Owner Jonathan Kiersky confirms that his Midtown music venue, the Hi-Tone Café, will close its doors on February 28th after a 15-year run as the city's most prolific mid-sized concert venue.
While Kiersky is abandoning the Hi-Tone venue as a full-time enterprise, he's not abandoning the Memphis concert scene, saying that he will continue to book concerts in Memphis under the Hi-Tone Productions name as well as part of his recently created booking agency, Ping Pong. (Among Ping Pong's clients are locals acts Toxie, Jack Oblivian, John Paul Keith and the One Four Fives, and the Memphis Dawls.)
“We're transferring shows to different venues,” says Kiersky, who promises specific information on additional bookings in the coming days.
The decision to close the club, according to Kiersky, came from a variety of factors: A lease set to expire at the end of this year, a desire to book shows at different venues, and the conclusion that operating a concert venue of the Hi-Tone's size in the volatile Memphis concert market was too difficult.
“I think maybe the location had run it's course,” Kiersky says, citing parking and heating issues with the space in addition to the standard concert-scene economics. “I also got sick of doing shows I wasn't interested in.”
“I think it's extremely difficult to make it viable,” Kiersky says of running a full-time club of the Hi-Tone's ilk in Memphis. “And I think that's been proven with every club of that size in the past. The Antenna. Last Place on Earth. Six One Six. Barrister's. Even Young Avenue Deli, which doesn't book much music any more.”
In addition to a favored site for local record-release and benefit shows and a landing spot for name indie touring acts such as, most recently, Titus Andronicus, Japandroids, and Sharon Van Etten, the Hi-Tone has been a home base for such major annual events as Gonerfest and Rock for Love.
Kiersky says he hopes to remain involved in moving Gonerfest and Rock for Love to new locations and says the higher-profile local and national shows that have highlighted the Hi-Tone calendar are the shows he hopes to still book at other local venues, albeit at a much lower frequency than at the Hi-Tone.
“We won't be trying to fill up 350 nights anymore,” Kiersky says. “I think there's a limit to how many shows you can do in Memphis in a given month.”
“The shows that have drawn a minimum of 100 people at the Hi-Tone, those are the kinds of shows we plan to still book,” says Kiersky, who suggests he has both traditional and non-traditional venues in mind that will accommodate shows that draw crowds ranging from 100 to 1500. “The lesser shows, the ones that have only drawn 30 to 50 people, can transfer to other Midtown venues.”
The Hi-Tone's lease was set to expire on December 31st, but Kiersky got an extension through the end of February to accommodate some bigger shows he has booked that he didn't want to try to move. Among these are Purity Ring on January 24th, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion on January 25th, and the Old 97s on February 19th. Kiersky says he hopes to schedule farewell events for the venue for the last weekend in February.
On the surface, the loss of the Hi-Tone is certainly a blow to the local concert scene, but this isn't the first time a signature venue has closed. Questions abound: Will Kiersky's plan to continue booking major shows at other venues and shift smaller shows to smaller Midtown venues be sufficient? Will other venues — Minglewood Hall? Young Avenue Deli? Newby's? The New Daisy? — alter their booking in response? Will a new venue pop up to try to fill the void?
We'll get into these questions more after the holidays. As for now, the Hi-Tone still has a couple of months left in it.