Thursday, June 18, 2009
During its tumultuous and less-than-profitable run, Monterey Live served the community in a fundamentally important way, by bringing diverse and exemplary brands of music back to Monterey. (See news story)
From sold-out family parties with Rachel Marotta to a nearly empty house for Ween’s Claude Coleman. From after-hours shots with Supertramp guitarist Carl Verheyen to dangerously overcrowded (and fire-hazard rich) crowd-surfing adventures with Tornado Rider. From Tony Bennett’s birthday surprise performance of “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” to a nameless touring musician asking sheepishly, “Do you mind if I just play a few? I never get to hear myself through this good of a sound system.”
“Sure,” I say. Listening to hard-fought songs on that cracked concrete floor. I spend an hour watching overdressed shadows head for some other somewhere.
I manned this club from the door, the stage, the kitchen, the bar, and the manager’s chair. It couldn’t last. There were too few people and too many bills. There were too many receipts, and too high a price for such a subtle bliss. Not at 414 Alvarado St. Not in the 831 or the 939. Not in the Central Coast in a recession. This was a New York club in a vacation getaway.
“Know what you need to do?”
I muddle some lemons.
“What’s that?” I glare.
“You need to have more bands that play that old ’60s music.”
I rim a martini glass with sugar and pour on the alcohol.
“That’s a good idea,” sarcasm like cement.
“I’ll suggest that to the owner.”
I slide another Electric Lemonade his way, as choirs of artful melody thicken his booze-waxed ears. There’s another unknown Da Vinci on stage. Another Sara McCoy, another Suborbital, another Andrea Blunt, another and another and another. Just another chance to catch brilliance in its most infantile and purest form, this was an opportunity that most people did not take.
THIS WAS A NEW YORK CLUB IN A VACATION GETAWAY.
I’ve seen asteroids of brilliance creep unknown from off this Top-40 slimed street and deliver God’s honest truth in 45-minute sets. I’ve seen a sheepish tadpole named Ryan Bisio grow legs and flower into a dragon of originality. I’ve seen the envy of Jimi Paige shred through Zane Carney’s unassuming fingers. I’ve seen the Vermillion Lies burlesque chants and cunning youth become the envy of San Francisco. Perhaps strangest of all, I’ve seen Rushad Eggleston march through the bar in his tighty-whities, just to see my reaction.
“Did you like it?” he sincerely asks, and waits for my answer.
“I thought it was great,” a winded smile hopefully conveying the rest. Music picks up where words stop, carrying Helio’s thundering steeds into the first cloudless horizon before forever. Out in that infinity there’s a sparrow warring with hurricanes; his name is Appreciation, and he is mine.
Simply put, I’ve seen the best musicians on the planet walk into this small, empty club and show a few confused witnesses what music is.
I’ve also seen two owners lose everything trying to keep this dream real. Seen them strain their relationships with employees and family. Seen them gray and wrinkle five years worth for every one they spent trying to bail water from their fractured ship. I’ve seen doors kicked down in frustration, spider webs grasped at like prayers, and the maroon paint turn white with desperation.
I crunched the numbers. I futzed with the numbers. I skewed the numbers. I bent the numbers backward and re-laced them into highly optimistic shoes. The club lost money. The club became more and more profitable every year, but the club lost money. Had this been the lifelong passion of a retired multi-millionaire, maybe, but after just four years of business, Monterey Live is closed.
There are other clubs with great bands, and other ways to enjoy live music, but none with a “stage-first” design. None with the artist checks clearing while the employee checks bounced, none with an owner willing to risk a personal loss for the beauty of a vision.
“There was a club,” they’ll say. “A great little music club.”
“It wasn’t run right.”
“They needed to advertise more.”
“They didn’t book the right bands.”
“They didn’t know when to let go.”
All just whispers and conjecture. In the end it failed like many beautiful things, the ghost of a Mexican brothel trying to sing into forgiveness. Monterey Live is survived by the spirit of its appreciators. It has vanished into the subwoofers of some trendy dance club. All the same, thank you Monterey Live for the opportunity. You are missed.