Sound Bites

music_BackstageLoungeBackstage Lounge dishes live shows and small portions

There’s a new kid on the block, and she’s proving that sometimes less is more. Seeing the bigger picture, the newly revamped Backstage Lounge is thinking small when it comes to its size, its stage and its servings.

A little sibling to the mammoth Rio Theatre located next door, Backstage Lounge has started hosting its own live music in Santa Cruz, at 1209 Soquel Ave. Laurence Bedford, the owner of both, admits he’s undergoing “a lack of sleep these days.”

Like a symbiotic relationship between venues, The Rio serves as the crocodile to the Backstage Lounge’s plover bird; the Dr. Evil to a Mini-Me. The idea is that one concert’s crowd will feed the other, with Backstage Lounge’s chef, Lenny Calandrino, literally feeding all.

“It’s a micro venue in correlation with The Rio Theatre that can be a stand-alone venue when she’s old enough to drive,” Bedford says of his latest endeavor.

Initially arranging its hours around the schedule of its high-power neighbor, Backstage Lounge (which fits only 50 people) offers a warm nook—an intimate environment to nibble on small plates in front of a small corner stage flanked by deep blue walls lined with art by Dag Weiser.

A menu boasts plates that each cost less than $5: personal pizzas, sliders, salad, “Soon-To-Be-Famous Mac & Cheese,” and homemade apple pie. And, yes, to satiate those who endure nervous ticks during dry Rio shows, this sidekick serves wine and beer just around the way to wet the tongue.

In response to the periodic surges of patrons that infiltrate Backstage Lounge, manager Sven Davis (who calls himself “the guy in town who bartends for free”) says, “We have to kick ass in 15 minutes between Rio sets.”

When The Rio audience isn’t cramming the newcomer, Backstage Lounge conjures its own entertainment. Think of it as a place to see concerts with speakeasy spontaneity, cabaret-style shows where music, theater and comedy collide, and, well, according to Davis, just about anything.

“Odd, kooky things happen here—I want to do interventions,” he jokes with enough seriousness to make you feel like the possibilities are endless. “I want to do stuff your house is too small for. Let’s provide a place where anything can happen and see what happens.”

Since Santa Cruz avant-garde performance artist Thoth first kicked off Backstage Lounge’s run as a live performance venue in late March, Canadian singe

CREDIT KellyVaillancourtr-songwriter Kate Reid strummed through town, Kim Luke and The Friendly Henrys kicked up some dust, Wesley Morgan delivered his junkyard swing, and Billy Manzik set his six strings on fire. With each act, the in-house sound system and lighting have evolved, but most shows remain free. For a schedule of upcoming concerts, go to backstageloungerio.com.

Though Bedford says the idea is “to cross-pollinate with other people and try to get the Pegi Youngs of the world,” he warns, “It’s not just an acoustic guitar hub.” On the night when the new stage in town was resurrected, an eclectic set featured Rhan Wilson plucking the bass, Olaf Schiappacasse hammering the cajon, Ukulele Dick strumming the uke, and Celina Gutierrez serving as songbird on guitar—with plenty of instrument hopping amongst them all.

As for its interconnectedness with The Rio, the owner envisions that the lounge will lure some formidable musical forces to saddle up at its tables. Some, he predicts, will surely be cause for stargazing. “You could run into Neko Case eating apple pie here before a Rio show!”

An elegant bar hangout with a thoroughly artistic bent, Backstage Lounge has some surprises in store and welcomes the random. Best part? If you ask Davis, it’s that any and all can gather within its warm embrace to find a place to fit in.

“Here I can eavesdrop on the Knitting Club or the Scrabble Club,” he says with notable excitement. “I feel like we’re the yellow porch light and eventually the bugs will find us.”

Backstage Lounge is located at 1209 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. For more information, call 469-9900, or go to backstageloungerio.com.
Photo credit:  KellyVaillancourt

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