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NUVO at 25: Music venues lost to time

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It was November 26, 2005, and the masses were beginning to make their way to Broad Ripple's the Patio. With a great local lineup of music in store, the venerable Guilford Avenue venue likely looked no different on this Saturday than it did on any other night to the casual passerby. But to faithful music lovers filing into the club, sheer sadness filled the air. Because after that night, this great live music spot would be no more.

Since NUVO's start back in 1990, this unfortunate scene has unfolded at several other Indianapolis venues, leaving music fans searching for somewhere new to get their fix. From The Vollrath to Locals Only, Chubby's Club LaSalle to the Music Mill, many meaningful live music spots have closed their doors in the past 25 years, each leaving behind a melodious mark on the city. For most however, the Patio's closing was certainly the saddest.

"There was so much tradition there. It was always on the front end of trends and on the front end of emerging artists," remembers Jeff Sample, who did a little bit of everything at the club between 1990 and 1999, from bartending to booking bands. "It was a destination place for touring acts. If you were going to come to Indianapolis that was pretty much the place you wanted to play, up to a certain level."

And all kinds of promising acts did play there before eventually hitting the big stage, including the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Smashing Pumpkins, the Black Keys, My Morning Jacket and many, many more. The venue also served a very important role for local and regional acts too, Sample explains.

"On the local and regional level, if you were in a band and you were actually accepted to play at the Patio, that was pretty much a badge of honor," he recalls. "That completely legitimized who you were."

During the early '90s, another club on Indy's Eastside was also making a splash, drawing big name touring acts to the city. Located in the old Arlington Theatre, The Ritz's incredibly large stage hosted the likes of Danzig, Pantera, Iggy Pop and Slayer. And just like the Patio, local bands were welcome too. Vess Ruhtenberg (The Last IV, The United States Three) recalls, "I'm proud to say that my band Jot was the very first band to play The Ritz, and probably one of the last too." With a slew of hard-hitting acts playing at the club, The Ritz had an intense aura to it, according to Ruhtenberg.

NUVO FILE PHOTOS // DESIGN BY WILL MCCARTY
  • NUVO File Photos // Design by Will McCarty

"The shows were always almost like they were going to spin out of control," he says. "I would say that some of what the Emerson turned into started at The Ritz."

Unfortunately, The Ritz was eventually demolished, with an Ace Hardware now standing where the venue once was. Ruhtenberg jokes, "You can still go there and soak up the vibes, but it's pretty different." The venue certainly made an impact on many in the city though, including one Steve Duginske.

The DIY Way

Having recently moved with his family from Bloomington to Indianapolis, a young Duginske somehow convinced his parents to drop him off at a Circle Jerks show at The Ritz (at that time known as the Arlington Theatre) in October of 1987. Little did he know, this punk rock encounter was about to change his life.

"It was just one of those defining moments that I think a lot of people go through in their youth,'" he says.

This show springboarded Duginske's love for music, so much so that he started booking shows as a 9th grader. Of course, the teenage punk was a little too young to have a permanent venue at his disposal during this time. So he instead started renting out spaces to host his shows at, from Lions Clubs to hotel ballrooms to community centers. In fact, the first show Duginske remembers booking featured Fred Armisen's band (Trenchmouth) playing at a VFW hall in Beech Grove. After doing this for a while, Duginske was eventually able to get his hands on a permanent location at 46th and College Avenue. Hence, the Sitcom was born.

Run by a collective of like-minded youngsters, the Sitcom began hosting all-ages shows in June of 1992, eventually attracting acts like Bikini Kill, Rancid, Beat Happening and more. Duginske recollects, "I didn't understand how it all happened. I remember booking a couple shows, throwing my name out to a few people, and then it just snowballed." The Sitcom's impact was undeniable though, according to Ruhtenberg.

"It was probably my favorite club after the Patio just because the Patio is so damn important," he says. "The Sitcom was right down the street from me, so I used to just wander down there for a while at 7 o'clock at night, like checking what was on TV."

Although it eventually closed later in the decade, the Sitcom's DIY spirit was certainly carried on, with spaces like Purple Underground, The Volcano Room and more coming and going in later years too. And although the Sitcom days have long since passed, Duginske still admits that those times greatly impacted his life.

"It's not that specific venue — it's that whole culture," he concludes. "That whole culture has shaped me."

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