Raising the Bar

Not only is Off Broadway not closed, but the new owners plan to improve the venue's offerings

Blockheads seldom feel the need to backpedal or apologize, especially for furthering the cause of unsubstantiated gossip; that's our job, after all. Nor, as authorities on every subject that blips on our radar, must we actually justify a stated position. However, as has been kindly pointed out to us in countless missives, OFF BROADWAY IS NOT CLOSED, YOU IDIOTS.

Well, it is and it isn't, actually -- it's a matter of semantics, and we can explain why we stated what we did a few weeks back: See, Off Broadway was recently sold, and the former owners went on the radio and indicated that, for all practical purposes, the club was closed. This, coupled with rumors that the new owners would be changing the name of the club to "Jammin' Joe's," enabled a logical leap: Off Broadway was no longer. It was closed. In its place was to open a new club called Jammin' Joe's. But apparently we were -- gulp -- how do you pronounce the word? Wrong.

"We're keeping it as Off Broadway," says new co-owner Connie Garcia, who, fortunately, has calmed down after being quite pissed at Radar Station for an entire week. "Our plan is to keep doing what they [the former owners] were doing, only more of it. We want to do everything and anything. We want to have live music every night except Tuesday -- and this is where the rumor came in about changing the name." Garcia says the club is calling its Tuesday-night jam session Jammin' Joe's and put the tag on the business cards. Thus the rumor was loosed, and hence the confusion. At least Garcia has supplied an explanation for the misunderstanding; whether the new owners were at one point actually going to change the name to Jammin' Joe's is another question altogether.

But who the hell cares? The club formerly known as Off Broadway is still Off Broadway, though the owners, Garcia and partner Joe Telle, are now different. Garcia and Telle are musicians who have played in cover bands around town for more than a decade. Their strategy, says Garcia, is to stay the course: "We're both musicians, and we're both businesspeople also, so we come at it from both aspects, but, really, we just love music more than anything else. We want to keep booking the music, and all different kinds of music. I guess Off Broadway had a reputation for blues for a while, and then a lot of people said it had gotten really twangy with the Twangfest and all that." Twangfest, though, is moving to Blueberry Hill's Duck Room this year, says fest prez Kip Loui: "The U. City Loop has a lot going for it in terms of restaurants and record stores and retail stores for Twangfest attendees to avail themselves of. There's considerably less of that in the neighborhood surrounding Off Broadway."

Garcia says both genres will continue to be represented but that she and Telle plan to broaden the offerings a bit. She also says they will dedicate themselves to helping local musicians book gigs in the club, in addition to taking on national acts: "We're really interested in supporting both, because there are a lot of good musicians in town, and even though neither of us dislikes any particular kind of music -- I'm not real big on heavy-metal kind of stuff -- just about everything else is to us is good music." So Off Broadway might fill the gap created by the closings of the Firehouse and the Side Door. We'll see.

If concern arises during the conversation with Garcia, it stems from her lack of knowledge of national music; without a solid background, it would seem she and Telle will be stabbing in the dark -- a recipe for bookings disaster. She's the first to admit as much and says former owners Joe and Bill Camarata have helped her and Telle: "I'm limited. Like I said, what we did over the years was cover music, so we weren't big in the originals scene. But, based on all the information that Joe Camarata has given me -- he gave me a really detailed ... book, it could be called, on each person, where they were, what kind of music, what they pay them -- that's really helpful. Of course, we both have a knowledge of the St. Louis area, but the touring acts will be a new experience, and that will be a stretch for me. But we know enough about music in general that it won't be a difficult task for us."

The first month's schedule is seeing few touring acts -- mainly, says Garcia, because she and Telle couldn't start booking until they owned the space. So it's a lot of local music thus far, including upcoming shows by Vargas Swing, the Highway Matrons and the Drew Johnson Band. "I did the booking for a while for our bands over the years, and it's tough, so I'm more sympathetic to the local bands than I think those guys were that were here, because I've been on the other side." This bodes well for the city scene.

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