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[whitespace] Cactus Club A rock institution on South First Street is in danger of closing.

Cactus' Future Looks Bleak

SoFA's night life in jeopardy with closures and changes downtown

By Sarah Quelland

THE CHANGES GOING ON in the SoFA nightclubs are making my head spin. I Need More! ending its run of Thursday-night rock shows at the Lido is only the tip of the iceberg. The Usual is sprucing up as part of some mysterious master plan. People may have noticed the old sign has been taken down. I spoke with the Usual's Paul Gerhardt, and while he wouldn't say much, he did reveal that there "may" be a change in ownership happening in the next couple months. Word on the street is that the revamped club (which downtown regulars have heard might be renamed "Spy Club" or "The Spot") is joining forces with the House of Blues and plans to go after a more upscale crowd.

But there's even more unsettling news: the future of the Cactus Club has suddenly become very uncertain. Nasty rumors have been flying for years about the historic rock joint's demise. Sadly, they may finally be true. The club's liquor license is being suspended, and as a result, according to manager Calvin Trippett, "We are going to be closed in July for the whole month. Afterwards," he explains, "we would have to remodel extensively and sell more food than liquor or become 21 and over."

"This is all very sad for me," he continues. "I don't think we can make either option work in that space with the rent as high as it is. We will be looking into finding another space to carry on the tradition and spirit of the Cactus Club, which I hope has been to give bands of all different kinds a chance to be heard and develop in the South Bay and to try to foster an environment in which they can thrive."

With only two months to go before the doors close indefinitely on this 14-year-old establishment--a club that's hosted some of the biggest names in music, including Nirvana, Matchbox 20, Korn, Alanis Morissette, Smash Mouth, Weezer and Green Day, and helped establish multiplatinum-selling bands like Papa Roach--Trippett says, "We will try to put on some great shows with some old alumni of the club and try to get this whittled down so that when and if we need to find a new space, we won't be bringing any negative baggage with us."

Not only would the closing of the Cactus displace an entire community, but it would be a disastrous blow to the local music scene. Where are the young bands just starting out going to play if it doesn't exist anymore?

With a track record that includes Dokken, Faster Pussycat and Gregg Rolie, the Icon Nightclub isn't exactly booking up-and-coming bands. You'd never see unknowns like RevivALL or Beneath the Surface--two bands that recently came out of nowhere and kicked ass at the Cactus--on the Icon's stage. They still have dues to pay before they can get to that level.

Gaslighter's Music Hall, the Gaslighter Theater, the Los Gatos Outhouse, Plant Fifty One and Kleidon's Lounge are all doing their part, but it's just not enough to sustain us or our local musicians. The SoFA district is already struggling to maintain some semblance of a night life. In a downtown littered with empty buildings, it's not easy. If the Cactus dies and the Usual starts courting a more affluent crowd--one that's already being serviced by other clubs, things are only going to get worse.

These changes are the signs of something bigger and darker though. The city appears to be trying to gentrify the downtown area and draw a less colorful, more desirable crowd--never mind that the bulk of those colorful people live and work downtown. The Cactus is being maligned because it's not as pretty to look at as other clubs. But in the countless nights I've spent in SoFA, I've seen the least amount of problems at the Cactus. When fights break out, when people get stabbed or shot, when ambulances roll up, it's never at the Cactus. A fleet of cop cars waits like a school of sharks on South First Street, but they're not parked in front of Cactus. There's very little drama at Cactus, and everybody knows it. People go there for the music.

Bands and fans should really think about what their options will be without the Cactus. Get involved. Do something proactive. Maybe it's not too late to save this important downtown institution.

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From the May 9-15, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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