Splendid news if you had your sights set on seeing the Melvins at the end of the month at the Bunkhouse but were summarily shocked and saddened by the sudden closure of the downtown venue: Thanks to the efforts of a quartet of local music industry friends, the shows will go on at the Sayers Club at the SLS Las Vegas.
When word of the closure came down, Life Is Beautiful founder Rehan Choudhry, a passionate music fan, gave talent buyer Mike Henry a call to discuss what would happen with the remaining shows that were suddenly without a home.
“One of the great things about the Vegas music scene,” says Henry, who’s been here for two years, “is that people reach out. It’s a small and pretty closely knit core of the scene. And so it was amazing. I couldn’t have appreciated that phone call more. And it was just him saying, ‘Hey, listen, let’s work together and figure this out. How can we do this?’
“When we looked through the lineup, it was scary to see that those shows were going to have to get canceled and there wasn’t going to be a home for them,” Choudhry says. “I love the Melvins. I grew up with the Melvins. And Dawes is one of my favorite bands today. It’s a pretty diverse lineup.”
“This doesn’t take its place, by any stretch of the imagination,” Henry says of the Bunkhouse Series at the Sayers Club. “But one of the things that I was upset about was, like, man, we’re not going to get to see the Melvins at the Bunkhouse. We’re not going to get to see Mew, or Saul Williams, or Polyphonic Spree, or any of these shows. And now, we do get to see them in a great, intimate room.”
After discussing the prospects, the pair reached out to Kurt Melien, president of Live Nation Las Vegas, about prospective venues for the shows.
“I always loved the Bunkhouse,” says Melien, who was happy to get involved. “I thought it was a great venue. And I think Mike Henry’s done a great job programming it. It’s just a fun lineup. And I think the idea of seeing that go away was just a bummer. So it was great to put this partnership together.”
Immediately, the group zeroed in on the Sayers Club, based on its capacity, which is similar to the Bunkhouse’s, and reached out to Matt Minichino, vice president of entertainment at SLS Las Vegas, and presented the idea.
“Sayers seemed like a natural fit,” Melien says. “It’s a space that has its regular programming, but it’s not a place that consistently has a lot of one-off content. So it was one of those rooms that immediately seemed like a perfect fit for us.”
“It’s an underutilized space right now,” Choudhry agrees. “I think it’s one of the best places in the city to see a small rock show.”
“Sayers is way more of a sibling to Bunkhouse than people may think,” Henry says, “just in terms of how the room works and how it’s set up. They’ll be up close and personal, again, just like they would have been at the Bunkhouse.”
“In Las Vegas and beyond, The Sayers Club has a long-standing reputation for delivering raw, engaging acts and showcasing emerging talent, making this venue the perfect location for the remaining Bunkhouse performances,” Minichino says in a statement issued this morning. “SLS Las Vegas is dedicated to providing live entertainment of the highest caliber, and we look forward to welcoming guests to enjoy the exciting roster of talent we have lined up.”
Their shared love for the music brought them together, but Choudhry also emphasizes how vital shows at this level are to the development of the local music scene.
“Bunkhouse closing was a pretty tragic scenario,” Choudhry says. “Clearly, it’s a staple venue, and it has been for a long time in Vegas. It largely represented the temperature gauge for how music was going to do in the city, specifically in downtown.
“I think what concerned me the most about it closing was the kind of tone and perspective in the market about the closing (that it set),” he goes on. “What a lot of people were saying behind the scenes was, ‘It doesn’t look like a 300- to 500-cap indie venue could really work in Vegas.’
“And I think that’s what concerned me the most, the idea that because of, ultimately, what was poor management of a venue that caused the closure, the scapegoat would be that, well, no one can really make a venue like that work in the city, and that’s going to hurt us because we don’t have a lot of them.
So, for me, personally, I wanted to take the opportunity to show that these kind of venues actually do work and provide a tremendous amount of value to the overall long-term entertainment portfolio for a city. You need these venues. You need these venues to give bands their first start in a city that has a pretty mature mainstream music market.
“The problem is, it’s just so hard to tour for several years until you get a couple of singles on the radio and then you can go play a venue like Cosmo or Brooklyn Bowl. You can’t just dive into a market like that. Whereas in Chicago or L.A. or San Francisco or Seattle, a lot of these bands have years of experience going through those markets before they can actually play an arena. We don’t have that.”
“It’s about being involved in supporting local music,” Melien says. “Venues that attract a local audience. Certainly we’re a very tourist-driven city, and my office spends a lot of time on content that is very tourism-centric. It’s also great to be involved in a business that’s local-focused.”
The local scene, the fans and the music: That’s what’s driving this partnership. “What struck me the most when Rehan reached out to me,” Henry says, “and in every other dialogue we’ve had with the partners we’re working with on this series, was that the conversations were all about us, as music fans, talking about the shows on the lineup that we wanted to see, and that we knew the Vegas music fans were excited to see. It wasn’t about creating some business opportunity. It was about music.
“I think everyone sitting around the table, all of the different entities involved with this series, these are all music fans,” he concludes. “These are all people who support and love live music. It’s a group of friends that are just like, ‘Listen, let’s do this!’ These shows are important to the scene. Let’s make them happen. And that’s amazing, man.”
Of the 14 remaining Bunkhouse shows, the first on deck is slated for Saturday and features Dawes. Tickets for that show range from $8 to $20 and are on sale now. While there are a few shows that have either found other homes or won’t be happening because of tour routing or scheduling conflicts, the scheduled lineup is pretty well intact and includes:
Happyness on Tuesday, the Drums on Aug. 18, the Savages on Aug. 21, the Melvins on Aug. 29, Mew on Sept. 19, Saul Williams on Sept. 21, the Legendary Shack Shakers on Sept. 21, the Lemonheads on Sept. 23, the Mynabirds on Oct. 7, Doomtree on Oct. 18, Deerhoof on Nov. 5, In the Valley Below on Nov. 13, and the Polyphonic Spree on Nov. 18.
As for plans for the future after the final show in mid-November, Choudhry says that there are no definitive plans right now, but there is certainly plenty of opportunity. “Mike and I’s committment is we definitely want to continue to do shows of this kind of scale,” he says. “We’ll probably get a little more agressive testing other genres and more obscure artists. Candidly, it’s in the back of my mind that we need a venue.
“I would love to take Bunkhouse back over,” he says. “We haven’t started conversations about that yet, but ultimately, if all goes well with this group partnership, I’d love to be able to find a permanent home for this stuff. Until then, you’ll probably see us keep doing stuff at Sayers, because it’s a great space.”
Read more from Dave Herrera at bestoflasvegas.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.