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Chris King, who opened the Revolution Music Room last June, can’t say the past nine months have gone as planned.
“Certainly we’ve had a lot of surprises on the way,” he admitted, “but long term, as in a five-year plan, we’re surprisingly on target.”
Jon Love, whose Hitchhiker Entertainment took over the abandoned Cinema 150 at the corner of Asher and University avenues and reopened it as the 900-seat music venue the Village in October, echoes similar thoughts. “We wanted to bring a real diverse room,” Love said. “We’re through our test period. Now, the rubber needs to meet the road, so to speak.”
Both music entrepreneurs saw an opportunity to fill a void that national and regional promoters have noted for several years: Little Rock had 300-person-capacity clubs like King’s Sticky Fingerz and Juanita’s, where Love worked with Erin Hurley for a while, and Robinson Center holds 2,600 for a show, but the 600-to-1,000-capacity venue was missing.
The Rev Room, the affectionate nickname of King’s new haunt, can comfortably bring in 550 people. Love’s Village has seating for 600 and a standing area in front of the stage for 250 or 300 more. Plans are eventually to take out the first five rows of seats and change the allocation to 400-450 sitting and 500 standing.
Texas country star Pat Green and Sister Hazel both drew an audience of 700 or so to the Village recently, Love said.
King and business partner Suzon Awbrey have seen the Revolution Room, which is connected to the restaurant Rumba, overflow with fans at recent events as diverse as G. Love and Special Sauce and the Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase finals.
Both know that some shows are built to bring huge crowds, but they’re also willing to bring in smaller shows, too. King, who ran popular concert spots in Fayetteville and who built Sticky Fingerz into a major draw after taking over the former Six Bridges on Commerce Street in 2000, expected interest in the Rev Room to slowly mature.
“On a local level, it takes a while for people to know who you are and where you are and what they want from the club. On a national level, it takes a while for the word to get out that there is a new option in town,” King said. “A lot of factors go into it, but we always thought it would be 12 to 18 months before we could say, ‘Now there’s a solid month where we’re not going to have to worry about making rent or payroll.’ ”
Rumba/Revolution is a non-smoking enterprise, meaning the Rev Room can bring in acts for ages 18 and up. Rumba’s outdoor patio — Sticky’s doesn’t have a patio — gives smokers a place to go.
Its River Market district location, King said, has allowed the Rev Room to play host to everything from wedding receptions to political fund-raisers. “The whole project, much like Sticky Fingerz, is a three-prong deal: food service, the music, and booking special events,” King said.
At the Village, things got contentious early on when a Southwest Little Rock group wanted to prohibit Love from serving beer at shows. After some back-and-forth with the city, Love got his permit. He has only scheduled six to eight shows a month in the early going, but hopes to push that to 10 to 14 a month.
“We’re getting the crowds,” Love said. “What we’re trying to do now is do it more frequently. We’ve done some DJ shows and they bring a lot of people. Pat Green was huge, and we did that with just three weeks to promote. We would have been turning away people with a full promotional period for the show.”
What Dallas has with its Gypsy Tea Room in the Deep Ellum entertainment district, “we’re trying to get to that in Little Rock,” Love says. “You have to build it, but we didn’t feel like we could just jump in and draw big at first. People are going to have to get used to having their own scene to get to. With what Erin [Hurley, at Juanita’s], Chris and I all have going on, there have never been this many venues in the city. Throw in the [Clear Channel] Metroplex and there are a lot of music choices.”
Both clubs are going for a wide variety of music. The only type it has to be, King says with a laugh, is “popular.” At the Rev Room, fans will find rock, bluegrass, reggae, punk and country. “Whatever people are interested in seeing, that’s what we’re interested in bringing in,” King said.
Love has brought in everything from gospel to very heavy rock.
Upcoming Rev Room shows worth keeping an eye on are: MuteMath, one of the biggest buzz bands out, on April 13; Guru’s Jazzmatazz, a live hip-hop jazz ensemble making a rare stop in Arkansas, on April 20; and Son Volt and Govt. Mule on back-to-back nights, May 2-3. Alt-country Son Volt’s latest record is getting critical acclaim, King notes. “That’s four shows right there that hit some different styles.”
Lovedrug, coming March 30, is the kind of act that wouldn’t have had a place to play in Little Rock not long ago. “When a band gets bigger, we want them to come over here,” Love said. Also coming up at the Village: Gym Class Heroes, coming on Easter Sunday night, April 8; Amberlin on April 11; and Bullets for My Valentine, which sold out Juanita’s on its last visit, on April 14.
“We’re going to do some other stuff, too,” Love said. “I’m looking at doing some fights, some mixed martial arts. … We’re venturing into comedy with a couple of local promoters, looking at doing some BET and Comedy Central acts that would draw 800 to 900 people, like two shows with Tommy Davidson. … We really want it to be an events center where we can do a lot of things.”