POSTED ON JUNE 13, 2012:
A Marquee Venue Lights up Brady
Brady District energized by live music in a new but familiar space
Everybody loves a tease. And you've noticed in Urban Tulsa over the past few weeks teasing ads announcing "V=music2" -- an oblique declaration meant to get our minds working and wondering just what might be coming. I looked into it, and now the cover's off.
I spoke with Simon Aleman, who shared some info on a new venture he has been involved with that will bring live music back to the space formerly known as The Marquee (222 N. Main St.). When that venue quietly closed its doors over the winter, it left a gap in our local music scene on a couple of levels: not only was it the only mid-sized room in town, filling that space between playing a small club and jumping to Cain's Ballroom, but it also provided an opportunity for many local bands to cut their teeth and grow while opening for a number of touring bands that made their way through Tulsa over the past few years.
In fact, once I sat down to discuss this new venue with Aleman, he shared a letter that had been left behind at one of the last shows held at The Marquee. That letter read:
I went to my very first concert in the 9th grade here. It was Stereo Skyline/The Downtown Fiction/Stephen Jerzak. I'm now a senior in high school and I've gone to countless shows here. It absolutely breaks my heart to hear that you guys might be closing. I've had so many great memories. It's been my safe place for years now. It would mean the world to me and so many others if you would stay open.
Guess what, Chelsea? Don't count on it being the same, but your sanctuary is returning with a new name (The Vanguard), a long overdue makeover and a new vision and focus on music that includes, but goes beyond the pop-punk and scene bands that have made The Marquee their home over the past four years. Yes, you'll likely see some familiar names come through, but under the new venue name of The Vanguard, you'll also see a new mix of genres with everything from alt-country to indie-pop to Red Dirt, rock, country and even a little jazz from time to time.
When asking Aleman how and why he's opening such a venue, he shared that he had been a musician in Oklahoma City in the '80s and has since become a successful business owner. Now his son is a musician in the band Till Metro, which pulled him back into the music scene. After becoming good friends with the bass player's father, Pat McMurchy, the two discussed how much they would like to have a venue like Oklahoma City's Blue Door, a true listening room, in Tulsa.
With that in mind, the pair set out as business partners searching for the right space. Over the course of roughly a year and a half, Aleman said, "We looked at every shithole and warehouse in town, but everything either needed so much work or had no parking that nothing really worked."
Eventually, it came to their attention that the space formerly home to The Marquee was coming open and the pair jumped at the opportunity. "It's a bigger room than we anticipated and were really looking for," Aleman said, "but it just made sense."
"There's been a vacuum for a room this size," he said. "We have one of the greatest rooms in the area with Cain's Ballroom, but nothing this size, akin to George's Majestic. We felt that the Brady District is about to really get its legs, which made it the perfect time and place to do something like this."
"We have a great music heritage in Tulsa," Aleman said. "This is a great opportunity to build upon that legacy and an opportunity to build something akin to Austin's 6th Street right here in Tulsa with Cain's Ballroom, Crystal Pistol, Soundpony, Hunt Club, The Brady and Downtown Lounge all within the same proximity of each other."
First and foremost, however, Aleman was quick to stress that the pair's primary motivation in opening the venue is a focus on music. The goal is to bring in a mix of emerging artists, just as they are about to break and established artists ready to play a more intimate venue. In the process, the room has the potential to become a key venue in our local music scene.
Rest assured, however, this won't be the same old room with a new coat of paint. The partners took over the room n March and quickly began plotting a major renovation. What you won't see is the fact that the green room has been gutted and remodeled, making for cozy quarters for the bands backstage. It will be apparent from the moment you walk in, however, that something is different. Besides installing a whole new sound system, the renovations include a theater curtain completing the half-wall up to the ceiling to give the room a more completed look and soften the sound in the room. Most obvious, however, will be the new balcony and VIP deck along the south wall of the room.
When asked about the renovations, Aleman said, "We knew what would be critical to the success of pulling off a venue in this space was that it had to be different. What we don't want to do is send a message that this is the same, sweaty rock room. In order to do that, we knew we had to do two things. First, we had to get the air conditioning and climate control under control. Second, we had to do something that let people know as soon as they walked in that this wasn't the same old Mooch and Burn or Marquee, so we're putting in the VIP mezzanine."
Situated along the south wall, the mezzanine will include three VIP lounges that overlook the room with a bird's eye view of the stage. Not only does the new platform open up an opportunity for a VIP experience at the shows that will come through, but it also increased capacity for the room, which is now increased to roughly 625. Certain shows will have VIP tickets available with access to the mezzanine area and patrons will also have the option of reserving one of the mezzanine sections for a private group or party, creating an added value and new marketing options for the room.
Most important, however, is the music and the new venue promises to be focused on just that. The Vanguard isn't planned to be open every night. It's not intended to be a bar or a club, but a true music venue. As such, it will initially be open Thursday-Saturday, with additional shows throughout the week as the proper opportunities present themselves. Initial plans call for Thursdays to be DJ night with local, regional and touring DJ's anchoring a weekly dance night. Fridays and Saturdays will be dedicated to live bands and the room will open for additional shows as the schedule dictates.
Right now, The Vanguard is scheduled to open the weekend of July 5-7 with a focus on Oklahoma music and getting people out to experience the room and see that things are definitely different. The venue will open on Thursday, July 5 with Tulsa's own DJ Moody headlining the night with special guest RogMahal for the 21+ crowd with no cover to introduce the room. Friday night, July 6, follows up with "Oklahoma Indie Night," featuring Dead Sea Choir and The Moai Broadcast, with Oklahoma City's Defining Times opening the show, for which tickets are only $5 in advance.
Finally, the weekend wraps up with the return of Caroline's Spine to headline on Saturday, July 7, with support from Pretty Black Chains and Baron Von Swagger. Tickets for Caroline's Spine will be $15 as the show truly introduces The Vanguard as Tulsa's premier new concert venue.
Aleman has been busy negotiating contracts for shows throughout the summer and into the fall with a focus on booking quality music with no genre boundaries. Many dates are yet to be confirmed, but as the venue announces its opening and rolls out its initial line-up, additional shows which have been confirmed include Forever The Sickest Kids with Plug-In Stereo, Paradise Fears and It Boys on Wednesday, July 18; A Good Fight on Saturday, July 21 and Low Litas with Gentle Ghost and brother Rabbit on August 18.
The Vanguard has also formed a partnership with Kinetic Entertainment to present a monthly Texas Music night, which will kick off on Saturday, August 4 with Shy Blakeman headlining the evening. When discussing the monthly Texas music night, Aleman also shared that initial plans are in place to also host a Red Dirt night and a quarterly New Orleans music night to bring in artists from the NOLA music scene.
A full concert calendar will be rolling out in the coming weeks and although those shows can't be announced until contracts are signed and completed, I can say that The Vanguard will definitely be offering a variety of styles, ranging from classic and alt-country to indie-pop to singer/songwriter material as well as the pop and rock that you'd expect.
Mark your calendars now for opening weekend and keep your eyes peeled for more announcements, both here in the pages of UTW and on the venue's website, which can be found at thevanguardtulsa.com. When positioned as the intermediate venue and stepping stone to larger shows at Cain's Ballroom, The Vanguard promises to fill a gap in Tulsa's local music scene while keeping the focus on bringing quality music to town. Personally, I can't wait to see what more we've got in store.
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