IN PHOTO: Thievery Corporation performing on March 24, 2022, at the newly opened Ventura Music Hall. Photo by Keith Zacharski/In the Barrel Photo
by Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer
Ventura Music Hall
1888 Blvd. E. Thompson, Ventura
The reveal in Midtown Ventura aimed to be everything to everyone. Opened in late 2013, it offered fun for all ages: bowling, soccer and shuffleboard; a stage for live music; a full service bar and restaurant. It was as popular for daytime children’s parties as it was for concerts on weekend nights. But between the pandemic shutdown and a slew of legal issues (co-founder Jeremy Pemberton was arrested for fraud in June 2020) the huge space closed.
But sometimes challenges give opportunities, as the former bowling alley etc. is back with vibrancy and energy as Ventura Music Hall.
First class concerts in smaller markets
The venue’s revival comes courtesy of Ineffable Music Group, an Oakland-based “coalition of independent artists, managers and promoters” that releases music, organizes music festivals (the California Roots Music and Arts Festival is one of the most popular) and operates venues. throughout the United States, mainly in California. The Fremont Theater in San Luis Obispo, Petaluma’s Mystic Theater and the Cornerstone in Berkeley are among the group’s properties.
Ineffable Music acquired the Discovery Ventura building during the pandemic and, with the help of Bruce Flohr (Red Light Management) and Mark Geiger (co-founder of Lollapalooza), remodeled it into a fully dedicated concert space.
“Our focus is music,” says Thomas Cussins, co-founder and president of Ineffable Music. “We’re not party people – we book groups.”
Ventura was the ideal city for Ineffable Music, which was founded in 2006. Specializing in what Cussins describes as “smaller, secondary markets,” the group’s venues bridge the gap between small, intimate bars and stadiums and concert halls. bigger. According to Cussins, music fans shouldn’t have to drive to bigger cities and pay big bucks to hear live music.
“You got to get some really good bands without taking a $100 Uber to Los Angeles,” he says. The food and beverage offering also enables a complete entertainment experience in one place. “Dinner and a show, that’s always our catchphrase.”
Ventura Music Hall shares one thing with the old Discovery: while the games and bowling alleys have been removed, this is still an all-ages venue (at least for most shows). This idea was something Cussins felt strongly about.
“This is not a bar or a club – this is a concert hall,” he explains. “We want families to come together to enjoy a show. And teenagers need a safe place to come out.”
Catering for artists and audiences
Discovery’s transformation into Ventura Music Hall meant significant remodeling. A large stage, state-of-the-art sound system (Cussins describes it as “Greek-like”), lighting and a separate section for the music engineer were installed. The center of the club has a large dance floor, surrounded by booths and other seating. A large C-shaped bar near the entrance keeps patrons refreshed, while food is provided by Ventura-based Ruff House BBQ. All told, the venue has a capacity of 635 people, with ample space for both sitting and dancing.
Cussins is proud of the quality concert experience Ventura Music Hall can now offer. “You’re going to have a real show, a real concert experience.” Moreover, it attracts more and better talent. “Any band can come here before they play the Hollywood Bowl and feel comfortable with our equipment.”
In fact, since opening in March 2022, Ventura Music Hall has hosted some big names, such as G. Love and The Juice, Thievery Corporation, Hot Chip, Don Felder, Bob Mould, X. But smaller, younger bands and local acts (including some tribute bands) have also hit the stage. And almost every genre is represented, from blues and country to rock and reggae and beyond.
“That’s the thinking,” Cussins points out. “As long as there are good bands that need a home, we’ll be there for them. . . We try to have a diverse lineup.”
Another perk for groups: a green room with a full bathroom and shower.
“You want the artists to feel at home,” he says.
“One thing in a lifetime”
One thing Cussins is quick to say about Ineffable Music Group’s arrival in Ventura County: This is meant to be a lasting relationship. Cussins even bought a house a few blocks from the scene.
“We’ve been working on this project for about two years now,” he says. “This is a timeless thing for us – we’re not looking to make a quick buck.”
To that end, Cussins says he spoke at length with city officials and local police and listened to residents’ concerns at city council meetings. “It was very important that we talk to all the stakeholders in the community.”
What he learned was that despite some concerns about parking and noise — which he addressed with an expanded parking lot and top-notch acoustics that keep sound inside — everyone seemed hungry for more music, art and fun in the city.
“There’s a vibrant community that appreciates the arts here in Ventura,” he says. He intends for Ventura Music Hall to be a valuable contributor to such an environment.