Warehouse Alliance Mission Statement: “The Warehouse Alliance will support and promote the growth of the music & arts community of the Greater Coulee Region through events, shows, workshops, classes, volunteerism, and immersive learning opportunities.”
The Warehouse resides in La Crosse, Wisconsin. It is a non-profit, for all-ages concert venue located in the heart of downtown on the historic Pearl Street. The Warehouse is also known for its long history of concerts since the early 1990s with the likes of Everclear, Fall Out Boy, All-Star Weekend, and Hawthorne Heights, just to name very few bands that have performed here. There have been over 6,000 bands that have performed in this particular venue.
What is so special about this venue? Well, it stands against the same stigma of the town it resides in that I stand against. As Wisconsin sits at the #3 spot for the most bar per capita in states, La Crosse is well-known for the largest bar per capita city in the United States. Even before the ban of smoking in bars and restaurants was passed in 2010 here in Wisconsin, the Warehouse stayed smoke free. As I am coming up to my one-year anniversary of sobriety, I am celebrating by reaching out to the Warehouse crew, who are working hard to save this precious historical place. There are not many venues or places in La Crosse, let alone Wisconsin, like the Warehouse. It truly is a one of a kind.
I think the coolest part of this concert venue is the availability of soda pops it holds. The Warehouse stocks over 75 types of soda pops from all over the World from countries like Japan, Canada, Ireland, England, etc. It’s almost like the sober-edition of the tavern, Bodega, here in La Crosse.
As great as the story and history is with the Warehouse, each story has a climax. Right now, the Warehouse is at its own climax with their current financial situation as a non-profit organization. The owners are being threatened by the bank to put up the good fight, so they can turn the venue into condos downtown. Unfortunately, the climax is at the tip of the iceberg, as the deadline of October 19th is coming to a close for donations and the mission to “Save the Warehouse.”
I talked with Steve Harm and asked him a few questions on the mission and the concert venue:
Please, share with us your story and how the Warehouse got started?
During high school (in the late 70s, early 80s) I was in a local band, and we had nowhere to play. So we toured quite a bit, across the US, released some records, and finally put it to rest in the late 80s. I took a job working for a sound company, doing everything from announcement systems at demolition derbys to auction systems in pig barns at fairgrounds to full concert systems for events. Between gigs I would hang out in the basement of a building in downtown La Crosse, where a couple buddies had a tanning salon. One day I asked them if they had keys to the upstairs. I loved old buildings, and thought it would be fun to explore. Once I got inside I feel in love with the woodwork and the spaciousness, but especially the big open room upstairs. Then something clicked in my head and a little voice said “How hard could it be to open a venue?” That little voice was mighty inexperienced.
1. When and if the Warehouse is saved and given another chance, do you have a new rendition or plans in the making to draw in more crowds and possibly older crowds, so the kids you draw in has older influences? We have never really focused on “kids” past the age of 20, because this town grabs kids after high school and chews them up. The lure of booze, which is EVERYWHERE, is too hard for us to compete with once kids hit that age. While they are in high school, we can make a difference. But once they move out on their own, the pressure from media, peers, and every business (from grocery store to restaurant), billboards, sporting events…. EVERYTHING tells them to drink. We can only do so much. That being said, we DO get plenty of kids over 18 in the venue, and they’re not drunk, because they know we can and will throw them out. We won’t mix drunks with kids, unlike some other venues that do all-ages and simultaneously sell alcohol. That has never worked anywhere that I have been — kids are always peer-pressured into drinking, and they find a way. We bring in big older bands like Meat Puppets, Frank Black, etc., and the crowd can range from 14 to 50. They’ll have at least two things in common: they love music, and they won’t be drunk.
2. As I research your history of concerts, I am aware that majority of the bands you book are of the Rock genre. Do you ever consider booking other artists, of other genres, who support the same mission as you do with the existence of the Warehouse? That’s another misconception about the Warehouse: its all metal. We had someone complaining online about that a couple months ago, and I pointed out that within a month of that complaint, we had metal, rock, alternative, ska, punk, acoustic singer songwriter, and Americana bands. The thing that limits us a bit is that we are at the mercy of whomever is touring. We can’t just book local bands every week — those locals will burn themselves out, no one will come see them, then we kill the scene instead of growing it. Left to their own devices, local bands will play 7 nights a week all over town, and destroy themselves quickly. We try really hard to manage that. Close-minded bands think we’re meddling in their business, but eventually the ones who survive thank us. In a town this small, managing the scene is critical, and other venues usually could care less about the big picture. I find it incredibly important. We like to help up and coming national bands on their tours, and add local bands to the shows. The local bands (if they have not overplayed) help with the draw, and they get a fantastic opportunity to befriend national touring bands and learn about what it really takes to succeed. The national bands that come through are everything across the board from That 1 Guy to Born Of Osiris.
3. Ever considered also to expand the business to the likes of an “Open Mic” for local artists? Root Note has an open mic. We can let them deal with that. Since they’ve opened, we have tended to send a lot of the acoustic type stuff to them anyways. It just works better there, unless it’s a Teddy Geiger or Ari Herstand etc.
4. What other non-profit organizations and/or charities is the Warehouse known to collaborate with? In the past we have donated to WAFER FOOD PANTRY, COULEE REGION HUMANE SOCIETY, CHILDREN’S MIRACLE NETWORK, JAYCEES, UNITED WAY, AMERICAN CANCER SOCIETY, HABITAT FOR HUMANITY, SALVATION ARMY, SIERRA CLUB, WORLD WILDLIFE FUND, WISCONSIN PUBLIC RADIO, MINNESOTA PUBLIC RADIO, YWCA
5. Other than donations, what other options are there to help meet your goal in the “Save the Warehouse” campaign? To meet our goal right now, which is intended to stall the foreclosure proceedings and keep the bank at bay, the ONLY thing that is going to have any significant difference is monetary donations.
6. Is there anything we can do between the deadline of October 19th – 31st, i.e. continue donations outside of Pay Pal? If so, where can we send those donations? At the last bank meeting (yesterday) the Bankers set the next meeting for Nov 6, so we will continue fundraising as long as possible, and try to pay down some of the back taxes and mortgage payments. There are vulture developers already eyeing this building without any concern whatsoever for the history and impact of the Warehouse. We’re fighting to save that.
7. And last, but in my own eyes, most importantly, remind us, in your own words, why the Warehouse should be saved? Well in a city full of alcoholics, we are an oasis for kids to not feel any pressure whatsoever to drink. Over the past 2 decades, we have also been a place where kids who aren’t into high school sports or high school music programs or other school activities to come and find a sense of community with like-minded kids. For those kids, we ARE their baseball field or football field or showchoir room. It would be easy to sit up on our high horse trumpeting how important the Warehouse was, without anything to back it up. But we’ve been here for 22 years. Warehouse Kids from the early 90s are bringing THEIR kids here now. The kind of comments that were coming in during the fundraiser, from kids would been a part of the Warehouse for 4-6 years, then moved on, but wanted to reflect back with us on how important it was to them, was staggering. Kids who were now in their 30s and their entire current circle of friends were people they met at the Warehouse. Kids who met someone at the Warehouse who they are now married to. It is a community for misfits and “normal” kids, where everyone can fit in and feel at home and enjoy great bands and most of all, discover who they are.
8. Anything else you want to add, Steve? Only that we have a really solid plan for our 501c# Warehouse Alliance non-profit, but that the non-profit is irrelevant if we cannot get past the current financial troubles. Fundraising now is our biggest priority, and we all hate having to do it.
As the time runs low, we can only hope for a miracle right now for the “Save the Warehouse” campaign. If you support for a more positive influence and for a strong music bond for the younger generations, head to the following link, Save The Warehouse, and give any donation as low as $5. Every dollar counts for this precious moment. I want to thank Steve Harm for taking the time to answer my questions for my readers and fans out there, so I can spread the news and lighten intentions to help with the mission.
Until next time,