New owners Matt Gerding and Scott Leslie are continuing the 35-year tradition of great live music at The Blue Note. The fall season looks to be the most packed schedule the venue has seen in years, Gerding says.
But there’s a lot that has changed in just the past year. Gerding and Leslie are expanding The Blue Note from simply a music venue to an active event space. The theater is now available for weddings, holiday parties and corporate events. They’ve partnered with AnnaBelle Events, a local event-planning company, outsourcing venue tours, booking and day-of-event management of those events. Several weddings are booked for next summer.
The inside was renovated in December with new flooring, lighting, new tables and chairs in an effort to clean up for events.
In addition, Gerding says, there’s new programing, such as dance parties and “Brew ‘N View,” showing cult classic films. But the focus remains great music.
Former owner Richard King sold The Blue Note last year after 34 years of ownership.
King first came to Columbia to visit his friend Kevin Walsh, who eventually got him a job at The Heidelberg, where he met Phil Costello. The three — King, Walsh and Costello — had a love for music that eventually resulted in the opening of The Blue Note in August 1980 on Business Loop 70.
King and Costello were owners, and Walsh was an employee.
Costello and King quickly found success not only booking big names such as R.E.M., The Pixies and Red Hot Chili Peppers but also smaller, less-appreciated bands such as Sam & Dave, Ricky Skaggs and Koko Taylor.
Even in those early years, The Blue Note became a prominent venue for music.
“There was a lot of music that came through this town that never would have without The Blue Note,” said James “Smitty” Smith, member of blues band Chump Change, in the Columbia Missourian this past January.
In 1990, The Blue Note moved to where it is today, and with a different location and new owners, the dedication to booking good acts stayed the same. The new facility had more capacity, going from seating 400 to 800 people.
The Blue Note’s current location started as the Varsity Theatre in 1927, according to a 2010 Columbia Business Times article. It was built for roughly $100,000, or $1.2 million in 2009 dollars, according to measuringworth.com. The location was previously the home of The Star, built in 1916 and razed to make way for the Varsity. The Varsity became the Film Arts Theatre in 1966, the Comic Book Club in 1988 and then The Blue Note in 1990.
In 1998, the venue was the first building named to Columbia’s list of notable properties, according to a 2010 CBT article.