When the venue opened March 9, 2007, there was never any doubt in my mind that The Waiting Room would still be in operation a decade later. And sure enough, here we are. The club is bigger and better than ever, and arguably was the keystone on which the Benson revitalization was built upon.
I’m not going to get all maudlin and nostalgic about the club or the people behind it (I’ll save that for The Reader article, which I’m hoping to write for the June issue). Instead, here’s the original interview with Waiting Room founders Marc Leibowitz and Jim Johnson from the March 8 2007 issue of The Reader (and entry on Lazy-i.com) where the dynamic duo explain why they built the club and their plans for the future.
Actually, before we get to that, tonight is the official 10th Anniversary show featuring Conor Oberst and The Felice Brothers. This one has been sold out for a long time. The club is having an invitation only celebration prior to that show, though everyone is invited to the 10th Anniversary After Party featuring Har Mar Superstar at Reverb Lounge. Tickets are still available for that one for $10, but I suggest you buy them before it, too, is sold out. Har Mar starts at 11 p.m.
The Waiting Room: Book It and They Will Come
from Lazy-i.com, March 8, 2007
A mere month after taking possession of the building that used to house Marnie’s Place, D Dubs and the legendary Lifticket Lounge, The Waiting Room in the heart of Benson is ready for business.
Its owners — Jim Johnson and Marc Leibowitz — are ready for business as well.
Since getting the keys from the landlord, a visibly worn but excited Johnson has spent 12 hours a day every day cleaning, painting and repairing the facility, from building a gorgeous new bar to upgrading the stage to remodeling the bathrooms, and he’s not through yet. One week prior to its grand opening more work still needed to be done. The Pepsi guy was scheduled to show up the next morning, more tables and chairs were on the way, a collection of posters from past One Percent Productions shows (what the duo is known for) had yet to be hung and the booze hadn’t arrived yet (nor had their liquor license).
But the most important element — the venue’s monster stage, sound and lighting system — was in place and ready for lift-off. Using an iPod plugged into the soundboard, Johnson and Leibowitz ran a brief test of the system, playing tracks by Red House Painters, The Replacements and Frontier Trust, finally settling on Beck’s Sea Change. Even with one of the large stage speakers still yet to be hooked up, the sound was pristine — huge and full-bodied — and very loud.
“It’ll be even louder when the bands are playing,” Leibowitz said. “It’s basically a supped-up version of Sokol Underground’s PA in a room half the size. It has the same speakers, but the amps are better. The monitors are the same, the board is a lot better and there are twice as many stage lights.”
Enormous subwoofers are mounted beneath the stage, surrounded by 5,000 pounds of sand used to dampen vibration. Running the board will be soundman Jason Churchill from the Satellite Blues Band, who has been working sound at One Percent shows for the past couple years. “We thought he had a good sound from the get-go,” Leibowitz said. “He’s used to working with large bands. We bought his PA, he sold his cube truck and now this is his home.”
It’s a first-class set-up that will quickly be recognized as one of the best performance rooms in the city. And unlike Sokol Underground, where large metal poles always block your view, all sight lines are unobstructed.
Beyond the stage and sound, the lounge itself sports a clean, comfortable, lived-in feel, from the booths along the south wall to the pinball-machine room in the back. The place even boasts two sets of restrooms — one by the pinball room, the other to the right of the stage. Johnson will get to know them intimately as he’ll be the guy cleaning them every morning after what he hopes will be plenty of use.
Although lifted from a Fugazi song, the club’s name — The Waiting Room — is appropriate for reasons beyond sheer tribute. Leibowitz and Johnson waited 11 years to open the club.
“We thought in 1996 that we’d find the right place within a year,” Johnson said. “We figured we could do shows as One Percent Productions for awhile and prove that we could make enough money to convince a bank to give us a loan. Eleven years later, and we realized it wasn’t that easy.”
Part of the reason for the delay was that they were too “picky.” Over the years they considered venues in the Old Market, along Farnam St., in South Omaha and even the building that currently houses Sullivan’s. Then this last December Johnson stepped into Marnie’s Place at 6212 Maple St. and talked with the building’s owner. Within weeks, he was handed the keys.
“One reason we chose this location was because it was affordable,” Leibowitz said. “Every other place we looked at cost too much money. And we like Benson. A lot of people that go to our shows live around here.”
Friday night’s opening will feature Art in Manila (a new band fronted by Orenda Fink, who has released albums on Saddle Creek Records), Lawrence band 4th of July and folk band Black Squirrels. The following night, punk bands Bombardment Society, Now Archimedes!, and The Stay Awake take the stage. Sunday night’s show is a special invitation-only affair that will feature one of the area’s biggest acts.
That’s three nights of indie and punk bands, and although One Percent built its rep on indie music, Johnson and Leibowitz know that they’ll have to reach beyond that genre to keep the bar open, especially with Saddle Creek Records’ mammoth Slowdown entertainment complex opening downtown in just a few months.
“We’re not indie music promoters; we’re independent promoters,” Leibowitz said. “Indie music got us where we are today, but we now book more metal and hardcore than anyone in town.”
“These days, I’m really getting into country music,” Johnson said, adding that had someone stepped into the building anytime over the past month, they would have heard plenty of pedal steel along with the hammers and saws.
“We want to book whatever people want to come see,” Leibowitz said. “Yes, the indie shows that can fit into this room will be here. But there also will be some bands that we would have booked at Mick’s — like Jolie Holland and Dave Dondero. We want to do the Americana stuff that the Sunday Roadhouse series is known for. We’ve been offered jazz and reggae shows in the past and had no room for them. Now we do. It’ll be all across the board.”
Which begs the question how One Percent will be able to book Sokol, Slowdown and their own club without an obvious conflict of interest. Leibowitz said The Waiting Room isn’t in those venues’ league.
“The competition will be between Sokol, Scottish Rite Hall and Slowdown. All really cater to the same size shows,” he said, adding that economics differentiate the three. Sokol is cheap to operate. “From what we’ve been told, Slowdown could be more expensive, and Scottish Rite is very expensive.”
Where an artist plays will depend on what the artist wants out of a show. “They may want to play a less expensive room that allows them to walk out with more cash,” Leibowitz said. “On the other hand, from a production standpoint, nothing will touch Slowdown. It’ll have the nicest stuff in town. It comes down to expenses, availability and capacity, and I can push artists only so far in one direction.”
For example, Leibowitz said he would prefer to have the upcoming Andrew Bird show at The Scottish Rite Hall. “It would have been amazing,” he said, “but the economics of Sokol Underground made more sense to them.”
As you can tell, despite the new bar Leibowitz’s focus will remain on growing One Percent Productions. Johnson will be dedicated to running The Waiting Room full-time. “You won’t see the two of us running around everywhere like before. We want hands-on control of this bar.”
The whole point of having their own club was to be able to do it their way. Every time they started booking shows at a new venue, they’ve brought a list of suggestions to improve its business. “We asked Sokol to repaint, put in some lighting in the room adjacent to the main room and add seating so people could sit down and drink. No one listened,” Leibowitz said. “We went into the Saddle Creek Bar and said ‘Make it sound right. Don’t add more speakers, make it better. ‘ At O’Leaver’s I walked out of one show (a performance by the band Bella Lea) embarrassed. I can’t put a delicate sounding band in there.”
“We never held any of our own cards at those other bars,” Johnson said. “Here, we have control of our own destiny. We can make it the way we want to make it. After doing 800 shows, we think we’ve determined what this town needs.”
With that level of control, a risky proposition like opening a bar is a chance they’re willing to take. “We’ve proven with Sokol that people will come if you book the right shows,” Leibowitz said. “O’Leaver’s has proven that, too. We know if we bring in bands people want to see, they’ll come. — Lazy-i.com, March 8, 2007
More trivia: That was a busy night back in 2007 even if you weren’t at The Waiting Room. Kite Pilot, Razz the Kid and Or Does It Explode played at The Saddle Creek Bar. Or Does It Explode was a band that featured Robert Little and Matt Stamp from Mariannes, Tim from Latitude Longitude, and Pat D from RTO and Cactus Nerve Thang. $5, 9 p.m. The Terminals were playing the Black Shoe Bash and Dance Party at the Bemis Underground with Brimstone Howl and Denver’s The Machine Gun Blues, and The Take Action! Tour was happening down at Sokol Auditorium with The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, Emery, Scary Kids Scaring Kids, A Static Lullaby, and Kaddisfly… Ah, those were the days…