Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Top Ten Stages From a Drummer's Perspective

As a drummer of 26 years, I have walked across so many stages here in Milwaukee and beyond. Some stages have been just a few inches off the ground, tucked away in a corner. Other stages have been so large that I got lonely while playing away, say at a summer festival. I want to take a moment to reflect upon my top ten favorite stages in Milwaukee (And a few extras.) Be advised, this top ten list does not mean that they are the ten BEST stages, just my top ten.

The Lost Dutchman's Mine 1983: I have to pick that one because it was my first club gig, and my first actual stage. The Lost Dutchman's mine was a club that looked like an actual mine. There was a groovy conversation pit, booths tucked into the walls, and fake support beams in narrow halls. The stage was a rotting pile of crap in the corner of the largest room of the bar. The lighting was red upon red. That red light helped to highlight the dirt colored walls. When I set foot in the very corner of the stage, I fell through a rotting plank. Still, it was a great place to play two note punk rock.

Teddy's on Farwell:
The stage was big, the club had lights, the second floor was used as a giant band room, and you felt like a rock star when you played there. The stage was at least three feet off the ground, and it was solid. That meant no swaying cymbal stands, and no wandering bass drums. This was before the fire, and change in ownership. Today, the stage faces to the west, and the club has a different name and feel. I can't say that I enjoy it anymore.

This was not the largest stage I have ever played on, but it's close. If you want to feel like a superstar, that stage will do the trick. Everything about the Zippo stage says "pro." All you have to do is get 2000 of your closest friends to fill the bleachers in front of the stage, and you are set. One year when we played there, we were a total of seven band mates with four belly dancers. There was room to spare. On another occasion, it was just the four of us, and I felt like I was miles away from my band. That's when you just have to play it up for the crowd, and hope that you come across as a guy having a great time, all alone on that big drum riser.

Trieste "Beer Hall" Italy, just west of Slovenia:
This was by far the largest stage I have ever played on. This "beer hall" was just west of the Italy/Slovenia border, close to Trieste. The venue was enormous, and included at least 50 heavy wooden picnic tables with matching benches. The stage was easily eight feet off the ground, and 70 feet wide. My band was a three piece rock outfit. We looked like dots to the folks on the other end of the building.

The Eagles Club:
We were one of the very first bands to play at the Eagles Club. That was back in 1986. For the next ten years, I would find myself on that stage every few months. Yes, the power went dead during some shows, and many times the mix was horrid. The club is large, and if you are lucky, you get to open for a national touring band. (This was before the days of pay to play at the Rave.)

The "35 House" basement:
I built my own riser at the "35 House." We had many house parties there. It was a huge basement, and our home base. Who could ask for more?

This is another huge venue on Milwaukee's south side. At the height of my punk band's popularity, we found ourselves on the bill with bands like the Circle Jerks, DRI, and more. The Crystal Ballroom was not as big as the Rave ballroom, but it has better acoustics. The neighborhood didn't like the punk kids coming around, but that was in the 1980's. The new order was firmly established by then. They still have shows, but I must admit that I haven't been there in years.

The BBC on Farwell:
Yea, there is a support beam right in the middle of the stage. Yes, the stage is low and not square, but something about that place makes me happy. When I play there, the staff treats us like kings, and the fans are always in a good mood.

The stage is perfect for large and small shows. If a small crowd shows up, move the gear to the front of the stage. If you have a big gig, move everything back. Load out is easy, there is a room for the bands to hang out, and the manager is a great guy. Milwaukee needs more Miramar Theaters.

This stage was the smallest I think I have ever played on, and a show I always looked forward to when touring Europe. It's in a tiny bar, where the urinals are in plain view of the patrons as they enter and leave the club. They cover the windows with foam, and the P.A. system is run from behind the bar. The stage is so short that there is no elbow room for the drummer. It doesn't matter. The management treats you to a great meal before you play, and the tiny club fills up easily. The shows start early, so you get a chance to party after the gig ends.

If anyone wants to add to this "top ten" leave a comment.

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