Century Center, Rise Up’s Jesse Roberts plan new music venue in Bend. First booking: Talib Kweli.

Friday, October 8th, 2010, 10:17 am by Ben Salmon

Underground hip-hop legend Talib Kweli will return to Bend on Nov. 20 for a show at the Century Center, the complex of buildings behind the old Brightwood Mill that just hosted the Bend Roots Revival.

Specifically, Kweli will play the large, L-shaped room that held the Century Center stage, right next door to Mailboxes, Etc. Posters for the show call the venue “The Music Mill,” though Jesse Roberts — founder of local humanitarian organization Rise Up International and the man who booked Kweli — said Wednesday that name may not stick permanently.

The name may still be up in the air, but Roberts is definitely working to turn the space into Bend’s newest, bustling music venue. With a capacity of 750 people, the room would provide an option in town for mid-sized touring acts and popular local bands that’s bigger than the Domino Room (cap. ~500) but smaller than the Midtown (cap. ~1,000).

Right now, the plan is for Roberts to be the venue’s talent buyer, he said, and while he has a few things on tap for fall and early winter (including the Kweli show), he’s currently focused on making contacts with artists’ agents, establishing the space’s name and reputation, and booking shows for early 2011.

Century Center owner Dave Hill set aside the room for a future events center/music venue while he was developing the rest of the new retail complex, located at the corner of Century Drive and Commerce Avenue. Roberts got involved this summer, when he helped organize the weekly Hump Day Hash events, which paired local bands with local nonprofit groups.

“I love music and I’ve always loved music,” Roberts said. “I started doing things over there this summer and got to know Dave, and it just kind of went from there.”

Hill is a strong supporter of the local arts scene who envisions the space being used not only for concerts, but also meetings, conferences and beyond. And over the past few years, Rise Up has played an increasingly large role in the local music scene, holding benefit concerts in its warehouse on Bend’s east side, promoting local artists like Mosley Wotta, and sponsoring a massive upcoming tour for local pop-punk band Capture the Flag.

But, the Century Center venue would be Roberts’ first real booking gig, and he’s currently trying to learn exactly what kinds of shows Bend will support. He hopes to attract a variety of genres, from hip-hop to country to indie rock, and he would like to use the shows to promote the local arts scene whenever possible. For example, one of the opening acts for Talib Kweli will be a showcase of local emerging MCs by Poethouse Art‘s education arm, CADA | CASA. There’s even been discussion about someday booking shows at the venue via a nonprofit group, similar to the arrangement at Eugene’s W.O.W. Hall, Roberts said.

First things first, though. For now, Roberts is concentrating on the basics — namely, a website and getting people to return calls to a place they’ve never heard of.

“It’ll be a learning experience, that’s for sure,” Roberts said. “But it’s good to have the support of Dave (Hill) and I’m looking forward to seeing what the community will support. I’m definitely excited.”

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