Bars open and close all the time. It's the nature of business in a rapidly growing city like Portland. But that doesn't make the blow of a neighborhood fave closing its doors any easier to take, especially for the musicians who call those bars' stages home—and who depend on gigs at such small-time venues to provide a chunk of their regular income.
According to Green Room owner Beth Gray, the nearly-15-year-old bar's calling it quits on Jan. 19 because the property owners "want the space back." (Steve Hensley of neighboring business Circum Pacific Properties says its offices "may be expanding" into part of the pub's space.) Besides local boozehounds losing a well-loved watering hole, some songwriters are basically losing part of their jobs. As such, I asked open-mic host Chuck Warda and longtime weekly act Stephen Ashbrook to reflect on what the Green Room's closing means to them, personally and professionally.
Funk- and jazz-leaning songwriter Warda, a scruffy longhair with icy blue eyes who's hosted the bar's open-mic night for 2 1/2 years, says his gig there was "one of the coolest things you can do." As one might expect in a creative haven like Portland, he says "the crowd was receptive and full of fun, creative, vibrant people—both performers and music appreciators." Though Warda is reluctant to give a specific number, his off-the-record earnings amount to what most servers would consider a decent night: "They took great care of me," he says. "Losing the source of income will be a hit." Warda, who is in talks with Slabtown about a new home for the night, says "having a regular weekly gig with reliable income may or may not be easy to replace. But, the loss of a place with such a positive vibe, with all the random fun and honesty...might prove to be harder."
Pop songwriter Stephen Ashbrook, on the other hand, voluntarily canceled his Wednesday night gig at the Green Room (which lasted three years and was preceded by a regular Tuesday gig) a week before hearing of the bar's plans to close. Though a weekly gig can be a reliable part of a musician's bread and butter, it can also be a reason for other clubs to pass on you: "Other Portland venues have been leery about booking me on the weekends," says Ashbrook, "fearing that no one would pay for, on a Friday, what they can get for free on a Wednesday." As such, the 30-something Tempe native, who plays twang-tinged pop, plans to focus on bigger shows, less often. But he reflects fondly on the bar—"It wasn't part of any one scene...we could pretty much do whatever we wanted"—and he agrees he'll "definitely feel the loss of income."
Though Ashbrook says he knew he'd "need to let go of the weekly show" eventually, he acknowledges that his Green Room gig played an integral part in earning him fans: "When I first started [there], my regular shows were lightly attended," he says. Then a turning point came: "The place was packed with just as many new faces as regulars," he recalls. "Everyone was singing along. From the stage I could see all around the room. Line at the door? Check. Line at the bar? Check. Line at the bathrooms? Check. People making out in the poker room? Double check. I thought, 'Wow, I think this is gonna work.'"
The Dimes, Trevor Ras & Will West play the Green Room's closing party Saturday, Jan. 19. 9:30 pm. Cover. 21+.