No town rocks in Ventura County. No town has anything close to a music scene. The MVP Sports Bar in Simi Valley, the Hungry Hunter and Ottavio's in the Conejo Valley and the Whale's Tail and Champ's in Oxnard all have live rock music, but not always original or on any regular basis.
When Charlie's folded a few years ago in Ventura, the Bermuda Triangle stepped in. Then when that faltered, the Midnight Hour became the happening rock venue until it went under almost a year ago, leaving 95% of the local bands without a place to play.
The night life in Ventura's downtown area consists of the Bombay Bar & Grill, the Ventura Theatre on occasion, Nicholby's and the place that has changed its name more often than Mr. Elizabeth Taylor, the Metro Retro Club, which has been at one time or another: The Mickey Moose Club, Avery's, the Upper Deck, Club Soda and, most recently, the Metro Bay Club.
The Bombay, once the Edison Company and then a head shop called the Loading Zone, packs 'em in on the weekends. The crowd is more or less middle-aged in the front bar, where jazz or cover bands play. In the Oasis Room back bar on the weekends, a younger crowd shakes to some original dance bands, usually Silver Strand party dudes, Ska Daddyz or, less frequently, Lion I's. Reggae bands play on Thursdays and Sundays, but the Bombay has never really offered a wide variety of local bands.
The Metro Retro Club has gone disco, embracing the success of the Boogie Knights, a cover band. Packing the Metro every Saturday night since last July, the Boogie Knights will now play on Friday nights as well because, according to a press release " . . . club patrons voted with their feet."
The upshot of all this is that there are no more live, original rock bands on Friday nights. The only live original music at this venue takes place on Wednesday nights with the Battle of the Bands.
Nicholby's, antiques and coffee downstairs and beer and pool upstairs, offers live bands on weekends and sometimes on Thursdays. Big Bad Voodoo Daddy is the big local draw here, with Spencer the Gardener, Lion I's and Ska Daddyz also doing respectable business.
Owner Nick Taylor increasingly is attracting out-of-area talent, lots of affordable, one-album new bands such as Cake. This place has the most potential, perhaps, but the old what-to-do-Sunday-through-Thursday blues persist.
The venerable Ventura Theatre has a local rock night once or twice a month for $5 or the ever-affordable free. Yet that venue's financial well-being is tied to touring national acts. Sometimes local bands open, but there have been strained relations between local bands and the venue, often because local bands are forced to sell tickets in order to play on the big stage.
So there's no one steady place for local bands. Even Raging Arb & the Redheads, with 11 years of experience, is currently out of a job.
Sure, there are lots of coffeehouses, but the ones that have live entertainment generally do acoustic stuff so toned down that the caffeine-driven heart palpitations of the chess players are clearly audible. Cafe Voltaire has outdoor possibilities and few neighbors to complain.
All of the existing venues are very good at what they do and make lots of money. And there's nothing wrong with Ska Daddyz, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Lion I's, Raging Arb & the Redheads, Bloody Mary Morning or Spencer, but the other 9 million local bands need a venue as well.
What's needed is a place with no dress code, no GQ bouncers, no karaoke-dokey jive, no DJs who think they're the stars. Just good, cheap rock and, oh yes, free peanuts. So what if most of the band members are obnoxious and their girlfriends pout if you don't let everyone they know in for free? What's a few bar fights among friends?
Until we get that place, the local scene remains as weak as it's ever been.
Although the Buddah Heads, with their big label deal, were the headliners not too long ago at Nicholby's, the opening band, House of Games, fairly blew the Buddah's heads off. The husband and wife team of Daphne and Roy Jones--he of the blazing guitar riffs and she of the Richter Scale voice and keyboards--cruised through their R&B-flavored; set of rockin' blues.
After a blazing rendition of that old blues classic, "Rock Me, Baby," the singer stressed the obvious when she noted, "We want to remind you that beer is good food." Plenty of people were making pigs of themselves and dancing funny.
The HoG band, which also includes Glade Rasmussen on bass and Donna Eveland on drums, is tighter than your boss. All they need is more fans, but they certainly made a bunch of new converts at Nicholby's.