Rock Coffee can't do music anymore, thanks to complaints from the Big Easy's parent company, Bravo Entertainment. Last Saturday's Dark Side of the Cop show (which we spent all of last week absolutely giddy for) will be the last concert Rock puts on at their current location, according to Rock Coffee owners Todd and Misty Rothrock and music manager Patrick Kendrick, who is scrambling to find homes for more than 150 bands, many of whom are stopping by from out of town.
The camp at Rock is being rather tight-lipped about the situation for legal reasons, but they have expressed concern about having to cancel massive numbers of shows and about the health of the music scene in general.
"We were supposed to end last Thursday, but we talked them into letting us finish out the week," says Kendrick, "You should see the list of shows I have coming -- it's a shame."
It's those very shows, though, that have been rubbing various entities the wrong way. On July 24, Kiemle & Hagood, the local property managers that operate the building for the owners, Western United Life (a relic of the old Met Mortgage empire) sent a notice of default to the Rothrocks, telling them to immediately stop using the space as a "venue for live entertainment performances." Meaning no concerts, at all.
"I can't even stand on a stand on the stage with a triangle," says Kendrick.
Just why the concerts are a problem, though, isn't quite clear. On the one hand, Kiemle & amp; Hagood's notice states that "the live entertainment that is being provided in your suite constitutes a disturbance to the quiet enjoyment of the other tenant in the Building per Paragraph 11 of the lease." The only other tenant in the building -- following the disaster that was Marilyn's Celebrity Casino -- is Bravo (whose concert venue, the Big Easy, just played host to Nu-Metallers Powerman 5000, and whose restaurant, the Bourbon Street Grill, often plays host to power pop and punk acts). The letter continues, "the amplifiers, instruments and other musical devices employed in the performances that have occurred cause substantial noise and vibration, and therefore are not allowed." The real kicker, though, and the thing that has allowed Kiemle & amp; Hagood to take this action, is that Rock's lease agreement contained no explicit provision for live music.
That's just wrong, says Thomas Bechard, who runs Rock's tremendously popular open-mic night. "Right when they got their lease initially, they said, 'We're going to put in a stage, we're going to need separate breakers for the amps' -- all that sort of stuff." When the question was put to Kiemle & amp; Hagood's Gordon Hester, he demurred: "The owner is not interested in commenting on the legal discussion ... until it's resolved."
Sources within Bravo, though, say they weren't really concerned with the noise. "I'm not sure why the building is trying to make that the issue," says Brandy Louck, Big Easy Spokane's production manager. Paul Thornton, president of Bravo Entertainment, says the corporate office, based in Boise, had no problem with Rock Coffee initially. They began with mainly acoustic acts, says Thornton, but the music has gotten progressively heavier.
"[T]his last year, it's been pretty much all death metal all the time, and it's been really hurting our business," Thornton says.
As compilers of weekly music listings, The Inlander has counted only perhaps three shows at Rock that would even get close to being metal in the last year. For a venue that often hosts five concerts a week, that percentage is vanishingly small.
Regardless, Thornton believes the scene that Rock creates has become increasingly detrimental to Bravo's entertainment aspirations. "The only way we can sustain a business as big as we do there is to have very diverse crowds each week," he says. "They've had lots of people just hanging out on the sidewalks with their own six-packs of beer." Further, Thornton says, "We've had people tell us, 'Oh yeah, we saw these people bloody, fighting outside your place.' And I tell them we had nothing to do with that."
According to Cpl. Tom Lee of the Spokane Police Department, however, the police have received zero noise complaints for any businesses in the area near Rock. That includes any possible happenings at the Big Easy as well. And though Thornton asserted that Kiemle & amp; Hagood had "initiated actions" against Rock at the behest of the City of Spokane, Gordon Hester flatly denies that. "Nobody brought anything of that nature to our attention," says Hester. It seems incredibly odd, though -- knowing the types of clientele that loiter outside Rock Coffee and the Big Easy -- that the frail, striped-shirt, angle-haired tweens who frequent Rock are more likely to get in a drunken scuffle than the people who go to concerts and dance parties at the Big Easy.
Kendrick says it's even too far to associate those kids -- the frail ones who loiter outside -- with the coffee shop itself. They had been dawdling inside the shop -- not buying drinks, not paying covers -- until Kendrick kicked them out a few months ago. Since then, he says he's worked to get them off the sidewalks as well. "I was working with the Downtown [Spokane] Partnership and the Ambassadors to get the kids away from in front of not only our property but from in front of everyone else's," says Kendrick. "If anything, I was going out of my way to help the city."
All Thornton says he wanted was for Rock "to go back to how they started," as a "piano bar," (remember the time Rock was having all those loungy piano acts?) with an occasional "two-piece acoustic thing." The trouble with Thornton's vision of "how they started" is that it's wrong. Rock owner Todd Rothrock points to the club's very first show on Jan. 1, 2005, as a sign of things to come. "Our grand opening had four bands play there," says Rothrock, "Mylestone and a number of others were there." That would have been at the height of the rock group's popularity in the region -- a time when they were, at the very least, the most popular band in town. That underscores the shop's rock-centric business model, says Rothrock. "This isn't something that just snuck up ... this was our goal from the beginning. We're Rock Coffee."
Or, as Bechard, who runs the open-mic night, puts it, "It's not like Kiemle & amp; Hagood didn't know what [Rock was] going to use the place for."
And even if Bravo's corporate wing in Boise was unaware of rock at Rock until last month, there's no way the Spokane-based arm of the company could mistake Mylestone's set on opening night for a "two-piece acoustic thing."
The Bottom Line
Whatever the controversy, the music is done at Rock for the foreseeable future, and the firestorm that resulted from Kiemle & amp; Hagood's letter was such that Kendrick was asked to stay away from Rock Coffee until the last show ended. Kendrick's back at work now, though, and going about the task of finding replacement venues for those 150-plus bands. Though he's transferred shows to Mootsy's and is trying to offload them to the Blue Spark as well, he's still shopping the popular open-mic night around to establishments like Europa and Caterina.
One weekly show that has found a home is Rock and 7's weekly podcast, which will now take place at CenterStage. In addition to that, Empyrean owner Alex Caruso is working closely with CenterStage to begin putting on more pop, punk and hardcore shows at a venue that's been primarily a place for dinner theater.
It's an odd but fortuitous match. Pop shows were anathema to CenterStage until recently, but Connie Sagona says that a variety of issues, including financial ones, have caused them to reconsider. "All of us are trying to do something good for Spokane. It's not like any of us are trying to make a million dollars here," she says.
That isn't to say that a full slate of shows are forthcoming at CenterStage. The Midnight Society show on Tuesday was a litmus test, and the results are still forthcoming. "I think I've got them convinced that it's in their best interest as well as in the best interest of Spokane," Caruso says, but the proof is in the turnout.
Sagona, though, is optimistic, and excited for the fresh blood that pop concerts might bring to CenterStage, which, among younger sets, has a reputation for being something of an old folks' home. "Within nine days we have rock, a big band, our standard jazz [at ella's], and a belly dancer with Middle Eastern music ... I love the diversity of it."
Caruso's hopeful as well, saying, "If everything goes well this will hopefully give us a really good jumping-off point to do a lot more live shows, especially those mid-sized bands." He asserts, though, that the decision to approach CenterStage was based largely on existing problems with booking mid-sized bands at the Big Easy.
Paul Thornton insists that "the last thing [Bravo or the Big Easy] want to do is harbor anything against any part of the music scene -- that's the core of our business." But Caruso asserts that, consciously or not, bands leave town unhappy because of their experience of being pushed off stage early to make room for dance parties at the venue.
Caruso says one of his own contacts, the agency that books for Mates of State, Interpol and Supersystem, "told me that they're trying to loop around Spokane ... because of the Big Easy. I also know that Built To Spill doesn't want to come back," Caruso adds, "mostly because of the Big Easy." That's certainly the sense Inlander staffers got when Built to Spill's front man, Doug Marsch, cut the band's set several songs short. "I guess they're telling us that we gotta get out of here so you can start dancing," he said, referring to the Big Easy's policy of ending concerts hours early on nights when one of their various dance parties has been scheduled. The band left the stage in a huff.
Rock Coffee, though, will be back, just at a different -- though as yet undisclosed -- location. That's good news for Kendrick. "I'm booked so far out that there's a month of music I don't have to worry about canceling because of the new venue," he says. Rock's situation is temporary, then, but depending on how many of those already booked bands Kendrick is forced to cancel, the hit to Spokane's reputation as a dependable tour stop might last far longer than the concert stoppage.
The bottom line -- indeed the only thing that music fans in Spokane have noticed -- is that we, as a city, are hemorrhaging opportunities not only to attract great bands, but to keep them returning tour after tour. And now, with Rock being ordered to cease all concerts, that fact is true not just of mid-sized acts, but smaller bands as well. Alex Caruso, for his part, is working to stem that flow, and Patrick Kendrick certainly is as well, so there's a lot of hope mixed in with the uncertainty.
Until CenterStage makes a decision on the nascent pop scene there, though, and until the new Rock location opens -- wherever it may be -- the scene is going to be considerably more unstable.