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Steve Naughton was getting a bit worried. The president and self-described "show doctor" for Medical Presents had spent four years building an Arizona following for the band Hepcat, bringing the band to the Valley when few people knew who it was. Last month, as Naughton worked on booking another local gig for the Epitaph Records act, he found himself lacking only one thing: a venue at which to put the show.
A couple of months ago, Naughton probably would have gone straight to Boston's, where he's regularly brought some of his bigger shows during the last three years. But Naughton and the management of Boston's fell out with each other after two microphones were stolen at a recent show by ska heroes The Pietasters. After the show, the two sides argued about who was responsible for the lost mikes, and when they reluctantly agreed to split the cost, the upshot was that Medical agreed not to book shows there again.
Naughton says he was tired of such conflicts repeatedly occurring at Boston's, and didn't necessarily mourn the loss of the Tempe club as a venue for Medical shows. But when he tried to nail down another locale for Hepcat, he began to see that the Valley's current shortage of spots for national alt-rock shows could be a problem. So he approached The Bash on Ash with the Hepcat show.
While awaiting The Bash on Ash's approval for the concept of an all-ages show, Naughton discovered that former Nile Theater promoter Corey Adams was also bidding with The Bash on Ash for the show. After a convoluted dance between the club's owners, the two local promoters, and Hepcat's management, The Bash on Ash decided to work with Adams. Naughton was determined not to lose the show, but his options looked slim.
Naughton knew he had to think fast. He remembered that a couple of years ago, he had briefly set up a weekly ska night at the downtown Phoenix bar Jackson Hole. Naughton says he pulled out of that endeavor because he didn't want to get locked into a weekly commitment, but as time ticked away on the Hepcat show, he remembered how much he'd always liked the bar's potential as a music venue.
On the surface, Jackson Hole seems a most unlikely indie-rock mecca. Located in a 90-year-old building that once housed a Chinese steam-laundry business, Jackson Hole has served as a convenient hangout for sports-obsessed downtown professionals who probably think that Sleater-Kinney is a firm of tax lawyers. Since its opening in 1993--the very day the Charles Barkley-led Suns began a playoff run that would take them to the NBA finals--Jackson Hole has been a bar where doctors and lawyers could hobnob over happy-hour brews, and fans could pop in after a game at America West Arena. Owner Ben Gaines says he's tried "a zillion things" on the live-music front, but recognized a while back that his regulars just wanted a comfortable place.
"We've been using various bands through the years, a lot of 'em made up of doctors, lawyers and judges," Gaines says. "We've got one band with two judges.
"I think that the downtown doesn't have the depth of Dallas or some cities, because we're so spread out. We don't have a history of going downtown and partying yet."
But Naughton saw untapped possibilities here, a chance to reclaim the raucous energy of downtown's defunct Silver Dollar Club, where bands like Fugazi and Green Day played before they were established. So he talked to Gaines, and they reached an agreement, whereby Medical would have exclusive rights to produce and promote national shows at Jackson Hole. Finally armed with a solid--if unproven--venue, Naughton even managed to convince Hepcat's management company, Golden Voice Management, to award him the show, after the band's agent had initially chosen The Bash on Ash.
Most important, the Naughton-Gaines alliance offers great hope for downtown Phoenix, which has long suffered from a massive music void. For too long, downtown Phoenix has simply not been a player in the club scene, with bars tending to offer music as a demographic-friendly afterthought. Naughton seems to sense that his Jackson Hole deal could alter the shape of the Valley music scene.
"Before, I thought this was expensive to do, 'cause they don't have a professional PA system," Naughton says. "But then I realized what an opportunity it was. There hasn't been anything since the Silver Dollar closed. It's wide open down there."
Medical is constructing a new stage and bringing in a PA and lighting system. Naughton says he's patterning his Jackson Hole approach after that of Charlie Levy's arrangement with Nita's Hideaway. "I figured I could bring in my own gear, and I'd make more money eventually that way."
Gaines says that the upgraded Jackson Hole will have a capacity of 700, and will work perfectly as an indie-rock venue. He plans to avoid any potential clientele clash by carefully working around the home schedule of the Suns, Coyotes and Diamondbacks.
"I'm not gonna book a ska show with a Suns game," he says. "Steve won't be booking folks against the schedule."