By Eric Ahlberg
The For Lease sign is up on 1411 Lincoln Blvd. The Talking Stick is closed. Bottom Line: I blame rents. The start of its demise began when Rich and Sherry Braaksma, the original owners, were forced back to Canada by the Immigration Department. Rich and Sherri were just absolutely sweet people. They had run the Talking Stick Coffeehouse up in Santa Monica for several years, and had developed a great relationship with local musicians and producers. They would have music seven nights a week and have the Venice Fellowship meetings on Sunday morning. Their kids helped in the shop.
I started hanging out there when they moved to California and Lincoln. First time I walked in I found my old buddy Nickie Black behind the counter. He was having these Mozaic events and inviting in Poets from Leimert Park, Watts, Mike The Poet, mixing the radical hip-hop with DJ Noj, and playing those soul grooves. I started investing time on minor upgrades like track lights for the stage. I ended up doing the sound for some awesome local bands and musicians.
Mark Islam would organize Grassroots Acoustica concerts there with very talented and hit songwriters and their bands. Alfred Johnson had a birthday where I heard Michael Sherwood sing “If you don’t love me, Fuck You!” and I heard Eric Schwartz sing “Who’s Gonna (Fuck the Singer)”. So many moments of musical bliss on my mind. So many astounding bands. My friend Lauri Reimer started producing some of my favorite LA bands there: Superbroke, Conjunto Jardin, Ron Meza, Greg Cruz, Stefani Valadez, Steve Moos, Paul (Dutch) Newman, Tracy Newman, Mikal Sandoval, Brad Kay, Suzy Williams and her Solid Senders. Many of the musicians that played there one week would be on tour with major bands next week. The list goes on and on, I must have been to 100 shows there over its life, I lived a block away. It was funky, and funky Venice loved it.
When we knew that Rich and Sheri were going to have to leave, Nickie Black worked hard to make it work financially, while Rich And Sheri looked for buyout offers. Brandon came up with an investor, and they bought the business.
Brandon’s mistake #1 was in not respecting the community of producers and performers that had grown up around the Talking Stick. Mistake #2: causing Nickie to quit. Nickie has lots of food management experience. Mistake #3: Brandon faced big challenges in bringing the place up to code. He executed a remodel that disrupted operations for months. The remodel left the space covered with grit, requiring hours of pre-show cleanup. The grit destroyed one of my sound mixers. Mistake #4: once the remodel was done, it became clear that Brandon did not know how to start up an independent food business. He drove off many of the popular show producers, and he signed a lease for 10 years at $7000/month. He did not have the entrepreneurship required, nor the bank, his major investor pulled out at a 5 figure loss, letting Brandon down.
In 2010 the rent was $6000. $4000 was paid by Venice Fellowship and $2000 from the Talking Stick Coffeehouse Business. They were attempting to get the Coffeehouse to pay all the rent. It would need to show $200 per day in profits. It seemed to me that the rent subsidy the Fellowship paid, was coming from a foundation derived from the Christian Card Counters, the movie of which is called “Holy Rollers.” That makes me want to say, “God Bless Rich and Sheri!”.
If you want to make a small fortune in art, start with a large fortune. And so this is the lesson for you: support the arts, attend, donate, buy local artists’ work. All you inheritors and surviving spouses, give that money away to artists and take home your soul. Venice has many lovely arts organizations. The Talking Stick was our own living room radical coffee house. But because the rent is too damn high, private clubs like this will struggle, unless an angel picks up the bill.
All venues and structures will fall eventually, the song goes on. Cheetah, Azz Izz, Taurus, Comeback Inn, long time gone.
We have all moved on, moving our shows to the Unurban, Beyond Baroque, Witzend, any funky space with a PA, because we are a Sound System.
By Eric Ahlberg