The Imperial Theater or: The Need For A Venue

3. You need to train yourself to believe that the world cares about what you have to say.

-John Hodgman, “The Six Essentials”

Yes, it has been a while, and I’m getting back to blogging. Hopefully the above quote explains why I stopped blogging, and writing in general actually, and why I’m also getting back into it. I could do a lengthy paragraph (or nine) about stopping, the reasons behind it, the great sense of indifference I felt towards casting off words to be maybe/maybe-not read by the internet masses, but that’s boring. Let’s just get back into things. Now, I will say that the blog entries will be coming to you in a diminished volume relative to the last go around. For whatever reason, I was forcing myself to churn out two-to-three blog entries a day. This led to three things:

1. More daily entertainment for you. That’s a good thing, of course.

2. Annoyance that I had to write that much. Funny thing is though, it was entirely my own doing.

3. A lack of things to write about. I was really stretching at times towards the end. Stretching for subjects is hardly enjoyable.

But let’s move past this and talk about something, something that I’ve ranted about many-a-night to my friends while imbibing a few cocktails. Some claim its funny when I get ranty, but I have a hard time believing that. Either way, let’s talk about venues, as in we don’t have one where there should be one. Brace yourself kids, this could get long.

Think of the concerts you’ve been to in the past few months. Where did you see them? If you are like many people, Midpoint notwithstanding, you were at one of the bars in Northside, Southgate House or (shudder) Bogarts. In the past few years the amount of venues has dwindled drastically. With Top Cat’s, Alchemize and Sudsy Malone’s closing, the city was left with a great deal fewer places for bands to play. Thankfully Northside Tavern recognized this and opened up the beautiful back room. But I want to propose to you a different kind of venue. As Cincinnati concert-goers there will most likely be some things about this hypothetical venue that you won’t like, but hear me out. 

1.  Said venue will be downtown – It is a real shame that we don’t have a music venue downtown. It seems to be something that people never realize is strange until I bring it up. I know what you are going to say, and I’ll stop you. With the exception of the Blue Wisp, which is pretty staunchly jazz-oriented, there are no venues downtown. Sure, there are plenty of bars where bands cram into corners, but there are no large spaces where music is performed which also happen to have bars. Growing up in DC I have wonderful memories of taking the Metro into the heart of things to places like the Black Cat, the Warehouse, the (sadly defunct a while ago) Wilson Center and the 9:30 Club. I talk to a great deal of Cincinnati peers who remember fondly the days they would go to many-a short vine clubs to go to shows. With many of these places dead and gone, and Bogarts doing their part to suck all of the fun out of music, it seems time for this little downtown Cincinnati renaissance to help bring this one little thing to reality. 

Music Venues, like the ones I mentioned above, played such an important part in my urban upbringing. It really is a shame that there are precious few fun venues for younger folks to go see shows at. Now, I can get just as annoyed by raucous, obnoxious youth at shows, but it was the glares from those older from me that taught me some of the world’s social norms and the general etiquette of concert-going. 

2. You’re going to have to pay – Cincinnati, in regard to paying from shows, is one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever seen in my life. Sure, you may pay to see a show at Southgate or Bogarts, but if you see most of your live music in Northside you probably haven’t paid for a show in years. This has done both good and bad things. On the one hand it promotes the idea that you aren’t doing this for the door money, but rather for the sake of playing. Now, I know that the bands who play, at least at the Tavern, are definitely taken care of, but this sort of system makes it awfully hard to bring in touring bands. When plotting out a tour a band likes to take a certain amount solace in the fact that they have a definite source of income on their way. Because many of the bars can’t assure the band of a fixed amount, it means many touring bands don’t want to stop here. This may be a little bit of conjecture, but I’m going off of the reasons DC friends give me when they tell me they will be playing in Columbus.

This not-paying thing also means that no one will ever pay for shows put on by lesser known bands. In the past few months I’ve seen shows put on by a few semi-know,certainly buzzed about, bands that were attended by next to no one. Why? As best I can tell it was because people didn’t want to pay the 5 dollar cover to get in.  (It’s also partially due to very weak promotion on the part of the venues and a somewhat weak CityBeat music staff.) The other symptom of not paying is that people don’t really give a hoot about what is happening on stage. I’ve sat through many awkward shows in the Tavern’s back room where, during quieter songs, the talking and cavorting drown out the musicians. Trust me, they notice and they talk about it once they get off stage. I guarantee if there was a minimal cover people would be more inclined to pay attention to the bands.

3.  Getting people to care – I had a fairly lengthy rant about show promotion in this city a while ago, so I will make this one brief. While I do still hold the belief that the current venues need to do a better job in terms of telling people about things, I would like to take this chance to charge City Beat with doing a better job on their end. Part of the music section of any alternative weekly is making sure people know about, and highlighting, lesser known bands that are coming through town. People who want to go see Chris Cornell or Mudvayne probably already know those shows are happening. To be honest, the people going to those shows, probably also aren’t the people who turn to the music section right away out of pure habit (no offense fans of those bands). Rather, it is City Beat’s job to both make a bigger deal out of the more left-field and smaller bands coming through town as well as making those shows more accessible to everyone reading the paper. 

I know you guys have the ability to this, you made the MPMF reboot a huge success in my eyes. If you want to really secure the city’s self-appointed (often times rightfully so) reputation as a “music city” you have to have that same fervor over unknown bands, either residing here or passing through, all year round.

There are people in the city doing a helluva a job in terms of promotion, though. While I may be partial to them, my hypothetical venue would bring the DanceMF crowd in to help get the word out. I’ve never seen such care, attention to detail and sheer enjoyment put into promoting the shit out of something. And you know what? It works. Their monthly night at the tavern is heavily attended every month because they let people know it is happening (and its pretty fun too, but whatever, you get my point).

4. Pushing people a little bit – The other night, my roommate and I were discussing how stagnant the Cincinnati music scene is. We’ve got some good hip-hop, a couple handfuls of good indie rock bands and a plethora of noise acts (which is good if you are into that sort of thing), but the rest of the scene seems stuck in the proverbial muck that is Garage Rock. The whole scene seems stuck in this never ending cycle of bluesy garage rock that I would love to see broken. How do you do this? Just like I said, you push peoples tastes a little bit. Once Alchemize dried up, for better or worse, and the Comet stopped having bands, much of what was left was a whole mess of garage rock. I can’t imagine, in this current climate, seeing Black Moth Super Rainbow or The Presets at any bar right now. It’s not that I don’t like Garage Rock, in fact I’ve never not enjoyed myself at a Lions Rampant show, but I’d just like to see things be a little more varied. Hearing a different genre than you are used to, experienced in a live setting, can be quite an eye opener. When M83’s Dead Cities, Red Seas and Lost Ghosts came out and I saw them perform live, I gave up learning the guitar and started focusing on electronic stuff. Live concerts can be transformative in that sense, and no venue in the city seems to be taking to heart their duty to push their audience. The Hacienda, Tony Wilson’s famed Manchester nightclub, was legendary not because it showcased what people were listening to but what people would be listening to.

There are plenty of other things I would like to see in this downtown dream venue of mine and I hope that there is someone with greater access to capital than myself that has the same vision. Perhaps someday I will find some wealthy nut job of my own to fund my dream, but I hope it happens sooner rather than later. Venues bring a huge amount of foot traffic and keep those people out later at night, always helpful in a burgeoning part of town. We have so many beautiful old theaters, like the abandoned Imperial (pictured above), that could be transformed into something really special for the city. Even though I have no proof, I honestly feel it is only a matter of time before something like this is realized.  So that’s comforting!

Love,

John

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