You don’t have to drive more than about five minutes to get to three cool, new, nearby music venues that have opened this year, giving the downtown L.A. scene a run for its money. Together, they offer a range of artists seven nights a week unlike anything we’ve seen – or should have expected – within a 3-mile radius of South Pasadena.
Since January, The Hi-Hat has established itself as a legitimate destination for a broad cross-section of local and touring acts, tending toward those with an alternative edge but regularly venturing into the worlds of pop, hip-hop, metal and beyond.
Courting an audience looking for a more pampered concert experience, the Rose theater officially opened in May, in the former Gelson’s market location at Paseo Colorado in Pasadena, offering a lineup of acts that more often than not are rekindling memories of the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s.
Meanwhile, South Pasadena musical impresario Brad Colerick reconfigured the old pro shop at the city-owned Arroyo Seco Golf Course to convert it into the 80-seat Blue Guitar, moving his established Wednesday night Wine and Song singer-songwriter series there – and then, a couple months ago, adding a Jazz & Blues night every Thursday.
The Blue Guitar
With a sound check in the background mixing with the smack of golf clubs against driving-range balls, Colerick sat down on the patio recently to share the story of his path to the new concert site.
“I was at Firefly for 4 ½ years, and when they sold to the new owners and wanted to do some remodeling, we were out,” said Colerick. “I only had about a two-week notice before they closed down and I had shows booked six months out, so I had to find venues. I was moving around – I think I’ve been in 13 spots now [over the course of 7 years] – with Wine and Song.”
He had been imagining a space more in the heart of the city when he remembered the pro shop, which had been closed for some time. It has been a win-win move for Colerick and South Pasadena. “For the most part, they’ve let me do improvements to the room and left me alone,” he said. “I think they’re getting a lot more business on Wednesdays and now Thursdays.”
Wine and Song typically offers several performers – both local talent and troubadours on a cross-country trek – on a bill that often snowballs into a spirited evening somewhere between a coffeehouse showcase and a hootenanny. “We’ve been doing it long enough now where a lot of the performers have heard from other performers who’ve done it and told them that it’s a cool gig,” Colerick said.
On Dec. 28, folk troubadour Michael McNevin ventures down from Northern Cal to take over hosting duties and perform with an assortment of other musicians while Brad is out of town. On Jan. 4, the bill will feature “Acoustic Americana Rockers & Balladeers” JC and Laney, along with Powdercoat (Claire Holley and Kristin Mooney). Chi McClean stops by on Jan. 18, in town for a series of dates tied to the music industry’s NAMM show in Orange County after a couple months of writing and recording in Nashville.
As for the new Jazz & Blues night: “I’ve been approached by so many jazz artists and bands that are local in the L.A. area that I think there’s a need – room for another club – and time will tell, but hopefully there’s an audience for it as well.”
On the opening night of the Jazz and Blues series, a crowd of about 30 should have been three times that, with trumpeter Elliott Caine’s group blowing exuberant romps through a tasty series of jazz selections (including a wonderful spin on Vernon Duke’s “Autumn in New York”) for a politely enthusiastic crowd. (Caine returns with his quintet on Jan. 12.) Several weeks later, it was senior statesman Kal David unfurling seductively sensitive guitar excursions through numbers such as “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and “The Thrill Is Gone.” It was a master class in blues singing and playing – in our own backyard.
Tonight (Dec. 22), saxophonist David Wise leads an outfit featuring keyboards, violin, cello, bass, drums and vocals; guitarist Riner Scivally and sax player Rob Kyle drop by with a quartet on Dec. 29; and down the road on March 2 of the new year, there will be a rematch of a night billed as “Rich Hinman vs. Adam Levy,” where the two guitarists are joined by drummer Jay Bellerose and bassist Jennifer Condos; their combined credits could stretch out to the 16th green.
In Pasadena, The Rose is the latest L.A. area venue for owner/operator Lance Sterling, and like his Canyon Club in Agoura Hills, it serves up more than just music. If you want the best seats in the house, you’ll need to arrive early and purchase a pre-show dinner to go along with your top-price ticket. It’s a formula that seems to work for their target market, which Luanne Nast, the clubs’ VP of marketing, ticketing and media relations, puts at ages 30 to 75.
“They’re looking for a nice night of entertainment, to sit down and have a nice dinner – the whole experience,” she said.
The facility, which can hold about 1,200, is slick, with state-of-the-art sound and professional lighting, as well as good sight-lines throughout the black-on-black room. For shows where dancing is inevitable or inextricable, the tables are moved off the floor to accommodate.
On a recent swing through town, the Psychedelic Furs ran through a set of hits and deeper cuts, sounding robust with lead singer Richard Butler’s trademark Vaseline-and-gravel vocals out front. Next week, Ambrosia plays Dec. 30, followed by a New Year’s Eve extravaganza with tribute band Queen Nation. Missing Persons can be found there on Jan. 7, Styx on Jan. 12, War on Jan. 14, and (alert the police and fire departments now) the South Pasadena High School Class of ’87 reunion on June 10!
Sterling, who also oversees the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills, has also just revived a tradition of his that used to congregate at the House of Blues on Sunset Boulevard: the gospel celebration Soulful Sunday Brunch. The last Sunday in November was the inaugural assembly at the Rose, with several hundred attending the clap-along, sing-along concert, led by the dashing and enthusiastic Sylvia St. James. Tickets range from $18.50 for standing room (without the food) to $63 for the best seats in the house and your fill from the plentiful buffet (alcoholic drinks not included); brunch starts at 10 a.m., with a 90-minute set kicking off around 11.
Highland Park, meanwhile, really rang in the new year for 2016 on January 28, when the Hi-Hat club opened on the hippest stretch of a resurgent York Boulevard, at the site of what used to be a billiards hall (the outdoor signage still betrays that) and, decades ago, an old Thrifty drugstore. It’s general admission, with cocktail tables, bar stools, some bank seating and lots of standing room in the sparse brick box with a comfortable, lived-in feel; the cover charge is usually less than $10 and beers are cheap.
Britt Witt books the bands, and while most shows at the 300-capacity venue are for ages 21 and over, they have an open license to do 18-plus and all-ages shows because they have a kitchen. “We do what’s best for the show,” she said.
You never know what kind of music or crowd you might stumble upon if you walk into the Hi-Hat on a random night. “I want to cross all genres, be a space for everybody, and not be pigeonholed into catering just to one kind of artist.”
That’s for sure.
A typical Thursday night had about 50 people on hand to take in the noisy gothic nihilism of Band Aparte, led by frenetic frontman Brian Mendoza, and guitar-drum punk rock duo Girl Tears, spewing out minute-long (and shorter) blasts of fury. A few nights before, a decidedly different tone had filled the air with American Idol competitor Avalon Young headlining an 18-and-over night. Several weeks ago, though, it was laughter spilling out the doors as the venue hosted four nights of comedy with the Funny Women Fest benefit. Meanwhile, Mondays at the Hi-Hat go in yet another direction with free jazz jams, while Tuesdays offer a headlining group in residence throughout the month. Next week, it’s the final night of the December series with experimental instrumental rockers Facial; in January, check out the wildly individualistic, on-again/off-again Morrissey-supporting act Kristeen Young; and in February, it will be alt-country stalwarts I See Hawks in LA.
“See – still keeping it all over the place,” said Witt.