In the start-up world, they call it the “valley of death”—the yawning chasm between early hype and big time success. Portland’s music scene has its own developmental gap, says Mississippi Studios founder Jim Brunberg—and it’s keeping local darlings like Laura Gibson and Typhoon from playing more shows here.
“Bands and acts scale out of Portland,” said Brunberg. “Once they sell out the big rock rooms in town, they can’t come back till they can sell out theaters like the Roseland or Crystal Ballroom.”
That chasm is about to be bridged. In February 2015, Portland’s newest music and events venue will open in Southeast Portland’s Buckman neighborhood. With 850 seats and a state-of-the-art sound system, Revolution Hall (roomier than the Aladdin Theater, cozier than the Schnitz) will literally center the massive redevelopment project underway at the long-vacant George Washington High School on SE Stark and 14th Avenue.
Housed in the school’s refurbished 1922 auditorium (the original molded wood theater seats, padded and springless, are “very comfortable,” says Brunberg), the venue will aim to host about 200 events a year, with many spring 2015 shows already on the books (this is where you’ll go, for instance, for the bi-weekly taping of the local public radio show LiveWire).
Brunberg says the project—a partnership between he and Mississippi Studios co-owner Kevin Cradock with Mark Adler of Aladdin Theater and the concert promoter True West—was invited by developer Venerable Properties, which purchased the property last year and is responsible for the White Stag Block, among other historic rehabilitations.
“When Venerable approached us, we approached Mark, because we don’t have the booking relationships at that level," says Brunberg. "He brings the scaled relationships. We bring our team at Mississippi Studios, the star of which is Matt King, our talent buyer. Matt’s the guy who pays attention to the new music. Mark knows the established acts. And Kevin and I bring the space itself: sound, lights, bar logistics."
The team will run two bars attached to the Hall named Martha's and Great Meadows (the location of Washington's historic surrender). In addition to Revolution Hall, the 113,500 square foot building will house a coffee roaster, restaurants, loft-style retail and creative space anchored by the New Seasons offices, and a roof deck with sweeping views. The onsite dog park beloved by local residents will stay in place.
Insulated by the encircling 18-foot-wide corridors and businesses, Revolution Hall aims to be a good neighbor while luring touring acts that normally skip Portland. “Liv Warfield would be perfect for this space when she’s not on tour with Prince,” Brunberg says.
In the interim? Brunberg says he and his partners are inviting local musicians like Sallie Ford and Adam Shearer to visit.
“We’ll be making a series of videos during the construction phase that will have these artists come in and, so to speak, bless the space.”
[Correction: We originally stated that there would be a New Seasons at the high school, when in fact it is the New Seasons administrative offices.]