Westside live music scene loses an anchor with popular venue’s sudden demise

By Michael Aushenker

The Blue Dolphins’ Saturday-night set was the final act for the WitZend

The Blue Dolphins’ Saturday-night set was the final act for the WitZend

With Malibu pop-rock duo The Blue Dolphins topping a bill that included Santa Monica-based groove band Vinyl Part, L.A. singer-songwriter Drew Brandmeier and local pop-folk act Only On Tuesdays, May 16 could have been any Saturday night at the WitZend in Venice.

Instead it was the Lincoln Boulevard venue’s last, shutting a door that was opened to local musicians in 2012.

With the preceding closures of The Talking Stick in Venice and The Good Hurt in Mar Vista late last year, the RG club in renovation ad infinitum and Hal’s Bar and Grill on Abbot Kinney Boulevard out of commission for the time being, venues dedicated primarily to hosting original live music have become an endangered species west of the 405 between LAX and Santa Monica.

Operators of the venue and its landlord could not be reached, but according to several WitZend staffers on duty for its final last call, the WitZend closed with only 10 days’ notice to employees. It’s not clear what the historic brick building, which hosted live music in the 1960s as the 4-H Club, will become.

WitZend did not appear to lack patrons, however. At around 10 p.m. Saturday, upward of 100 people gathered inside to hear Vinyl Party’s hybrid of rap, ska and New Orleans funk.

“I don’t think it’s really hit us yet that it’s gone,” said Vinyl Party vocalist J. Whiting. “We left it all out on the stage and hoped that we were able to give WitZend a fraction of what it was able to give us — and that’s a life’s worth of incredible memories and a safe haven for established and fledgling artists alike to do their thing.

Whiting estimates that Vinyl Party played the WitZend nearly 20 times.

The WitZend was also one of the few Westside venues to welcome hip-hop artists to the stage. Wilfredo Williams, a Venice rapper who goes by the name Crown, performed there more than a dozen times since last summer, including Friday.

“The energy that night was probably the best ever,” he said. “It was kind of sad to see them go, but we pretty much blew the roof off.”

Danielle Carter, who worked the WitZend’s door for the past year, described the mood at the club as difficult throughout the week.

“I was just really sad. We’re all dealing with it in a different way,” Carter, whose band Illegal Download Collection took the stage in April 2014, said as an overflow crowd spilled out onto Lincoln Boulevard near the end of the evening.

Matt Lucey of The Battlefield, which performed at WitZend in January 2014, said the venue initially ran into trouble following original owner Jeb Milne’s death in September 2013. Milne, who was 39 according to the venue’s website, had originally moved an animation company into the building in 2006 before returning it to a live music venue.

“I think they were just struggling to manage and operate the place after the original owner had passed away suddenly,” Lucey said.

Santa Monica singer-songwriter Rebecca Pidgeon, who had a gig scheduled for June 17, remembers the venue fondly.

“It had a very devoted clientele and was a much loved little joint. Jeb kept it busy and humming,” she said.

Lucey praised the venue for its unique live video recording setup and creating an environment in which artists could easily connect with audiences.

“The only other place in L.A. that has that same atmosphere of respect and intimate connection to what’s happening on the stage is Hotel Café [in Hollywood],” Lucey said.

“It’s like you were having an intimate conversation with the fans,” Crown said.