This last week in July sees one cherished venue close, and another open.
On July 18, Jeff Richardson threw the Continental's farewell party, two weeks before it closes to the public in preparation for renovations that will eventually convert the room into an extension of McNellie's.
It was a fairly well-attended last hurrah for a venue deserving of far more attention than it received. Featuring Cracker Wagon, Balthazar, Stevedore, Dance Robots Dance! and No Ghost, it was a lively, energetic party full of good will and high spirits, though for many, frustration crept into conversation.
Why can't such a great venue stay open in Tulsa? Is it the location? McNellie's is in no danger of shutting down, so it can't be that. Is it that the fans, however fiercely loyal, are just too small in number? The Continental was a club that struggled to find its identity, and it might be a case of too little, too late.
It was open for just three years, but in that period of time, it went from quiet jazz bar to karaoke club to indie music venue. That last format is what many local music fans and bands will be mourning when the doors close on August 1. Thanks largely to the work of Richardson and Bracken Klar (of Hard Work Records and ABR Productions, respectively), the venue, for a time, was on a shortlist of new rooms in Tulsa that were (and still are) revitalizing the local indie scene (along with Soundpony, Exit 6C and the Mooch & Burn/Marquee).
It was my favorite venue in Tulsa and I plugged it whenever I had the chance.
In addition to the numerous local shows that were hosted by the Continental (including the very successful Hard Work Weekend this past spring), its stage held such diverse national acts as Caribou, Bill Callahan, Monotonix, Joan of Arc, Unwed Sailor, Fuck Buttons, Pit er Pat and many others.
Along with Klar and Richardson, the venue was blessed with a manager, Aaron Post, who made it easy on both bands and promoters to book shows.
As part of its ongoing exit this month, the Continental will host, for the second and last time, a stage at this week's Diversafest. More than a dozen bands will play on its stage during two nights. Next week, on August 1, patrons will be able to enjoy their last night of drinks and music before the doors close and McNellie's moves in.
It will be missed.
Back on the Scene
On the brighter side of things, a new venue will officially open next week on July 31. The Rose Bowl, 7419 E. 11th St. (the long abandoned bowling alley that suffered torching by arsonists), hosts a kick-off show with punk acts Guttermouth, the New School Kings and the Bent Gents.
The building was purchased several years ago by Sam Baker, a local businessman who, at the time, had no idea what to do with the space.
Now, along with promoter Dan Ley, Baker has converted the alley into a general events center that will include everything from wedding receptions and quinceaneras to skate jams and poetry slams.
I recently spoke to Ley over the phone, and the 26 year-old San Antonio transplant clearly has high hopes for the future of the multi-format Rose Bowl.
"Sam just really liked the building, and he didn't want anything to happen to it," Ley explained.
The location stayed dormant and abandoned for several years, until Baker and Ley met four months ago and began work on plans to reopen the building.
"Our goal is to bring some life back to Route 66 and Tulsa," Ley said. "We're going for a nostalgic feeling on the outside, with a fresh, new perspective on the inside."
Ley expounded on one particularly interesting function of the Rose Bowl.
"We do something called a savvy moms sale, which is twice a year," he said. "It's a children's consignment sale, basically a swap shop for mothers. They bring in the clothes that are too small and the toys they've grown out of and then find someone that has what they need. We have those twice a year. The first already happened and it was very successful, and the second one happens the first week of August."
On the music side of things, Ley said that he wants the venue to host a mix of national and local bands. They already have David Allan Coe booked for the August 22, and the Suicide Girls are scheduled to stop by Tulsa sometime in December.
We definitely want to showcase local talent," he said. "The only complicated scenario that we have with local events is that we want to give these bands an opportunity, even the ones that haven't had a whole lot of play even in their home town, but we're 2,200 people for maximum capacity."
The space, Ley said, will look empty and discouraging for local bands bringing in just 100 people, but he said that they plan to install a canvas that can section off specific shows. When that's done, they'll be able to shrink the venue.
Perhaps most importantly, the flexibility of the Rose Bowl's format allows for a range of events catering to all sides of Tulsa. The building houses both a restaurant and a bar. Some events will be family oriented, some not so much. Some shows will be all ages, some 21+ (the Suicide Girls, for example). Art exhibits, birthday parties, wedding receptions, punk shows, family shows, burlesque shows--the Rose Bowl will host it all. The concept is a rare and risky one for Tulsa, but if it works, it will be a great addition to our city, and another step in the right direction.
"We are trying to connect a national market base to a local environment," he said. "We're big fans of independent promoters, local producers and people of that nature that are doing things on their own."
"We're really anxious to see what's going to happen," he concluded. "And we're excited to see how the community is going to take it and how they are going to want to participate."
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