It seems that the coolest clubs are always the hardest to find. Travel north to San Fran or south to L.A., and you can spend the length of a band’s entire set wandering some dark back alley, searching for a specific colored door among a stretch of concrete walls or a doorman lurking in the shadows. While such a movement has yet to catch on in Santa Barbara to that degree, our music venues certainly don’t like to overstate their presence either. Like SOhO, which is tucked inconspicuously away in Victoria Court, downtown’s latest musical addition, Stateside, is occupying a spot that’s equally discreet, nestled snugly in the back of La Arcada. But as the wayward souls wandering State Street in search of April’s Hotel Cafe extravaganza proved, finding the venue is easy-all you need to do is follow the music.
When Stateside (located at 1114 State St.) took control of the former Acapulco building last year, it did so with one thing in mind-to provide Santa Barbara with a high-class venue that offered fine dining and a diverse mix of live entertainment. In hosting everything from contemplative singer/songwriters the caliber of Devon Sproule to local favorites as diverse as Spencer the Gardener and AVE Caesar to touring acts as big as Jackie Green and Todd Snider, the venue is certainly making good on its promise. Throw in a Brazilian night on top of its various standup comedy undertakings and you begin to get a sense of the range of entertainment that Stateside is offering.
It should come as no surprise, then, that the driving force behind the venue’s musical mission is a musician himself. While Joe Middler can typically be seen tending to the day-to-day tasks involved in running a club, you can also catch him onstage at various points throughout the month, hammering it out with his own rock ensemble, Joe’s Band. Having performed with the likes of Ray Charles and Santana at the Atlanta Olympics, Middler has also been part of the house band at Mandalay Bay and made a living as a session musician. But when the evolution of digital home recording began impacting the studio scene, Middler started to think about other ways to satisfy his musical cravings. And that ultimately put him back in front of an audience.
“I said, ‘I’m going to Manhattan Beach. I’m going to put a club band together and rebuild my career from there,'” recalled Middler. “I also ended up doing some promotions at a club down there and, on a whim, a guy came up and said that what I really needed was my own club and that he could help me make it happen. As long as I could play music in there, I was all for it. As it turned out, the booze business is really profitable in Hermosa Beach. It’s a big party town-there are a lot of single people and it draws from Orange County and Los Angeles. I have never looked back.”
Middler went on to establish The Shore as one of the leading clubs in the region, and when the opportunity to venture up to Santa Barbara and open up a venue presented itself, the burgeoning entrepreneur jumped at the chance. Drawn by a longtime fondness for the city, along with a building and deal that were too good to resist, Middler and his partners quickly set about making Stateside a reality. A projected nine-month renovation of the Acapulco site turned into a two-and-half-year venture. But Middler knew that establishing a presence here would take time. And once the doors were opened, he quickly turned his attention back to the music.
“I have even put together a Joe’s Band for Santa Barbara with all local players,” enthused Middler. “There is such tremendous musical talent up here. I have Justin Claveria, who has worked with Kenny Loggins and Nate Birkey, on sax and Ben Margulies-a Grammy Award-winning producer and writer for Mariah Carey-playing drums. And I found one of our singers, Ian, on Craigslist. He was grooming dogs and was like, ‘Get me out of here man, I need to get a date!'”
But Joe’s Band is just one of a number of musical avenues that Stateside is currently exploring, with most of the venue’s larger musical bookings being overseen by Twiin Productions. Founded by twin brothers Joshua and Jeremy Pemberton (the masterminds behind the West Beach Music Festival), the company has recently presented Santa Barbara with shows from the likes of the Hotel Cafe, Jackie Green, and Kate Voegele. Given the range of musical alternatives here in town, Joshua’s decision to use Stateside was ultimately a “sound” one.
“When you are putting on shows, so many things factor into it, and how the place sounds is a big part of it,” he explained. “The sound system at Stateside is right up there with the best in town, and that has helped us get the acts that we have brought in. When you are booking talent, the people you’re working with can’t see the venue. All they see is one sheet of the equipment list. And when you send that through for this place, they can see pretty quickly that we know what we’re doing.”
And for Middler, that has resulted in so much glowing praise from the artists who have passed through-praise that will ultimately help establish Stateside as permanent fixture in Santa Barbara’s music scene.
“I’m new to town, so we’re playing catch up a little,” admitted Middler. “But we are getting there. People are getting to know we’re here and what we’re offering. Word is getting around and Josh and Jeremy are helping with that. The nice thing, from our perspective, is that we seem to appeal to everybody. We get definitely the twentysomethings, but we get people all the way up into their sixties, too.”