Blues

Here’s Why Chars LIVE Wants to 'Rev Things Up' With Its Music Offerings

The exterior of Chars LIVE in midtown Phoenix.
The exterior of Chars LIVE in midtown Phoenix. Benjamin Leatherman
It’s a Wednesday night at Chars LIVE and renowned local R&B/funk vocalist Larry Bailey is onstage showing off his gorgeous pipes. As five musicians in his backing band lay down grooves, the singer croons along with the tune as his golden voice fills the sound system.

The music is driving the vibe inside the historic midtown Phoenix bar and venue located along Seventh Avenue south of Camelback Road. Patrons of various ages and ethnic backgrounds sitting at high-top tables throughout Chars bob their heads while well-dressed couples hit the parquet dance floor in the center of the room.

Scenes like this have taken place at Chars LIVE in the seven months since it reopened in February after undergoing a 15-month-long renovation and partial rechristening by its current owners. Previously known as Char’s Has the Blues — an acclaimed local haven for R&B, funk, and soul music dating back to the mid-’80s — the reboot gave the joint a fresh look and a new lease on life.

Its decrepit infrastructure was completely overhauled while its interior was transformed with new elements, including adding a VIP room, a 10-by-13-foot stage, and retro-themed décor like a massive wall collage of more than 150 vintage LPs. (There are also a few remnants of its previous stint as Char’s Has the Blues, including a vintage pay phone near the restrooms and the dance floor.)

Longtime fans of the joint embraced Chars LIVE, particularly since local artists like Bailey, who performed there on a regular basis, continued to be featured after its transformation.
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A wall collage of more than 150 record albums inside Chars LIVE.
Evolve PR
David Cameron, a local businessman and developer who owns Chars, told Phoenix New Times recently he’s happy with the reception the place has gotten since reopening but is hoping to take things further with the place. That includes diversifying and increasing its live music offerings while expanding its outdoor patio and amenities.

“I think most of the people like it and it's been well-received. It's a close reproduction of what Chars used to be, but [has] morphed into something a little different,” he says. “What we want to do now is take things to another level.”

Cameron says they’ve recently brought on new staff to help program and expand the live music at Chars. Performances are currently offered five or six nights a week. The lineup includes old-schoolers like Bailey and local ensemble Kenny Brown and Bam Bam Trio, as well as more recent additions like R&B/soul singer Alexis Janae, funk/jazz band The Optimystics, and reggae artist Gabo Fayuca.

Cameron wants to add even more diversity to the artists taking to the stage at Chars LIVE.

"We’re still going to have the usual bands we’ve been featuring, but we'd like to bring in some local talents who haven’t played there before, along with some regional talents from Los Angeles or Texas,” he says.

The goal, Cameron points out, is to help diversify and grow the crowds coming to the venue.

“There's a mixed crowd coming in now [who are] totally different from what it was like before at [Char's Has the Blues]. I think a lot of younger folks are coming out to experience it and falling in love with rhythm and blues,” he says. “We've had that stuff, it's been successful, and we’ll continue featuring it in the future. But we also want to open it up to more genres and performers, like a melting pot of demographics [of people who] come to perform or check us out.”
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Alexis Janae (center) performs at Chars LIVE.
Evolve PR
So what sorts of genres will Chars LIVE offer in the future? Cameron is a little cagey when answering the question, saying the new staff is still figuring things out.

“We're in a position now where we've just brought in new people, so things are still in the planning phase," he maintains. "We love bluegrass, we love gospel, we love all kinds of jazz, so it could be anything.”

Another aspect that’s also in the works is a large outdoor patio space behind Chars LIVE encompassing a neighboring building that will potentially offer a food and beverage concept, an “urban garden” atmosphere, and an additional space for performances.

The project will require use permits from the city of Phoenix to allow outdoor live music, alcohol consumption, and dining within 500 feet of a residential district. The matter is scheduled to be considered by the city’s zoning adjustment hearing officer on September 29.

Cameron says they’ve reached out to residents of the adjacent neighborhood for support, and hopes the additions will be approved by the city. If they are, Cameron would like to have outdoor areas up and running by early next year.

“If it works out, we'll be in a position to start doing larger events with mixed media and more music, like having a jazz band inside and a bluegrass band outside for a really cool weekend experience,” he says. “That's a different experience from what Char's [Has the Blues] ever was. We can rev things up to a higher level at Chars LIVE.”
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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.