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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Column 258: Digging The Hole...

Yes I know I'm overselling The Hole by even mentioning The Cog Factory, and no it has nothing to do with my 2010 predictions (which so far have been uncanny). While its success or failure will depend solely on the folks running it, maybe just as important is the booking. I talked to one local garage rock musician about The Hole this weekend and he said he's waiting for a band outside of the skatepunk/hardcore genre to perform there before he checks it out. The fact is The Cog booked a diverse collection of bands including quite a few nationals that would go on to become some of the most important bands of that era. Will Black Heart be able to do the same thing? Time will tell, though a glance at their calendar indicates The Hole's initial focus is squarely on punk and little else. That said, Mr. Wright told me Saturday that he's already been approached by some of the area's non-punk musicians (including local bluesman Matt Cox) about playing at the all-ages club. If that happens, and if The Hole becomes an option for touring bands looking for a place to play an early set for an all-ages crowd (without having to deal with Omaha's archaic permission-slip restrictions), comparisons to The Cog may not be so far-fetched.

Column 258: Long Live The Hole
The all-ages club closes, then reopens.

This story of the death and rebirth of an all-ages music venue (in 24 hours) begins with me being chastised by show promoter Lucas Wright.

He'd read my annual "Predictions" column and took offense to the part where I said no young local promoter had stepped up in '09 to give One Percent Productions a run for its money. "You couldn't be more off base," Wright ranted. "I think you may be just unaware what's been going on in some circles of music in Omaha. I know I don't own my own venue and book HUGE national touring acts very often, but there's still a LOT going on in underground music that you have no idea about, Tim."

Of that, I had no doubt. Wright sent along a list of shows he'd put together under the moniker Black Heart Booking -- a long list, made up of such local high-flyers as Ladyfinger, UUVVWWZ, It's True, Simon Joyner and The Stay Awake; national bands such as The Have Nots (Boston), Theodore (St. Louis) and Dozal Brothers (Texas), and venues including Slowdown, The 49'r, The Sydney, The Barley St. and, most of all, The Hole.

I'd been hearing about The Hole, which I was told was in the basement of the Convicted Skateboards shop at 715 So. 16th St. The all-ages venue was where Wright had been focusing his attention for the past few months. So I figured I'd kill two birds with one stone -- get Wright's story and also check out this new all-ages club.

When I arrived at Convicted, Wright led me downstairs to The Hole. It was pretty much what I expected -- a drab, low-ceiling cinderblock basement with a mattress wrapped around one of the support poles. Pieces of skateboard ramp were littered along the concrete floor. But something was wrong. Where was the stage?

Wright told me that just the day before, Convicted's landlord showed up for a surprise inspection, unaware that shows were being held in the basement. And that, as they say, was that. Regardless of the landlord visit, it was only a matter of time until someone would have put a stop to it. While local police had checked out shows and let them go on, one visit from a fire marshal would have shut them down. The public entrance to The Hole was an unmarked 3-foot-high door in the side of wall. The single bathroom was a plywood stall with a toilet bolted to the floor. You get the picture.

But despite the spartan conditions, The Hole had quickly earned a reputation as a place where youth could enjoy their music and skateboard without being hassled. Yes, it was a basement, but it was their basement.

The day The Hole ended, Convicted owner Anna Diederich, who runs the shop with husband Donny (Double D), needed to find another venue for a show booked at The Hole that very night. She remembered that shortly after Convicted opened, she had met Cindy Sechser, the owner of the long-closed Diamond Bar located right across the street. Sechser had told Donny she was looking for someone to do something with the old bar.

"Donny was out of town when all this went down," Anna said, "So I called Cindy and told her what had happened." And so The Diamond became The Hole.

That Saturday afternoon a small team of teenagers was busy inside the old bar building a stage under the direction of Cordial Spew frontman Jay Bacon. The night's show was scheduled to begin in just a few hours. Power and audio cables already had been fished from the PA -- brought over from the old Hole -- to the soundboard in the back of the room. Old furniture and other dusty junk still needed to be cleared out.

The new Hole appears to have a lot going for it. It has a similar layout as The Barley St. Tavern -- a long barroom next to a separate stage room. There's one functioning bathroom and room for a second that needs repair. The building is a stone's throw from Douglas County Corrections, which means there will be plenty of cops keeping an eye on things. There's also parking across the street in Convicted's lot (as well as on-street parking). Best of all, the club is rent-free. Money from the door is split between the landlord, Convicted, Black Heart Booking and the bands.

"Technically, The Hole is run by Donny and me, but it's more of a collective," Anna said. "We have meetings every week and agreements on the way things are run. Everyone pitches in. Donny's cousin, Leonard, is the door guy. Jay (Bacon) does sound, and either Donny or I are at every show -- we lock up and patrol."

Could The Hole become a modern-day Cog Factory? Only time will tell. "When the kids refer to The Hole or the skateboard shop, they say it's their place," Anna said. "They put their sweat into it and help out in all kinds of ways. I just like watching them enjoy themselves and have a good time."

Wright has shows booked at The Hole through July. You can check out the schedule at Most shows start at 7 p.m. and end by a parent-friendly 11 p.m. The club has strict no drinking/no drugs rules that Wright said are stringently enforced. There's also a no-pretention rule.

"The other night, we heard one kid tell another that he 'wasn't punk enough' to be there," Wright said. "We quickly put an end to that. That's not what this place is about."

So while Black Heart Booking will continue, Wright says The Hole is his labor of love. "I'm in this for the long run," he said. "I want my kids to go to shows there some day."

* * *

Tomorrow: Weatherbox

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posted by Tim McMahan - at 10:51 AM

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