishment’s name to The Hippodrome on New Year’s Eve.
Shapiro, who has worked as a general manager for the popular Santa Cruz venue The Catalyst, says the duo’s first order of business was to update and clean up the former Club Octane. Now, the pair is hoping to make each of The Hippodrome’s four rooms into a nightclub with a different theme. The Lava Lounge will be transformed into The Lounge, a place to chill out and have a drink with a jukebox or DJ playing music most of the time, while Shapiro hopes one of the smaller rooms upstairs will be sponsored by local radio station K-Ocean and play R&B and old school music. As for the venue’s big room, Shapiro is going to use his previous experience at The Catalyst to help book national touring acts—and especially rock bands. “We want to bring in more bigger name live music upstairs,” he says.
The biggest goal for the owners of the new space is to expand their audience from the crowd of mostly hip-hop and rap fans that has assembled there on weekend evenings. “We need to try and re-introduce the place back to the mainstream,” Shapiro says.
Just a block up Alvarado Street, Monterey Live is also undergoing a shift in ownership and approach. On Dec. 16, the same evening rapper MC Lars performed to an almost full house, incoming owners Gary Smith and Susan Miller took over running the venue. With a family background in the food service industry, Smith hopes to add a lunch menu including new additions like veggie burgers and a basic breakfast with items such as breakfast burritos and coffee.
Recently, Monterey Live has become known for booking a wide range of acts, from Americana performers that draw the older country rock crowd to local upstart rock bands that bring in college kids. According to Smith and Miller, that will continue along with some possible additions. “We are going to keep it varied with different groups for everyone,” Miller says. “We would like to keep the music but add theater and maybe comedy.”
Another local venue tweaking their live music schedule is Sly McFly’s over in Cannery Row. While the popular club has been hosting primarily danceable R&B and Top 40 acts on weekends, booker Steve Vagnini just announced that Sly’s is going to start bringing in country acts as well. The first country music night will feature a performance by longtime country outfit 8 Second Ride on Jan. 18 followed by a Feb. 22 show by the California Cowboys, who have opened for country legends including Willie Nelson.
Outside of the club scene, Carmel’s stunning 700-plus-seat Sunset Center welcomed the arrival of new executive director Peter Lesnik after the start of the new year. Lesnik comes fresh off a decade-long stint as executive director of California State University Long Beach’s Richard and Karen Carpenter Center, where he secured an array of performances by classical acts like the Vienna Boys’ Choir to a special unplugged blues show featuring Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown and John Mayall. Lesnik says his strategy in Long Beach was to try to book acts that were not performing at other venues around Los Angeles.
A former theater director and producer, Lesnik hopes to apply a similar methodology to the Sunset Center. First, he is going to do a study of the area’s surrounding venues and what sort of entertainment they offer. “We are finding out what’s around,” he says, “and then we will fill in the cracks.” Though at the time of an interview he was only part way through his second day on the job, Lesnik seems to embrace the Sunset Center’s current offering of a lot of diverse performances—from a concert by the Monterey Symphony to a show by The Moscow Circus to a local stop by folk legend Arlo Guthrie. He also shows enthusiasm for special events like the upcoming acoustic performance by Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo and Louis Perez at the Sunset Center, where the two will not only play songs but also relate their songwriting processes. “That’s not something you get every day,” Lesnik says.