Inside The Big Easy

by Mike Corrigan

Spokane's newest spot for live entertainment and alcohol-fueled dance parties has arrived. The now-operational Big Easy nightclub at the corner of First and Monroe kicked off its string of grand-opening festivities with a VIP event last Friday night. Anybody who is anybody was in attendance, and anybody with a mind to shake their booty was also there. (You know who you are.) This inaugural party showcased the hard work of crews who were under the gun to get the Big Easy ready in time. They pulled through in the clutch, and now Spokane is the proud new home of this fine facility.

Speaking of pride, on a recent tour of the facility, Big Easy co-owner Crestin Thorntin was positively beaming.

"We already sold out the first two shows, so we've gotten off to a real good start," he says. "We expect to run about 300,000 people through here a year with 170-plus shows."

The city has been a-buzz with anticipation of the club's opening, and there was more than a little speculation as to whether the much-touted venue would be ready for its first show on Jan. 31 with Sevendust. Fortunately all the management panic and the local rumors can be laid to rest. The building reeks of rock 'n' roll and is sure to satisfy the hungry masses of live music fans here. As you approach the Big Easy on First Avenue, you're greeted by a huge sign with flames and a guitar: very Hard Rock-esque. Once inside, there's a spacious hallway to accommodate ticket holders while they wait in line. This area also houses will call and a coat check. Beyond the ticket portal, there is a quaint lobby flanked by the Bourbon Street restaurant. The theme is certainly New Orleans with planked wood flooring and kind of a steakhouse feel. Tastefully done and not too swanky, you could be comfortable here whether dressed up or in jeans.

The club itself is magnificent. You enter to a huge dance floor, about the size of a basketball court, and a cavernous feel brought on by the vast open space created by the use of a balcony setup on the second floor. The layout is such that you can be in the middle of the action, without having to be in the middle of the action. The inside decor continues the New Orleans feel but in an understated manner. Faux-finished walls host numerous guitars that have been autographed by the biggest stars in rock music. The main floor is arranged in a tiered seating plan to maximize views for everyone.

The one thing you will not have a problem finding at the Big Easy is a place to sit. Besides the dizzying array of big tables, small tables, and bar stools along one wall, there is also plenty of space at the bar proper, which runs the entire length of back wall of the club. That's a whole lot of bar. There are also a few velvet couches stashed in strategic areas of the club to offer a soft place to rest those weary dancing legs or just relax. And this is just on the floor level. The performance area of the club is a large stage, about the size of the Met's, and offers plenty of space for bands to put on a rocking live show. There are two large video monitors on either side of the stage offering unobstructed views of the live action, but really, any seat in this place is a good one.

A wide, long stairway leads to the upper floor of the club. Arranged in the same terraced set-up as the main floor, this upper balcony is fantastic. Three separate tiers incorporate bar stool seating with small, elevated tables to maximize space. Running the length of the back wall of the upper floor are classy black leather bench seats that offer an unassuming place to sit and chat. The strength of the upper floor is the wrap-around architecture it employs. The VIP Room balconies on both sides -- accessible only to $3,000-a-year VIP pass holders -- hang over the dance floor below and provide a fantastic vantage point of the stage.

Says Thorntin, "The 50 VIP passes sold out in the first two weeks before the place was even finished. Now there's a 40-person waiting list."

Strategically placed at a corner is the upper floor bar. That's right, another bar and just one of three fully stocked such stations in the club. This corner location makes it easy for the numerous waitstaff to get in and out in a hurry and also offers hassle-free service to the walk-up patrons. The final and perhaps most important feature of the upper floor is the sound booth. Located front and center in the balcony, this high-tech house of aural magnificence accommodates the machines that make the show go round. A slew of computers, controllers and one gigantic mixing board all work together to optimize perhaps the bumping-est sound system in Spokane. All the video projections, slightest audio tweaks and lighting are controlled from this central area. And the results are astonishing. The numerous flood, mood, strobe lighting fixtures hang from rigging suspended above the stage, adding a whole lotta bang for your buck to any live or dance party event.

According to Thorntin, the management is also toying with something they are calling "Thursday locals night."

"We want to have it so local bands can come in here and play, too," he says.

Now that we have our own state-of-the-art live music venue, it's time to use it to its fullest potential. The Big Easy's ownership and management have thoroughly researched both our area and the city's taste for music and have put together an impressive lineup of shows that offers something for everyone whether it's Skid Row on Feb. 21, Crystal Method on Feb. 28 or Jewel on March 12.

Dust Off -- The last time the Dusty 45s were in our neck of the woods (in December) they -- in the immortal words of Mootsy's owner, Rick Turner -- "blew the joint away." Well, this dynamic Seattle-based roots rock 'n' roll band has our humble town in the crosshairs once again, once again at Mootsy's, this Saturday night. The band is referring to this visit as its triumphant "The Fans Have Spoken" return to Spokane. And it should be nothing less than a hot, steamy and fun all-night riot.

The Dusty 45s were formed in 1997 by guitarist/vocalist/trumpeter Billy Joe Huels and upright bass player Kevin Scott out of a mutual love of rockabilly and other American roots forms, along with a mutual desire to write original, roots-influenced music. As the lineup grew and evolved, Huels and Scott brought on jump blues-inspired pianist Micha Hulscher, ex-Allies guitarist Jerry Battista and ex-Screaming Trees drummer Mark Pickerel to round out the squad.

The band dabbles in honky-tonk, jump blues and pure rock 'n' roll to create a soulful, high-energy sonic tonic that can peel the paint off the wall. They've taken their signature sound and energy into the studio as well and have emerged with an EP (1998's The Dusty 45s) and full-length CD (2000's Shackin' Up). A follow-up album entitled The Devil Takes His Turn is due out later this year.

And as always, with the Dusty 45's brand of wild roadhouse rock, it's their way and the highway.

Publication date: 02/05/04