STORY BY COLE NORUM
It might get loud. It will sound awesome. That’s the mentality behind Lefty’s Live Music, a new concert venue slated to open this spring in the Drake neighborhood.
“We want to have the best-sounding music venue anywhere around,” the booking manager and co-founder of Lefty’s, Erik Brown said.
“A lot of times (the sound) seems like an afterthought,” Lefty’s co-founder and owner, said Anne Mathey. “We want to … create an epic sound system that really brings in bands that may be too big to play the room.”
At this moment, that room is delineated by a half-wall partition inside 2307 University Ave — the location better known to Drake students as The Dublin.
On March 17, according to Brown, the final papers will be signed and the transaction entirely completed, a transfer of ownership and occupancy, from a bar with a DJ booth to a full-fledged music hall that happens to have a bar.
“Bands are brought in to bring people to the building to buy booze — that’s kind of how the business model of a venue works,” Mathey said of the traditional approach to combining music and drink. “We want to flip that on its head.”
That will start with construction on the location’s interior. The founders plan on knocking down the partition to allow for subsequent increases in performance space, including the construction of a 28-inch high stage.
Smaller changes, such as softening the walls and placing curtains over windows and behind the stage will aid in improving acoustics.
Then there’s actually delivering the sound.
“We’re using all commercial equipment … not stuff that you can get in a Guitar Center catalog,” Brown said.
Brown and Mathey anticipate their commitment to sound quality will draw established music acts as well as serving as a model experience for up-and-coming musicians.
“The importance of sound quality couldn’t be overstated,” senior marketing major Chris Fairbank said.
Fairbank, a member of the Drake a cappella group Fermata the Blue, has performed at a number of venues around Des Moines, including Vaudeville Mews and The Grapevine in Clive.
“Every room has its own sound … you won’t get a good performance out of a bad venue,” Fairbank said. “Sound quality in venues around town is quite high.”
Brown and Mathey had been searching for a possible location for several months before the spot housing The Dublin went on the market. Immediately, it was a prime target due to more than just its sheer availability: the building itself has a rich history of hosting live music.
Before The Dublin opened in 2007, the location hosted two music venues.
Archives of the Des Moines Register and Cityview document tales of the building’s musical past. It first hosted music under the name of the Safari Club and was owned by Slipknot drummer Shawn Crahan, who sold it in 1997.
Soon after, it served as the reincarnation of Hairy Mary’s, a legendary venue whose original downtown Des Moines location once hosted the Smashing Pumpkins and a then-unknown Dave Matthews Band.
The second iteration of Hairy Mary’s was the setting of a late 1990s show, played by an unknown duo in front of reportedly nine people. The duo called themselves the White Stripes.
“Everybody has a little place in their heart for that location,” Mathey said of 2307 University Ave. “I kind of like the romance of … having this cool music place rise back up.”
Mathey and Brown are no strangers to the Des Moines music scene, with Brown fronting local progressive-rock band The Maw and Mathey managing for more than a decade the daily operations of the recently closed House of Bricks.
The Lefty’s founders are also well versed in the Drake area —Mathey graduated from Drake’s school of journalism in 2001 —and the neighborhood is not the only thing Brown and Mathey seek to share with the university.
“As we just started saying we’re in the neighborhood, there’s just so much more everyday that opens up,” Brown said. “The idea … of interning someone on the soundboard, interning someone on PR, someone doing booking … is so cool to me.”
Collaboration with Drake may also include hosting recitals and school-associated concerts, a concept welcomed by Fairbank.
“Any way to broaden the Drake bubble in terms of social activities is a positive,” Fairbank said. “To have a local business building a relationship … and culture with Drake … is wonderful.”
While Mathey and Brown intend to position Lefty’s as a music-first experience, it is also establishment at which alcohol is served and is in close proximity to a school with underage students. It is a plain truth that Mathey recognizes comes with its share of challenges.
“I can see how (law enforcement) are apprehensive about putting something so close to the college, because Dublin … and other bars in the area have had problems in the past,” Mathey said.
A 2012 application submitted by the Dublin for a renewal of its Class C liquor license acknowledged that The Dublin “was known for allowing/serving minors in the bar, noise complaints and over-serving legal aged patrons.”
The application also included a number of “agreements,” or commitments pledged by The Dublin to operate more legally and with more consideration of the neighborhood. One such agreement was to “hold staff accountable for customers to prevent over serving and persons under legal age” in the building.
“We know Drake students are going to poke at our defenses,” Mathey said. “It’s something you have to be aware of as a bar owner and keep an eye on.”
The founders plan to host earlier shows for all ages, cooperating with a local law that allows for patrons under the legal drinking age to attend shows at locations serving alcohol, so long as they are out of the venue at 9 p.m.
“I want it to be a good environment for everybody and I want it to be safe,” Mathey said. “I don’t want to be the bad neighbor everybody talks about.”