It’s two weeks before The Van Buren opens, and its interior is alive with activity. Scores of workmen are busily installing fixtures, sanding doors, or tackling dozens of other details involved with finishing construction of the brand-new 20,000-square-foot downtown Phoenix music venue, which officially opens on August 23.
And at this moment, no one’s moving faster than Charlie Levy.
The local concert promoter and co-owner of The Van Buren is a ball of nervous energy as he quickly leads us on a tour through the venue, located in a historic building at Fourth Avenue and Van Buren Street that housed the Phoenix Motor Company dealership in 1939.
We try to keep up, as does Terry Burke of Live Nation, the multibillion-dollar concert promoter that’s partnering with Levy on the venue.
Right now, Levy’s venturing into The Van Buren’s collection of backstage spaces and inner workings.
“There’s a dressing room, there’s a smaller dressing room, the production office, the green room,” Levy says, hurriedly rattling off all the various places where bands, musicians, and staff will congregate during shows. The whirlwind tour then reaches its apex. “You want to see the stage?” Levy asks.
We absolutely do, and it’s a sight to behold. A proscenium arch rimmed in gold leafing and measuring 40 feet wide and 28 feet tall serves as a gateway and focal point for The Van Buren’s enormous stage, which will soon host a multitude of artists and acts from a wide variety of genres, ranging from indie rock and psych to rap, reggae, and even country.
The list includes Thundercat, Death Cab for Cutie, Lord Huron, Against Me!, PVRIS, Krewella, Too Short, and Chase Rice.
The artists performing, however, might have to fight for the audience’s attention with the gorgeous, eye-catching mural decorating the stage walls on either side of (and even above) the Van Buren’s arch.
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Created by artist and designer Gary Patch of Tucson-based company Patch & Clark Design, who helped create The Van Buren’s look, it depicts an epic Arizona desert landscape transitioning from day into night.
Levy loves the mural and says it helps set the vibe for what he’d like The Van Buren to become, and how he’d like it to differ from his other downtown spots, Crescent Ballroom and Valley Bar.
“What makes me excited is that I think it’s uniquely Phoenix,” Levy says. “In the same way we tried to make Valley Bar uniquely Arizona, our M.O. was to make [The Van Buren] uniquely Phoenix, so people from Phoenix and Arizona can take pride in it. And when the bands come here they'll be like, 'Oh, it's a Phoenix venue. It's not trying to copy a venue from London or L.A. or Mexico.' No, this is a Phoenix venue in a [historic] Phoenix building."
The Van Buren has been in the works for more than a year now, when Levy decided to open a third music venue.
“An opportunity presented itself, and it’s an awesome building,” he says.
He also hopes that the Van Buren will differ from not only his other concert joints, but also any other Valley venue. Its interior setup is certainly unique. The mezzanine level consists of an H-shaped series of catwalks with wrought-iron railings overlooking both the 10,000-square-foot main room and the 4,000-square-foot lobby. Curtains will occasionally be hung from the structure to divide the venue for certain events.
“That’s a big thing, too, because it’s a multipurpose venue,” says Burke, who’s president of Live Nation’s Southwest music division. “It’s not just necessarily a music room. You can do any kind of event in here.”
Both Levy and Burke hope The Van Buren will host any number of non-music events, including dancing, storytelling sessions, or comedy shows.
“We're making it a big diverse space," Levy says.
What also makes The Van Buren unique is Levy’s deal with Live Nation to run the place, which was announced in July. The parties will co-own the venue and collaborate on production, management, and promotion.
At the moment, however, Levy’s just focused on getting The Van Buren ready.
“I’m really excited to get it open,” he says. “I think, right now, our team is head down. As you can see, we’re pretty close, but getting all the loose ends finished up, and I’m excited. Talk to me after the first show and I’ll be even more excited.”
Here's a glimpse at more of what you'll see inside and outside at The Van Buren when it officially opens on Wednesday, August 23, with a performance by Cold War Kids.
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Editor's note: This story has been updated since its original publication with additional photos.