Apparently rumors of the demise of LA’s famed Witzend music venue are, as the saying goes, greatly exaggerated. In fact, the memorial of the death of the legendary club’s founder, Jeb Milne, held Thursday night was a strong signal that not only are the rumors that it could become a high end restaurant not true, but that the new owners are bringing fresh life to the storied site, starting with a blowout party populated with unrivaled talent.
The Witzend was created by Jeb Milne in 2009 in a collection of buildings in Venice CA that had once housed the famous (or infamous) Mad Dog Restaurant and Bar frequented by Jim Morrison, Gregory Hines and other rising entertainment stars. Jeb, a multi-talented Renaissance man, musician and animator, originally bought the buildings for a animation studio. After 2 years of negotiations with the City, he got a permit to open the Wtizend music venue and the West Side has never been the same. The Witzend became the center of a vibrant and growing pop music community that has radiated throughout the city, and in some cases the nation and other countries.
Jeb Milne died in his sleep at the age of 39 on September 11 last year. Thursday night was celebration of the music of Witzend and his creation of the center of that music.
Witzend booking agent, fitness expert and promoter (and not a bad singer), Lauri J. Reimer, assembled a magical evening of some of the best talent to appear on the Witzend stage over the years, bringing old friends together and making new friends and fans for many of the artists who entertained the celebrants. Altogether, over 15 artists mounted the stage individually, together, in bands, groups and in a finale that I suspect still has Jeb applauding. It felt like the Grammies, only without the ads and long speeches (and the awards, of course).
With over a dozen artists on stage, it is impossible to review each act, nor for this kind of event meaningful. However, a few highlights are in order. The lineup began with the tender sound of Christian Dupree, a master of flowing stories, who also MC’d the event. Jaq Mackenzie, who at 15 years old has been singing at Witzend for 3 years, picked up the pace a bit with two bracing songs and her huge smile. The early hours audience was still thin as Jaq tuned her guitar and the post-work crowd began trickling in after dinner (or for dinner), so Chris and Jaq made everyone feel like they were at a family get together. The empty chairs did not last long, by 8 pm the club was buzzing and by 9 it was full.
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Things started really rocking when Anna Montgomery took the stage and kicked the show up a gear with two songs from her album, Little Fish. And one of my favorites at Witzend, Jackie Bristow kept the energy going as she brought her forceful guitar playing and New Zealand singing to the room. She and we were on.
Other artists to sing for Jeb included the smooth keyboardist and jazz singer Alfred Johnson, the phenomenal Aubrey Logan- who brought her slide trombone to the delight of fans, Amanda Campbell and the Strands, Michael and Marky Lennon of Venice The Band,Zachery Provost,Paulie Cerra., Joe Eckels, JC Vilifan, Steve Postell, Gabe Rosen, Julia Othmer – who introduced as the sexiest singer on stage, a description she laughed at and then lived up to (she had the best shimmering blue high heels I have ever seen working the piano pedals), and singer/songwriter/producer Steve Postel.
As the night moved on and the crowd thickened to elbow room only at the bar and no seats left at the tables, the stage also got crowded as musicians joined each other and MC Chris Dupree stretched the limit of two songs per artist to three songs here and there. The grand finale from a string of artists on the stage had us all clapping, singing and cheering.
Thursday night was a celebration of the genius of Jeb Milne and his many accomplishments in a very short life, including founding the Witzend. It was also a celebration of the Witzend itself, a truly magical place that nurtures artists and audiences alike. Lauri J. Reimer bottled that magic Thursday night and captured Jeb’s vision and Witzend’s spirit.
Patrick O’Heffernan, Host, MusicFridayLive!
1717 Lincoln Blvd. Venice CA 90291