“You’re killin’ me,” says Brian Witkin, founder of Pacific Records, about the news that the venue that gave him his break in the music business was ending live shows. “I met my wife when we both worked there. We’re about to have an Epicentre baby.”
The Epicentre, the all-ages, booze-free venue in Mira Mesa has stopped the music. Its 16-year run ended in June.
“They took a chance on hiring me at 16,” says Witkin, now 29. “I was assistant venue manager and ran the record store. That led to me opening Pacific Records. My wife worked on the event staff, helping with everything from security to trash...that place gave a lot of people their break in the business.”
People like venue manager Jerry Figueroa, who is now assistant talent buyer for San Diego House of Blues. “John Schalk also worked on events staff.” Schalk is now talent buyer for House of Blues, Anaheim.
The Epicentre, like Soma, was the place where many young bands got to play their first real gig, maybe even with a touring headliner.
Maroon 5, Thrice, Boxcar Racer, and Snow Patrol all played the Epicentre.
“Soma was our direct [all-ages] competitor, but we didn’t have their 2000 capacity so they won out on getting a lot of the bigger acts,” says Witkin.
Unlike Soma, or newer all-ages venues Legend Records and the Yard, the Epicentre was run by the nonprofit Harmonium, which provides counseling and other support for area youth. Insiders say it was no secret that while the Epicentre’s commitment to hiring staff was helpful in helping young people learn a career, it also kept it in the red. Also, it’s pay-to-play policy, where local bands could play only if they turned in a certain amount of ticket sales, led many to look elsewhere.
Harmonium CEO Rosa Ana Lozada, says she is not sure what the future holds for the city-owned building that was once a library. “Our lease is with the City and there are certain things it cannot be, like a [for-profit] Starbucks for instance.”
Lozada says that Epicentre’s shows have not been in the black for years, and that Harmonium was not able to provide major building repairs. “The building is deteriorating...plus we noticed a decline in interest to the venue in particular.”
But she said the real-life progress of ex-employees Witkin, Figueroa, and Schalk, “was exactly what Harmonium and the Epicentre were all about.”
Jordan Carter Witkin, 7 pounds, 5 ounces, arrived July 10. "His genre is 'screamo,'" says dad.