& & by Mike Corrigan & & & &

It may not look like much from the street, but & & RUMORS & & 415 (formerly Hour Place at 415 W. Sprague) has recently undergone a facelift inside. Credit the energy and dedication of event coordinator and resident DJ, the tireless Aaron Traylor for much of the dance bar's decidedly more upscale appearance and new attitude.

"Prior to last September, the walls needed painting, the ceilings weren't finished, there were holes in the roof -- it was just an absolute mess," reveals Traylor. "We put a lot of love and care into it. You should have seen it during Christmas. It looked like Times Square."

Next Thursday, Jan. 18, Traylor (as his alter ego DJ o2-n) and Rumors will host Spokane's first ever DJ competition where mix-masters from all over the region will compete in four different categories: under 21, amateur, turntableism/hip-hop and rave/techno. (The under 21 portion of the competition will be held across the street at the E Cafe & amp; Gallery.) On Jan. 20, Rumors will hold its grand opening, featuring DJs o2-n and Learn.

To register for the DJ competition, challengers must go to www.spokaneparties.com, to the Rumors 415 message board, express interest and leave an e-mail address by Monday.

Says Traylor: "There's no official commitment. If they want to show up they will, if they don't, no big deal. We'll have half-hour time slots, so we're looking at around 20 DJs."

Entrants are required to bring in their own music, needles and headphones. That's it. Rumors will provide the turntables, mixer and sound system. Prizes are furnished by Unified Groove Merchants (a very happening new local record store), Local 77 and E Cafe.

To those unfamiliar with the downtown nightclub scene, a clarification is in order. Simply put, Rumors is (as Hour Place was) a gay bar, one that nevertheless caters to everyone, regardless of sexual preference -- providing you leave your prejudices and fears (if any) at the door.

"More than anything else, this is a gay bar," concurs Traylor. "And it should be promoted as such. But we also want to stress that anyone is welcome. And from what I gather, people do feel welcome when they come here. We're getting a lot of straight people in a gay environment and you would think that it would cause a little bit of tension, but surprisingly, everyone behaves themselves. Essentially, people come here to dance."

The DJ competition is just the beginning of what Traylor describes as Rumors' ongoing dedication to providing local dance fanatics with some of the best, most expertly spun techno, trance, hip hop, house and Top 40 anywhere in town.

"We have different music compared to what Dempsey's and Pumps offer. We do a lot of the familiar Top 40 mixes, but we blend it in with techno and things that are a little underground, things that aren't too familiar but make you dance anyway."

For as modern and trendy as DJ-driven dance music is, the human element relies on technology a century old: turntables, needles and sounds cut into black plastic discs. Neither group would probably want to admit it, but old school record collectors and modern DJs share something fundamental to their individual passions -- a love of vinyl.

"You can mix CDs," admits Traylor. "But it's not the same. There's just something great about having a piece of vinyl under your fingers."

And contrary to popular opinion, today's DJs aren't simply human disc changers, they are as much a performer (with his/her own cult of personality) as any rock or pop artist.

"I see the DJ as a new millennium version of a lounge singer," he quips. "I consider it an art form."

Traylor turned on to the art of turntablism at age 17 and has spent the last eight years honing his skills at clubs in Spokane, Montana, North Idaho and Seattle.

"I learned from some of the best in town," he says. "Generally, I was more interested in the rave music. But I didn't care too much for raves."

Traylor cites overly conservative attitudes and local officials' seeming resistance to a healthy nightlife scene as his biggest challenges to making Rumors a success. "Sometimes I feel like I'm in the movie, Footloose, where the law doesn't allow any music whatsoever."

But once in the DJ booth, Traylor comes alive, putting into practice his expertise with turntable manipulation and his knowledge of the music itself (he showed off for us with two current releases from Madonna and Britney Spears).

"I'm addicted to it. It's even on my arm here," adds Traylor, drawing attention to a prominent turntable tattoo on his right forearm.

"The most important thing of all is not how the music is matched, beat-wise, it's reading the crowd. If you're looking out there on the dance floor and seeing people who are really excited and obviously enthusiastic about the music, you want to continue to play something that is similar, in that genre. If you see people getting tired and going for their drinks, you might want to change up the pace a little bit -- to keep them going. It's all body language."

& & & lt;i & The DJ Competition is on Thursday, Jan. 18, at E Cafe beginning at 4 pm. Tickets: $4. At Rumors 415, it starts at 8 p.m. Free. Call: 838-6947. & lt;/i & & lt;/center &

& & Kindling the True Flame & & & &

Though mandolinist Ron Thomason has nothing against what he refers to as "New Grass" -- the fusion of traditional bluegrass music with more contemporary popular music elements -- his group won't have anything to do with it. No, & & THE DRY BRANCH FIRE SQUAD & & specializes in the real stuff -- undiluted, bluegrass music for audiences unwilling to accept yet another "dumbed-down" derivative of yet another antecedent American musical form. Call it "aggressively traditional bluegrass music," music in the tradition of such masters of the genre as Flatt & amp; Scruggs and Bill Monroe.

The quintet will be making a stop at The Met courtesy of the Inland Northwest Bluegrass Association on Sunday.

Though fierce in their stylistic reverence, this is no mob of surly, unyielding, dry-as-toast traditionalists with as much in common with the modern world as the horse-drawn carriage. Not by a long shot. As most bluegrass fans already know, Dry Branch's music is timeless, and their live performances are punctuated by the decidedly irreverent humor and eloquent wisdom of the group's front man. Thomason's backwoods wit and easy charm transcends mere hick humor, making his off-kilter, often outrageous diatribes between songs as much a part of a live Dry Branch performance as the music itself.

The band consists of Thomason on mandolin, Danny Russell on banjo, Charlie Leet on bass and Adam McIntosh and Mary Jo Leet on acoustic guitar. Expect to hear selections from Dry Branch's 23-year career, including faithful renditions of traditional favorites as well as numbers arranged by Thomason and several a cappella songs spotlighting the sublime vocal harmonies found within the group.

Expect a good time.

& & & lt;i & Dry Branch Fire Squad performs at The Met on Sunday, Jan. 14, at 7 pm. Tickets: $12; $8, for under 16. Call: 325-SEAT. & lt;/i & & lt;/center &

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