There was once a time, not really that long ago, when the corner of 18th and Boston was a hotspot for live music. With one stop you had three clubs and a variety of live bands at your fingertips. While Mercury Lounge is still packing them in and arguably booking even better talent all the time, the other locations have changed hands and identities, gradually losing touch with the live music audience.
The room formerly known as Boston's has changed management multiple times and evolved into The Treehouse, which features a new stage and killer new sound system, but caters -- very well -- to the dance rather than live music crowd.
Just across the corner, at 112 E. 18th St. -- the location that has changed identities multiple times over the past 20 years -- established itself as a solid room called The Venue, but this also changed management and moved away from live music, first transforming into RocBar 18 and then Pink. When I initially got word that the room was changing hands again, I'll admit I wasn't surprised. What did stir my attention, however, was when I got a call to let me know that the room was going back to a live music format with some old names and faces returning.
As it turns out, former manager and talent buyer for The Venue, Donnie Rich, is returning to the live music circus with a little prodding from friends. When speaking with Rich recently, I asked how he ended up being pulled back into the club scene and he shared that "Jason Martin, from Urban Tribe, called me out of the blue to see what I was doing and what club I was working with. I told him I wasn't, I'd been out of it for almost two years now and he started talking about getting a new venue going."
"Then, within two days I got a call from the property manager, saying that the location was coming available and asking if I'd be interested," he continued. "So I called Jason back. He had this idea in his head for 'The Shrine' to do all things and all types of music and if I'd want to be a part of it."
"To be honest, if it wasn't that particular location, I wouldn't be interested," Rich said, "but it's kind of like going home."
The transition on this room has gone swiftly, with the change from dance bar to live venue happening in a matter of weeks. When asked just how quickly it all came together, Rich said, "Negotiations went pretty quick because everyone involved is really excited about it, especially with Jason's idea and what he had pictured in his head. He sees a cool, laid back atmosphere where you can do all kinds and sizes of shows and still have it be fairly intimate. With everything involved, we got it going in right around two months."
Shrine isn't pulling any punches or dragging its feet in getting off the ground. The room is scheduling a soft opening next Friday night, August 17 with O.T.S.B. (featuring X-Cal and Wil Sutherland) and a couple other bands to get the room jump started and work out any minor details.
The official opening will then be the following week with shows scheduled on the August 24-26. Rich indicated that Friday night, August 24, will feature Tony Romanello & the Black Jackets, Fiddlebacks and Jon Malone. "We're going back to all the old-school hitters and bringing them back," he said. "We've even got a New Science show coming up."
Saturday, August 25 will feature Dallas-based headliner Nothing More with The American Tragedy and The Bourgeois opening the show, for a big night of rock. The following night, Le Purple Dragon promotions brings in The Sex with Alan Doyle and DJ Oreo for a big rock and dance party on Sunday, August 26.
When speaking with Rich about plans for the venue and upcoming shows, he shared that he's had his head buried in the calendar and reaching out to many of his old contacts. "Once I started getting back into it and going through my old phone numbers, I found out that a lot of the old bands are no longer bands," he shared. "I only took a break for two years, but it's been hard on everyone and a lot of bands have broken up. After I started digging, though, a lot of bands started calling me and saying 'I love that room.' And when I started calling agents, I didn't have to sell the room, I just gave them the address and they knew, because it's still in their records and has a reputation as a great live room."
Although the transition from dance club back to live venue has gone swiftly, it hasn't been without its challenges. Among other things, the room had to be reconstructed to accommodate live bands instead of the dance club crowd.
"Yeah, we had to take out the DJ booths and build a new stage and a few other things," Rich said. "That's why I've been buried in the calendar. Jason has been in there with Steve Lidell and they've been putting their construction skills to work, getting the place ready. We also called in Russell Law to help us with the sound system and Mark Matheos for the stage, so we could get this thing ready to go."
Looking forward, Rich says the plan is to do all types of shows, from local bands to regional and touring acts. Some nights may include four or five acts while others may only call for one or two. The plan, however, is to make the room a home for live music at the corner of 18th and Boston once again, with bands playing five or six nights a week.
"There's something cool about that room," Rich said. "We've got the size, so it can be anything you want it to be. You can do small shows or bigger ones and they all work in there, so we're looking forward to it."
He also shared, "We're going to start bringing bands back through that need to be playing Tulsa but stopped playing here and started going to Oklahoma City, Kansas City or Wichita instead. And (hopefully) we'll get bands trading shows with other bands from Dallas and other locations again."
As for now, things are looking up again for Tulsa's local music scene as we gain another live venue and another opportunity for local bands to showcase their talent. Only time will tell, but this one promises to turn back the clock and help the corner of 18th and Boston reclaim its identity as the place to go for live music. We'll be keeping our eyes and ears peeled as Shrine firms up its calendar and starts announcing more shows.
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