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The Ranch Bowl:
Under New Management

 
story by tim mcmahan


 

 

Lazy-i: December 31, 2002


From the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Pavement to Warren Zevon to 311, the bands that have performed on the Ranch Bowl stage over the past decade have galvanized the venue's place in Omaha rock history.

Now legendary Ranch Bowl proprietor Matt Markel is handing over the keys to the rock club to two longtime business associates, Mike Brannan and Dan Crowell. Markel said he hasn't sold the venue, but is leasing it to Brannan and Crowell, "a couple good guys who're gonna call the shots."

Brannan says his and Crowell's company, Ranch Bowl Operations, is actually leasing to own the property, and that they've been in charge of everything at 1600 So. 72nd St. since Dec. 25.





 

 

Markel, 51, said health problems were part of the reason behind his decision to hand over the operations. "I've had a stroke, but I feel great," he said. "I get up at 6 a.m. and have more energy now than I've had my entire life. Mike and Dan will take it a new direction and keep it going. I trust them implicitly."

Markel says, however, that he's not retiring. "I want to stay active and I will still be involved with music. I've got some great contacts with agents from all over the country. And I'll still be working with bands like Pomoroy and Five Story Fall. If I didn't do this I'd get bored."

Markel said he'll stay in contact with Brannan and Crowell, but from his home instead of at the Ranch Bowl offices. "I'd drive them nuts if I hung around there," he said. "I want to let them do their thing and be on their own."

Markel's relationship with Brannan and Crowell goes back to 1998 when they were brought in to operate BJM Studios (part of the Ranch Bowl complex) and Markel's record label, GetGo! Records. At the time, the two were best known as former members of Guerrilla Theater and proprietors of Big Fish Studios. "When they came in I didn't have any involvement with the studio," Markel said. "I let them make all the decisions and order all the equipment, and I'm happy with the outcome.

"The Ranch Bowl is a party every night, and Mike will take it in a whole new direction," he added. "He'll create a different vibe. It's all about indie bands these days. My biggest show last year was The Strokes. The whole vibe has changed."

Brannan said he and Crowell first got involved in the Ranch Bowl's operations in late August and "slowly got drawn into the quagmire." They have big plans for the entire facility.

"We're thinking about revamping and renovating the whole place a section at a time," Brannan said. "Our primary focus is on national, regional and local music. Everything under the sun is played here."


 


"It's all about indie bands these days. My biggest show last year was The Strokes. The whole vibe has changed."


 

 


 
"Anything that's counterproductive to the bands doesn't do us any good. We want to emphasize the community aspect and have bands develop their own following, which ultimately benefits us."
 

 

 

 

 

Brannan said plans include creating a full-service restaurant and a separate music store targeted toward musicians. "It's going to be a very niche music store," he said. "It won't be similar to anything around here."

Expanding the main club and enhancing the sound system also is in the works. "There are so many layers to this onion, it's much more complex than I ever thought. We want to streamline the operations and make it more efficient, as well as do a better job booking the place and try to get as many cool shows through as we can. We want to get the club into the kind of shape on par with the region's best music clubs, like The Blue Note."

Musicians might be the first people to notice a change in the Ranch Bowl's operating philosophy. Some practices, such as forcing local bands to sell tickets to earn their pay, have been eliminated. "That doesn't help the bands," Brannan said. "Anything that's counterproductive to the bands doesn't do us any good. We want to emphasize the community aspect and have bands develop their own following, which ultimately benefits us."

When it comes to booking, Brannan said he's open to just about any idea and is even willing to let other promoters host shows at the venue. Among them, Matt Markel, who Brannan said is welcome to book shows there anytime he wants.

But it's the Ranch Bowl's diversity of income that gives it an advantage over other venues and promoters. With a bowling alley, volleyball courts, restaurant and music store, Brannan and Crowell will be in a better position to book shows that other venues or promoters would pass on as too risky in terms of potential draw.

"We'll be pursing everything that we think is interesting and that adds to the venue's overall vibe," Brannan said. "We're trying to bring cutting edge music to Omaha.

"I would hope that this change will be a vast improvement for the local music scene in general," he added. "The Ranch Bowl is an interesting property. It has floundered recently, though it still does a lot of interesting shows and people continue to come out to them. We want to do a number of new things that will bring in an even more diverse crowd."

How does the music veteran characterize the current state of the Omaha music scene? "Locally, indie music is hot because of the Saddle Creek Records guys, who have done a great job getting that together," Brannan said. "But with a place like this, you're hitting a wide swath of the community. We just want to be involved with good music and the zany aspects of bowling. We saw an ability to get in and revoice this place the way we want to see it voiced. And it's going to start with simple things like customer service and cleanliness and move on from there."


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Published in The Omaha Weekly-Reader Jan. 3, 2003. Copyright 2002 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.