One of Bend’s most prominent music spots — the building on Greenwood Avenue that holds the Midtown Ballroom, Domino Room and The Annex bar, heretofore known as “the Midtown” — is in for some changes in the coming months. Time will tell, but the changes are almost certain to be improvements.
Here’s why: Co-owners Rhoda and Creig Jones and Duane McCabe and Lise Hoffman-McCabe are taking back control of the venues. The quartet ran the Midtown for years until 2007, when they leased its operations to a new team. (They had put the property up for sale in 2006. It never sold.)
That new team — JT Taylor, Chris Fought and Jim Dickey — is now out of the picture. The Jones/McCabe team has hired a new manager, Roy Nowell, who will handle most of the booking duties for the venues, though I just got off the phone with Rhoda Jones, and she said she and her partners will have some say in the acts that perform there.
“We will be suggesting,” she said with a big laugh. “We’ll have something to do with bringing back our old favorites. It will be very familiar, I think.”
Before the Jones/McCabe partnership quit managing the Midtown, it was a bustling nightspot that featured a steady stream of blues and roots-rock acts (the Jones’ favorites) as well as shows by other promoters, most notably Bend-based Random Presents. Back then, the two venues — this was before The Annex was open — hosted concerts at least weekly, and sometimes several nights per week.
In the 2-1/2 years since, though, the Midtown’s live-music offerings have dwindled. Random Presents continues to host shows there regularly, but the Taylor/Fought/Dickey team never established a consistent slate of shows. The Midtown Web site has been “under construction” for months. These days, the venues are quiet most nights.
That’s about to change, Jones said.
“We will be re-establishing relationships with promoters and with different non-profits and all events,” she said. “That’s what Midtown and the Domino Room and The Annex are there for — for the community, and that’s what we want to re-establish. It’s just ready to rock ‘n’ roll again.”
The Jones/McCabe team will return a deep love for music to the Midtown.
“That is why we got into the building nine years ago (is) the passion for good music. That part is really exciting. That’s what we’re looking forward to,” Jones said. “We love the building. It is something that kind of becomes part of your soul, and everyone that’s been connected with it, it really becomes a part of you. So it’s nice to get back involved to bring it back to life again.”
Bringing the venues back to life is at the top of the agenda. When asked why the Jones/McCabe partnership is back in charge, Jones’ answer was diplomatic.
“(The previous managers) all had their different expertise and a vision for what they wanted, and it’s a big building. It’s a big endeavor. It’s just a lot and so their vision is something that they wanted to attain,” she said. “The simplest way to say it is that we didn’t like the direction it’s been going in, and we decided to step in and bring it back to the old standard.”
Jones won’t say it, but I will: The Midtown’s deterioration over the past couple of years has been a sad thing to watch. Not only has the concert schedule become a ghost town (besides the Random shows), but the physical conditions inside the building have declined. Grime covered many surfaces, junk was piled in corners, the bathrooms were a mess. And that was just from casual observation.
The bottom line is it was an increasingly uncomfortable place to attend a concert, much less enjoy your experience.
That’s why the return of Jones/McCabe is terrific news for local music fans.
“There’s a lot of changes that we’ve been doing,” Jones said, citing a general clean-up and some painting. “The Annex is getting a lot of attention, so that will probably be a focus.”
The new group will also continue efforts toward being able to sell liquor, Jones said. “We’ve always had a great working relationship with the OLCC,” she said. Currently, the Midtown can only sell beer and wine.
But that’s down the line. For now, Jones and her partners are looking forward to re-building bridges that have fallen into disrepair over the past couple of years.
“One of the things that I’ve missed, too, is just the relationships with the community and with the diversity of people that we got to work with, and I love it, so I’m really excited about just re-kindling those relationships,” she said. “It’s the sound people, the promoters, the public, the distributors. We’re all in it together, and that’s pretty cool.”
In a town the size of Bend, that’s true. And for the past couple of years, it didn’t feel like the group managing the Midtown was a part of the local music scene. I called and e-mailed them several times and never heard back, and I know shows were canceled because of lack of communication.
Frankly, I worried about whether we might lose the Midtown as a music venue. For all its issues, I think it has potential, and I’d hate to see it go.
But as long as the Jones/McCabe team is in charge, I’m not worried about that anymore. These folks care about the Midtown. They love music and they care about bringing good tunes to town. Anyone who cares about Bend’s music scene has to be very, very happy about this development.