Musical Chairs

The opening of the Pageant squeezes out other venues

Heavy-duty consolidation on the St. Louis music-venue landscape over the course of the next two months promises to change the way we music goons witness our live music, and one venue, not yet open, comes out wearing the diamond tiara. A couple of others are big-time losers in the deal, though neither had much to offer in the first place. Another is also screwed by the opening, but its days are numbered regardless.

To wit: The Pageant, the new venue operated by Blueberry Hill's Joe Edwards, Patrick Hagin and Contemporary/SFX, opens next month, and a preliminary fall schedule has just been announced. The Pageant's opening will directly affect the future of two mainstays: the American Theatre and the Westport Playhouse. And Mississippi Nights is the dead club walking, facing the executioner that is the Laclede's Landing Redevelopment Corp., which will be tearing the club down sometime in the not-too-distant future. Says the Pageant's Hagin, "It's an interesting time. And we'll be opening the Pageant right in the middle of it."

Out of three comes one. The consolidation of the venue market in the 500-1,500-seat-range -- although on the surface it spells the end of a few venues -- has been a long time coming and is, well, practically welcome; it doesn't necessarily mean two-thirds fewer concerts. On the contrary, it means one potentially excellent catch-all for a certain kind of artist. But it does leave a big mess in its wake.

The Pageant drives a stake into the heart of the American Theatre as a concert venue. "The architecture is amazing, and it's a very cool place to see a show," says Joe Litvag, talent buyer for Contemporary, of the American, "but it's just really hard to go in there, do an effective job and be profitable as a promoter, because the expenses are so high. It's an old building, it needs a lot of work, and the bottom line is, in this day and age, when the artists are demanding more and more money in terms of their guarantees, it's getting harder and harder to go in there and make a profit." And though the American has its charms, when sold out, these charms are quickly replaced by frustration and a load of envy directed at those lucky few with the choice seats.

The Westport Playhouse, honestly, just plain sucks as a live-music venue; its rotating center stage is clumsy and uncomfortable, and musicians up there appear to be performing on top of a music-box cake platter, slowly spinning while music tinkles away. As a result, few rock acts have booked there, and the fusion-jazz and adult-lite artists who graced the Westport's stage will be funneled to the Pageant.

Mississippi Nights, however, was -- and still is, until it kisses the wrecking ball -- a great venue, and owner Rich Frame deserves a big round of applause for planting amazing memories in the minds of almost all St. Louis music fans. Though we're not going to write the club's obituary until the day it dies, Mississippi Nights will no doubt feel the pain of the Pageant's opening the most, because the Nights is in direct competition with the Pageant. And without the might of monolithic/ near-monopolistic SFX/Contemporary booking Mississippi Nights' shows, the club's staff is struggling to get the talent.

All these concerns melt away, though, the minute you walk into the Pageant. Though still a couple of months away from completion, even at this early stage it's a concertgoer's dream, with amazing sightlines, a no-rotten-seat layout, a tiered balcony and an overall feel of live-music bliss. The closest comparison, oddly enough, is Edwards' Duck Room in Blueberry Hill. Imagine the Duck Room times 20, with a sloped floor, a massive expanse of ceiling and a balcony, and you've got the general idea of the layout. In fact, just imagine the dream venue of music lover Joe Edwards (who always does things the right way rather than the cheapest and easiest), and you're there.

Let's just hope they fill it with interesting music. The just-announced fare is, overall, kind of blah, with a few notable exceptions: Starting with (surprise, surprise) Chuck Berry on opening night, Oct. 19, the lineup moves from the weird to the bland to the novel, seldom hitting on the exciting and adventuresome: Hanson, the Bacon Brothers, Burning Spear, Dave Koz, the Rippingtons, Hootie and the Blowfish, the Cherry Poppin' Daddies, Lorie Line.

Joe Litvag, who's helping book the place, is quick to emphasize that the dearth of new rock and electronic acts is not the result of a lack of interest in booking such performers but a reality of the fall tour season: "There is going to be definitely as much rock & roll, and alternative, active rock -- whatever you want to call it -- in addition to the adult stuff. It's going to be everything. Just the way it worked out, those are the shows that got confirmed first. We've got at least 10 rock shows that we're working on right now." In fact, several shows booked around the city in the next month were initially booked at the Pageant but had to be redirected because of delays caused by the concrete workers' strike; these shows included Moby, Ben Harper, BT and Culture Club.

Now, if someone will start working to fill the gaping hole left by the demise of the Side Door, the live-music scene will be fine. Uh, Mr. Edwards?

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