The club scene in Northern Kentucky, in terms of venues that have become a haven for local, original artists and nationally/internationally known touring acts, is in the midst of a seismic shift that has emerged suddenly, over the span of just the past few months. The day after popular Covington club The Mad Hatter hosted its “closing party,” as promoters there move on to bigger and better things with a new venue, Newport’s Southgate House, one of the most unique and notable venues in the Midwest, issued a press release to announce its own closing. The Dec. 31 show at the Southgate, featuring local Punk band The Dopamines, will be the last at the club.
While the booking/managing core behind The Mad Hatter will continue in a similar vein with shows at the Madison Theater and a new, smaller venue nearby that is reportedly set to open in the new year, the Southgate House “magic” is a bit harder to replicate. Not that the Hatter wasn’t very important in its own right; the club deserves a lot of credit for popularizing “all-ages” shows in a bar setting, something other venues, including the Southgate, picked up on, and offering gigs to artists who might otherwise have few other booking options.
While the press release suggested Southgate owner Ross Raleigh, who has run the Southgate as an arts and music venue for over 30 years, would seek to open a new club (an announcement is expected soon), the Southgate House’s legacy is as much about the building itself as it is the club’s eclectic bookings, which has included big-timers on their way up, like The Flaming Lips, Modest Mouse, The Arcade Fire and The White Stripes, and iconic figures like Rock & Roll pioneer Wanda Jackson and Folk hero Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, as well as artists from most musical genres’ fringes, who could usually count on the venue to take a chance on themCityBeat's music blog for updates as they become available.)
On a peak night at the Southgate, a curiosity seeker might walk in on some young, on-the-rise Folk singer/songwriter in the venue’s entry-level Juney’s Lounge (lovingly named after the room’s longtime bartender), where shows are always free. Then they might pay $5 and squeeze into the upstairs Parlour room to watch some Indie/Afrobeat/Doom Metal buzz band. Or maybe that curiosity seeker just hits the club’s notorious “Ballroom,” where so many diverse artists, big and small, have performed in front of that big red-velvet curtain.
The local music scene loses three reliable clubs with the Southgate House’s closing. That’s three less outlets for local artists, though there are certainly venues around Greater Cincinnati that can pick up some of the slack. The loss will likely be more noticeable in terms of nationally touring performers. Are there enough clubs willing to book a lesser-known artist playing “weird” or at least unique music, someone who might not have a huge draw, but has an interesting sound and might just be the bigger club up the street’s next big headliners in a couple years? The Southgate’s welcoming booking approach/philosophy might be as difficult to replicate as the historic mansion’s casual Rock & Roll vibe and three-story setting. It could well result in at least a few more acts passing on Greater Cincinnati when tour-booking time comes up.
The Southgate is irreplaceable, which is reason enough to call its closing the “end of an era.” But Northern Kentucky still has a healthy club scene with a future marked by a lot of promise, including the forthcoming Madison Live club from the Mad Hatter principals and whatever Raleigh has up his sleeve. As Raleigh says in the press release, “the history is in the people and the music, not just the building, and the show must go on.”
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