There are many dedicated promoters and club owners who foster our rich music scene here in the Valley. But few are as uniquely skilled as Paul Benson, owner and operator of Club Red, Mesa's dual-stage venue. Benson’s been with the venue for 12 years, and in that time, he’s done just about everything.
"I did some booking for a little while, and eventually I got the position of production manager," he says. "When the previous owner [Kim Commons] passed away [in June 2015], the business fell to his daughter, and she and I [helped] rebuild everything that we possibly could. It was about three years ago that I was made part-owner."
Benson continues: "It was something I always wanted to do. I just never knew that it was going to be here."
Benson takes a talent-friendly view of his role as an owner, saying he considers "artists as customers, too, because they're here for their night and they're here to enjoy it." That means satisfying whatever wishes those "guests" may have.
"One of my favorite bands that comes through here is Ghoul," he says. "Every time the tour manager walks in [he says], 'Okay, so you know, we're throwing blood, we're throwing guts, we've got chainsaws.’ And any time they walk into our room, we're going to be, 'Everything is already done.'"
Benson’s continued dedication is impressive, considering that as he was still learning the managerial ropes, Club Red relocated from its location at University Drive and Loop 101 in Tempe to University Drive and Alma School Road in mid-2014.
Benson, who built the new PA and lighting systems, says they closed out in late May that year and held their first show at the start of June. While the relocation could have affected the club’s business, Benson saw the process as an opportunity for some much-needed growth. The Valley, in general, is changing, and the venue had to find ways to maintain pace or risk being swallowed up by progress.
"Everything in Phoenix right now is going through a process of rebirth and regrowth," he says. "You look at central Phoenix, and they've been making massive improvements for years. [Tempe’s] grown into this New York cultural hub where you've got all your restaurants and stores on the bottom and all of your living up on top. This area in Mesa has seen a similar thing. I've been watching it the last couple of years after they finished [Sloan Park]." Benson says the club benefits heavily from nearby hubs like ASU and Mesa Community College.
Club Red has been consistently making improvements, among them a giant smoking patio added a few years back. The biggest addition, though, is the food truck, which mostly serves burgers, tacos, and other comfort foods. Benson says it’s been a simple enough update to drive real growth.
"Ever since we added the food truck [18 months ago], we've noticed a steady increase in overall business," he says. "Now people are planning their entire evening around just showing up here instead of being like, 'Okay, I'm going to get off of work and then I need to run home and shower and then I need to figure out where I'm gonna eat, and then I might hang out.'"
Amid all the changes, Benson has always maintained Club Red’s core reputation as a hub for metal and hip-hop shows in the region. Over the years, everyone from Insane Clown Posse and Periphery to The Sword and Talib Kweli have made appearances. But even that’s only part of the story, Benson says.
"At the end of the day, we're a destination venue," he says. "You know, if Bob's band is playing, and you don't know who Bob's band is, you're probably not going to show up. But everybody else who knows who Bob's band is may never have heard of Club Red, but they know that the show is happening here."
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He adds, "The nice thing about both rooms is they're blank slates. We designed the rooms to look that way so that we could accommodate just about anything." The venue’s even had requests for weddings.
Club Red's journey may have been a long and winding one — much like Benson's — but the results speak for themselves.
"I think one of my favorite nights is we had Whitechapel, who's a death metal band, in the big room, and then in the small room we had island reggae," he says. "And you wouldn't expect those crowds to mingle, but at the end of the day, everybody's just here to enjoy themselves and have a good time and listen to some good music."
Club Red. 1306 West University Drive in Mesa; 480-200-7529; clubredrocks.com.