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DON’T SHOOT THE MESSENGER: Another One Bites the Dust

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Don't Shoot the MessengerIn spring of 2003, my band, The Sucker M.C. Jive Turkeys, pulled into a back alley in Medford, and loaded into an echoey, cinder-block sweatbox: Musichead.

Though it was a Portland band, three of our five members grew up in the valley and we were banking on our friends to show up to cover gas. Predictably, they didn’t. Instead, we played to three dozen random teenagers. And though we were an unknown new wave band in a metal club, they went generally bananas, dancing, singing, and cheering like we won WWII. It was so hot inside from all the rocking that I got a spontaneous nosebleed while singing, but it was such a good time I just stuffed some TP in my nose and finished the set.

Afterwards, a girl that was late saw us loading equipment and asked how the show was.

I pointed at my shirt. “I’m covered in blood,” I said. “What do you think?”

She grinned, gave me a high-five and bought a CD, even though she hadn’t heard us play.

That show was pure, uncut rock and roll. In a word: heaven.

The next night we played Mojo’s in Ashland. The audience was so apathetic our keyboard player wore a hat, trenchcoat and dark glasses onstage to avoid someone recognizing her.

We pocketed a few more bucks from the higher door fee at Mojo’s, but even now, a dozen-odd years later, the memory of that Musichead gig stands out as special.

Tragically, it’s an experience no more young bands will get to have, as Musichead owner Jym Harris recently announced that the record store will no longer host live performances.

“Financially, it costs too much to do shows,” says Harris. “And I don’t see live music in the store reopening in the foreseeable future.”

The record store will continue on, but Musichead’s final show will be on Monday, Aug. 10, with Pasadena power-metal band Holy Grail headlining, and opening sets from BloodMoon Warning, Death Division, Hazardous Terror and Sanctifyre.

Other bookings that Harris had been working on will be routed to Club 66 in Ashland, Johnny B’s in Medford and CAYA Booking in Grants Pass.

“I’ll still hook people up with shows,” says Harris. “It’s not going to be as often because there’s not that much in it for me.”

It’s an announcement that much of Southern Oregon’s winery-rock based music scene may embrace with a thundering, “who?” Musichead was niche, catering to metalheads and outsider sounds, the kind without many casual listeners. Metal is either a state of being or an unsolvable mystery. But in the age of burnable CDs and streaming media, record stores had two paths to prosperity: focus on selling expensive boutique items for collectors, or become social hubs that stock cultural experiences alongside wares, and hope to move a few albums in the process. The former may be more profitable, but it’s the latter that has real value. Especially for young audiences searching for their identity. As an all-ages venue, Musichead wasn’t able to make money by selling drinks, but it gave a lot of lost kids a tribe, and filled a crucial role in the larger cultural ecosystem. Its loss as a venue is a both a tragedy and a teachable moment to remind the local music scene that, lunchlike, there’s no such thing as a free show.

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