Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Firebird Celebrates Six Years With a Little Help From Its Friends

Posted By on Wed, Feb 18, 2015 at 3:23 AM

The Firebird's Jimmy Vavak, Mike Cracchiolo and Ryan Sears. - TOM CARLSON
  • Tom Carlson
  • The Firebird's Jimmy Vavak, Mike Cracchiolo and Ryan Sears.

Six years and thousands of sets later, Mike Cracchiolo says there's really no way to choose a favorite band or show at his club, the Firebird. He is, however, able to cite a specific moment.

"I ran into a guy the other night who was talking about Firebird and how he had seen a bunch of his favorite shows there, and [his] best show ever was Foals with Freelance Whales in 2011," he says. "It was really weird, because if you want me to put it down to one moment that I thought was the best thing I had ever seen in that room, it was that show."

Cracchiolo describes a scene at the beginning of Foals' performance of "Spanish Sahara."

"I was standing stage right, behind some of the members of Freelance Whales, looking over at the front row," he recalls. "In my mind's eye I see everybody sort of coiled with their fists balled up. When the drums kicked in, everybody just started jumping up and down, including the members of Freelance Whales. It was one of the most insane and amazing things things I've ever experienced. Everything was kind of hyper-real.

"That was the point when I felt like, if I retired after that show, whatever happened -- if I was to not do this anymore -- that was the point where that would be OK. That would be success for me."

When Cracchiolo and partners Tom Moslander and Jimmy Vavak took the reins of the club six years ago, transforming it from the nascent Bluebird to the Firebird of today, they didn't have an exact plan for their creation -- only an idea of what they wanted from it. They knew there were good acts passing by the St. Louis highway exits between Kansas City and Chicago. They wanted, simply, to give them a reason to stop.

"If there wasn't a hole to fill at the time when we were looking to do it, I don't think any of us would have had the confidence," says Cracchiolo. "If somebody else was doing it, there wouldn't have been a need."

In the six years since, the Firebird has become a dependable hub for local groups, picked up on the synth-pop and chillwave revivals, and even convinced eclectic acts such as Electric Six and Big Freedia to include St. Louis as a sure thing on their regular tour rosters -- acts that, previously, would have skipped right over the city.

"From the very beginning, it wasn't about looking around and wanting what other clubs have," Cracchiolo says. "We wanted to compete with ourselves. The club was started as a place to do music that wasn't coming to St. Louis at that time."

This photo from February 2009 shows the Firebird in mid-transformation. - ANNIE ZALESKI
  • Annie Zaleski
  • This photo from February 2009 shows the Firebird in mid-transformation.

On Thursday, February 5, 2009, St. Louis' own Superfun Yeah Yeah Rocketship broke in the stage at the Firebird. From the start, it was evident the new venue was rife with possibility and brimming with character. The skating rink/cave club feel, mixed with the building's location in a downtown business district that largely shuts down after 5 p.m., gives the venue a strangely comforting, post-apocalyptic vibe. Cracchiolo acknowledges and embraces the oddity factor in Firebird's appeal.

"I think all the greatest venues are a little weird," he muses. "Maybe that's something that's going away now. Rock & roll is just not that outlaw culture anymore.

Continue to page two for more.

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