Mikee Bridges, a veteran musician and live-music promoter in the Pacific Northwest, returned to his hometown of Ventura in 2003 to take over the music division of Skate Street, the county’s premiere all-ages facility. Following the death of Skate Street owner Tim Garrety, Bridges took the helm and re-imagined the venue. The result was Alpine, a multi-use complex replete with a laundromat, hair salon, music venue and scaled-down skate park. Changing the name and direction of the venue caused some minor controversy, and the expanded facility closed in late 2007, leaving a gaping hole in the county’s all-ages scene. Bridges is back again, and in a big way with Epic, a first class youth complex with everything from a coffee bar and study lounge to a massive gaming center and a full club setting, making it any tween or teenager’s dream hang-out. The Reporter sat down with Bridges for a candid conversation about what went wrong with Alpine, his plans for Epic and his impassioned thoughts on the local music scene.
VCReporter: You were a prominent member of Portland’s music scene and founded the still-going-strong Tom Fest. Why did you decide to move back to Ventura?
Mikee Bridges: I love Ventura with all my heart. I toured the nation countless times and never found a city as beautiful and wonderful as Ventura — even with all of its faults, from the government to the music scene. My buddy that started Skate Street — both the guys that started Skate Street actually — I went to high school with. They followed what I was doing in the Northwest and I would come down here and see what they were doing. The chance came for me to come back here, and I said, “I can take over the music end of the venue and really do it up.” Then, unfortunately, one of the owners and one of the greatest guys around, Tim Garrety, passed away. We had to figure out if we wanted to continue or not. We did, but I don’t come from the extreme sports world. I come from the music world and I know how to run a venue so that becomes more of the focus.
VCR: It seemed as though there were two camps that emerged when Skate Street became Alpine. The music scene was thrilled, but the skaters . . .
They hated it. We cut the skate park area down dramatically. Despite the similarities in music and skating, it’s so disjointed. We’re not a community and no one was coming to skate. Even in this massive park that was built for them, no one came. Right before Tim died, he was actually changing the skate park. We were in the middle of construction when he died. He was gonna try one last time to move things around to bring more people in, ’cause no one was coming. I see people on the street to this day who are like, “Bring Skate Street back.” Well, we’d still be there if you would have come [when it was open], but no one came. We can’t have a 22,000-square-foot building with a skate park that’s empty.
VCR: So you constructed this dream venue for the all-ages music scene. Why didn’t it work?
It wasn’t doing what I wanted it to. I didn’t see it stitching together music scenes. I think we were doing the exact opposite and fostering and breeding a scene that was kinda mean, nasty and uncaring. The difference between Portland and Ventura was that in Portland there was a brotherhood. That’s what is missing here. There is no, “I wanna help these bands because it helps me” or “I wanna help this club because it helps me.” It’s a “me” thing here. We have sun, sand, surf. Mom and dad have money. Even in this economy, it’s still a very affluent community and people don’t care. I think it’s a self absorbed city in that there isn’t any teamwork going on. “I’m not gonna pay to play. I’m not gonna help that band. We don’t want that band on the show.” We want. We want. We want. I still have bands that come to me, and all I’m saying is, just take this giant stack of flyers and coat the town. I’m not even asking you to sell a ticket. I want to foster the scene, just promote your show. And they won’t even do that. Some of them will, but a lot of bands just say, “What can you give me?” Bands don’t work hard. Don’t get me wrong; there are exceptions. There are a couple that work really hard around here, and for them I’ll do anything; but for those bands that expect a bunch of work to be done for them, we’re not making a dollar here. We’re a nonprofit. Full on. We’re not trying to make a bazillion dollars. We’re trying to just break even. Kids don’t understand that it costs hundreds of dollars to turn the lights on, so if you don’t promote, and only bring 20 people, I’m left with the bill.
VCR: So what was the real reason Alpine closed?
People think that it was a money thing but it really wasn’t. People thought so many things. It really was because it just wasn’t going down the road I wanted. We essentially became only a punk and hardcore venue. That was honestly one of the two major reasons we did it. The other part was that I really want, when a kid walks out, that he’s been better for having been there. With our new place, these kids have got to have manners. They are gonna be respectful to each other. They come here and learn that in order to get farther in life, there’s a few things you’ve got to do, and that’s respect each other and work together. That wasn’t happening at Alpine. We were doing shows just to do shows. Hey, hardcore shows draw. I don’t mind hardcore and punk, but there’s so much more than that around here. This place has been built to foster the indie scene, and I wanna stay away from the hardcore right now only because they can do a show in a garage and do well. It’s the indie and rock guys that need help now. We’ll throw some hardcore shows in here and there, but not so much. Another thing about Alpine was the hardcore and punk bands — most of them, not all of them, and I’m not exaggerating — came in and tore the place up. They didn’t care. I was spending literally thousands a month on mics, stands, cables, cords, blown-up amps, and no one cared.
VCR: So taking what you’ve learned from Alpine, you’ve created a truly amazing venue here. What’s different?
We decided first off to be in a higher traffic area. So here we are on Johnson Drive. For the East End, we’re it. We wanted the venue to be smaller so we could control it better. We wanted to be open during the day, a place where kids can game, but also study. Also, we wanted to be helpful for
VCR: And as for the music?
I love that there’s music in this town. There are people trying hard. Those are the people we want to work with. We all need to work together. We gotta lose the self-serving attitude. We’re here for the music scene.
Epic is located at 2588 Johnson Drive. Visit www.epicventura.com for more information, or call 650-1213.