Column 21: Ranch Bowl Redux; Mastodon tonight

Category: Blog — @ 12:18 pm April 14, 2005

Maybe the most interesting information from my brief, 5-minute phone call with Mike Brannan was the fact that he’s working on a couple new band projects. Prior to backing Todd Grant down at Sokol Underground a month or so ago I hadn’t heard him play guitar in years. He’s good. He said his new projects are a bit twangier than his usual stuff. Like everything else involving Brannan, we’ll just have to wait and see what materializes.

Column 21: Selling the Ranch
Mike Brannan isn’t talking.

When news began buzzing through the music scene last Wednesday that the once legendary Ranch Bowl — the venue Brannan owns and operates with partner Dan Crowell — will be closing its doors, Brannan confirmed it, but said nothing more.

Rumors of the venue’s demise had begun circulating earlier in the week, and were met with skepticism by those of us who have followed the music scene for any amount of time. We’d been hearing those rumors for years, from before Brannan and Crowell took over in 2003, back when Matt Markel ran the place. And every time the rumors ended up being false.

Like last October, when rumors were flying that Markel was about to somehow sell the joint out from under Brannan and Crowell, that the IRS had raided the bar during a Little Feat concert, and that the duo had been bouncing checks all over town.

Brannan responded that time, saying he had been involved in a very tough negotiation with the Markels, who had attempted a last-minute renegotiation of their purchase deal. That led to lawsuits from both sides, which eventually were settled. Brannan said that it wasn’t the IRS but the Nebraska Dept. of Revenue that had made an unannounced house call to the Bowl and levied them for $800. He also said that he and Crowell had some additional property under contract, and that other projects would be coming on line that would be unveiled accordingly. “The Ranch Bowl will now receive considerably more attention from Dan and myself as we consider what to do with it,” he had said last October. “We, however, had to resolve the deal with the Markels before we could push ahead with anything else, as that handcuffed us for quite some time.”

Five months later and the rumors were back. But this time there were no denials. Brannan confirmed on SLAM Omaha — the city’s music-scene gossip Web board — that the Ranch Bowl will finally be closed and torn down. A deal had been made to redevelop the site, finalized April 4. All their original renovation plans had been scrapped because they “lacked the local goodwill required for us to make the additional investments required” and that he and Crowell “look forward to putting the first proper mid-sized music venue online in Omaha.”

The next day, The Omaha World-Herald made it official, but Brannan didn’t add any Technicolor. Instead, the paper pursued the Wal-Mart angle. Seems Brannan and real estate man John Lund have been working together to acquire the Bowl property from Markel, which they will turn around and sell along with a sizable chunk of surrounding property. Instead of dropping big bucks on renovating the Bowl, it had to make more sense for Brannan to cash in and invest in a new venue that doesn’t need as much renovation (and doesn’t have a bowling alley attached to it). A place like Club Joy on the southwest corner of The Old Market, for instance.

But that’s all speculation. When contacted Sunday, Brannan was unwilling to comment about the new venue and its location; he wasn’t even willing to say what style of music it will cater to, only saying that there would be an announcement made when the time is right.

He did say that Artery Studios, located in the Ranch Bowl complex, would stay open after the Bowl closes, and that he’s looking for somewhere to move the studio once the bulldozers arrive. Though not eager to run a studio, he said he likes the co-op nature of the recording business, and this time he’ll be bringing in some new players.

But the real questions remain unanswered. Like why Brannan thinks he’ll have better luck with a new venue when he couldn’t make it work with an established enterprise like The Ranch Bowl, a club that once boasted shows by acts like The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pavement and Bob Mould.

Or how a city the size of Omaha can support a new 500-capacity venue — as well as second new live music venue rumored to be announced this month, also located downtown — when it can’t support the ones that are operating now.

All good questions. But Brannan ain’t talking.

Tonight, go out and buy yourself a set of industrial-strength earplugs because Atlanta grindcore band Mastodon hits the Sokol Underground stage with Burning Brides and Early Man. The band’s 2004 voice-of-doom epic, Leviathan, has been heralded as being on the forefront of heavy heavy-metal’s inevitable return. $14; 9 p.m.

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