by Mike Corrigan
Local music fans with a burning desire for a nice, big, good-looking live music venue in downtown Spokane are about to get their wish granted just in time for Christmas.
Metropolitan Mortgage & amp; Securities has just unveiled the eagerly awaited details regarding its planned redevelopment of the company's Metro Block, which will include the construction of a large multi-purpose entertainment facility to be leased and operated by Boise-based concert promoter Bravo Entertainment. Yeah, rock and blues fans, you've heard us talk about this one before, but now it's officially official. And if all goes according to plan, by this time next year Spokane will be gearing up for the scheduled New Year's Eve grand opening of a new 1,500-seat venue/bar/restaurant complex, ideally located between the Met and the Fox.
It's called the Big Easy. And the reason everyone (including this writer) is pretty damn excited about it is simple. The Big Easy will fill a huge venue void that has for many years kept exciting musical acts away from town, relegating Spokane to the status of cultural backwater -- literally, "out of the loop" for many touring acts.
"We like secondary markets such as Sacramento, Reno, Salt Lake, Boise," says Bravo Entertainment co-owner Paul Thornton. "We send bands through all those places -- playing 1,500 to 2,000 seat halls -- but we couldn't do Spokane sometimes because we couldn't figure out where to put them. [The Big Easy] is going to help make Spokane a normal routing stop for a lot of these shows."
What Spokane doesn't have -- yet -- is a medium-sized live music venue, one with a capacity greater than that of area bars and the Met but smaller and more intimate than either the Spokane Arena or the Opera House.
For the last two years, Bravo has successfully operated (to the tune of more than 300 concerts and counting) the Big Easy Concert House in Boise, a 1,000-capacity, state-of-the-art concert venue with a rock club feel in the heart of that city's historic downtown. When not hosting shows from major national touring acts, the Big Easy keeps things shaking via its dance club nights and special events.
"Spokane is a lot like Boise," says Thornton. "Actually, it's a little bigger as far as numbersof people, and we've been doing more shows in Spokane than any other promoter for the past three or four years. The Big Easy has done so well down here in Boise, and of the shows we've done in Spokane and Boise, the numbers have been very close. Sometimes Spokane does even better. It seems like a niche just waiting to be filled."
But size isn't the only consideration. While the Met and the Fox, for instance, can hold a decent-sized crowd, that crowd is compelled to sit on its collective butt -- not the ideal bodily orientation for a lively, booty-shaking rock, pop or blues show. In addition, beverages, particularly the alcoholic kind, are right out.
"The closest thing we had in Spokane for those kind of shows was the Fox for a little while. Now they've closed that to renovate. And when they're done, I'm sure they're not going to want to do a rock show in there."
Boise's Big Easy (virtual tours can be found at Bravo's Web site at www.bravobsp.com) is a beautiful and functional facility with a large, open concert hall, good food and drink, two levels of seating and an expansive dance floor. Thornton says Bravo's plans for the Spokane version of the Big Easy will exceed those of the Boise club.
"It will have a lot of the same look and feel but Spokane's will actually be nicer in many ways. In Boise, we took an old theater and kind of had to make it fit into the box. In Spokane, we're building the hall from the ground up. I mean, we're going to do everything we wanted to do here and couldn't. It should turn out to be one of the nicest clubs in the country. If not the nicest."
Having a venue like the Big Easy as such an integral part of the Davenport Arts District will solidify Spokane's power to attract the kind of intriguing live acts that have, in the past, bypassed us for more accommodating clubs to the west and east. Obviously, Met Mortgage and Thornton are bullish on downtown Spokane and its potential as a terrific place to experience live music.
"We like the market," says Thornton. "It's done well for us and we think we can not only have the Big Easy do well, but it will help open up the whole market, getting more and more entertainment in there at every level."