Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2008

Turner Hall Ballroom's Powerful Local Niche

By Evan Rytlewski
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The Pabst Theater organization began booking shows at the deserted Turner Hall Ballroom about a year ago with the explicit promise that the venue would be used to book more local shows. Although all-local shows at the Turner Ballroom have actually been few and far between—nowhere near the full schedule of local bookings we see at venues like Linneman’s, the Cactus Club, Shank Hall, the Stonefly Brewery, etc—the venue has filled a crucial niche in the Milwaukee music scene: hosting local “event” concerts, something Milwaukee hasn’t regularly had since the days of Citizen King.

With the Pabst/Turner’s overflowing advertising budget, the organization can hype its handful of local shows a print and radio promotional push these bands could never afford on their own, turning what would otherwise be a route show by a band that might play the city at least a dozen times a year into a major event, drawing literally hundreds more concertgoers than the band might typically attract.

These shows provide important exposure for these bands, and a helpful introduction to some of the most promising groups Milwaukee has for casual listeners who don’t closely monitor the local music scene.  Headlining a Turner Ballroom show has become just about the highest local honor a Milwaukee band can hope for, in part because the venue doles out this honor so sparingly. Many of Turner’s previous Milwaukee headliners—Maritime, Decibully, Northern Room, Fever Marlene—really are, by most accounts, the biggest bands in the city, so by its selective nature, the ballroom has taken on a cache that no other local venue could achieve.

Of course, that’s not to say it wouldn’t be great if venue were more prolific in the local shows it books. It could take a chance on opening up the ballroom to Milwaukee punk and hardcore bands who deserve the exposure as much as more Radio Milwaukee 88.9-friendly bands (and who could draw a respectable all-ages crowd if there were enough of them on the bill). But the venue’s recently announced Oct. 31 show is certainly a step in the right direction. It slaps three fun Milwaukee bands—Juiceboxxx, French Horn Rebellion and rising stars Kings Go Forth—onto a $10 bill with the modest ambitions of simply giving Milwaukeeans something to do on Halloween. Of all the shows the Pabst organization has booked at its newest acquisition, this is the one most in keeping with the spirit of the Turners, who intended their ballroom to be an inclusive social hub, not an elite taste-making apparatus.  

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