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In October of 1994, after eating lunch at a diner, I drove 10 blocks North on Lincoln Avenue past 48 closed storefronts to sign a lease on the old post office building at 3855 North Lincoln. After 5 years of booking bands, promoting concerts, mixing live sound and studio projects on the North side of this city, I felt confident about creating a good venue in this space. I had done every restaurant and bar job from bus boy, dishwasher, bartender, cook, fine dining waiter, and front of house manager since grade school and played hundreds of gigs, but I had no cash- just a business plan that didn’t include failure.
Along with 3 friends, who were my partners for the first 2 years, and a crew of fellow Annoyance Theatre members, we attacked the building with hammers and pry bars, quoting lines from ”Full Metal Jacket” and drinking what was left of the 6 month old beer from a former failed business at this address.
The demolition went quickly, but there was still no cash. Thankfully, through small loans from some friends and family, we were able to keep the rent paid and buy some materials. Up to the day of the lease signing, there was still no name for the business plan. My partners and I could not agree on a name; so, I wrote Martyrs’ on the plan, in reference to the leap of faith we were taking and jobs we were leaving to make this project happen.
Despite the name, the business plan looked good enough for the SBA to loan us enough money to buy a sound system, pay our workers and get the doors open. I passed out tabletops to some artistic friends, who painted them with portraits of their favorite musicians. Since the name was Martyrs’, I told them they had to be dead musicians. Now, like a song that writes itself, there was a concept in place. Martyrs’ would be dedicated to the musicians who give their life to their art.
Great shows started happening immediately, and over the years, there have been many magical performances: Chris Whitley’s abstract blues power, the pure musical beauty that is Oregon, the ferocity of a first rocket ship launch in the playing of John Entwistle or Sonny Fortune, the joy of Adrian Belew creating sounds with electric guitar never imagined until seconds before we heard it here in this room, Pete Townshend telling his arrhythmic audience “I'd prefer if you didn't clap” as he shows us why he is so deservedly a rock icon, the absolute silence of a capacity crowd to Saul Williams’s piquant words only minutes after he worked that same crowd into a loud screaming frenzy with his band, the profound rhythm of Arty McGlynn’s guitar accompaniment or Dennis Chambers at the drums.