When the Hawthorne Theater hosts its grand re-opening next weekend (see details at the bottom of this post), it will not be as a country bar.
This is good news. The Hawthorne is at the center of Portland's all-ages ecosystem, where it's desperately needed. There are bigger 20-and-under venues (Crystal Ballroom, Roseland, Wonder Ballroom) and house shows may do more to facilitate grassroots local musicâbut for the stoked local under-21ers who line up in front of the Hawthorne each week for punk, metal and screamo shows, there is no more important club in Portland.
For that reason, I was a little worried to hear through the grapevine that the Hawthorne Theater was turning into "a country bar"ânot a plan that sounded especially friendly to minors.
New Hawthorne Theater owner Mike Thrasher, whose Thrasher Presents company has long supplied the bulk of the club's show calendar, says I shouldn't worry about under-21 crowd being left in the cold at the new-and-improved Hawthorne. While the venue's new manager does have a country-leaning backgroundâhe worked at the Ponderosa Lounge in Jubitz and will develop some punk/Americana/roots programming on the Hawthorne's second "lounge" stage, which has always been age-restrictedâThrasher says the larger rock club will continue to be a home base for the under-21 rock shows that it has long been known for. And it will do so with a number of upgrades, including recently upgraded sound and lighting systems, and remodeling both in the theater and backstage. The most striking change, though, will come once Thrasher and the OLCC work out the club's new alcohol control plan. The forthcoming arrangement should allow the Hawthorne to split audiences down the middle (a la Wonder Ballroom) so that 21-and-up show-goers can drink near the stage instead of being quarantined in the back of the room. It's one in a handful of changesâopening the Theater's 44-capacity balcony on a more regular basis is anotherâthat Thrasher hopes will improve the show-going experience at the venue.
That's not to say that all the shows in the Theater's main room will be minor-friendly. Thrasher says show-goers may notice an uptick in the number of 21-and-up shows in the coming months. "I would say there will probably be five or six [21-and-up dates] a month, maximum, out of 20 or 25 shows," he says, suggesting that the number of 21-and-up gigs could go down after the new alcohol plan goes into place. "We want to have more customer service and a better experience with the customer. Sometimes the experience that a 21 or over person has at a show without a barrier dividing the ages outweighs the few 21-and-under people who would want to come to that." Thrasher knows this isn't always ideal. "There are occasions when we get emails from people who are 19 or 20 and that's always a bummer. But we want to find that balance and really craft the experience for the customer."
Portlanders, especially those young music fans who have grown up with the Hawthorne, will likely have mixed feelings about the upgrade-in-progress. The Hawthorne was one of Portland's last scummy rock clubsâalbeit a scummy rock club in a majestic theater shellâand it had become somewhat of a Land of Misfit Shows. Under Thrasher's guidance, the Hawthorne should transform into a cleaner, better-curated version of the all-ages haven it already was. Maybe with just a few less screamo bands playing. "We've always had pretty big-name acts," Thrasher says. "It's the style that will be changingâwe'll appeal to a larger audience."
Therein lies one of the East Portland club's greatest strengths, and it's good to see that the new ownership at the Hawthorneâwhich houses one of this city's best stagesâfinally gets it. "One of my production managers had this quote a year or two ago that I always come back to: 'The Hawthorne is the swiss army knife of clubs.' So one night we can have a hip-hop show and one night we can have a metal show. And we're adding some Americana and country and indie rock to that mix."
I'm all for it. Especially when the place looks so damn good now!
The Hawthorne Theater's Grand Re-Opening Events Schedule (via press release):
Friday, Feb. 3: The Builders & The Butchers, Quiet Life, Turbo Perfecto. On the heels of their very successful tour to support their latest release Dead Reckoning, Portlandâs own raucous The Builders & The Butchers kick off the weekend at the Hawthorne Theatre, along with locals Quiet Life and Turbo Perfecto. Doors at 7 p.m., show at 8 p.m. Tickets at Cascade Tickets ($13) or at the door ($15).
Saturday, Feb. 4th: The Hawthorneâs first monthly rock and roll garage sale. The Hawthorne Theatre is going to provide coolest, most offbeat garage sale in town. Once a month starting Saturday, February 4th, local artists, musicians, hipsters and aging rockers are available to bring art, used music gear, clothes, LPs and CDs, books, magazines, bizarre knick knacks and other memorabilia down to the Hawthorne to buy, sell and barter all in the comfort of their favorite rock and roll watering hole. Free to sell. Free to attend.
Sunday, Feb. 5th: Rock and Roll Super Bowl Party in the Lounge. Come enjoy drink specials and a taco bar in the lounge while you watch the Patriots and Giants battle it out on the big screen. Weâll be giving away tickets to future shows at the Hawthorne. Kickoff is 3 pm. Free in the lounge.