Music News

A Tale of Two Venues

Houston’s live music scene grows with White Oak Music Hall, revamped Fitzgerald’s

By Jenae Sitzes August 14, 2015

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Image: Fitzgerald's

When concert booking and promotions group Pegstar announced on August 5 that its final show at Houston’s oldest music venue, Fitzgerald’s, would be Saturday, August 29, it evoked passionate reactions on social media.

Among mixed opinions and nostalgic reminiscing, one Houstonian on Facebook voiced a common point of confusion about Pegstar’s move: “Will the name be switched to Fitzgerald’s or remain White Oak Music Hall?”

Let’s clear up some of the confusion first: Pegstar has leased Fitzgerald’s for five years; the two are not the same entity. In a letter published on the Fitzgerald’s website, Pegstar, which helps put on Free Press Summer Fest, explained that operating in a nearly 100-year-old venue had made it hard for the company to host the larger concerts that it tries to bring in, citing increasing difficulties with “noise, comfort, safety, parking and utilities” as well as loading bands’ equipment into the venue.

“We wanted to stay at Fitzgerald's as long as we could safely and responsibly offer high quality shows for our artists, guests and employees,” says Pegstar founder Jagi Katial. “Once we felt we were no longer able to do that at Fitzgerald's, we started thinking about other ways to achieve that goal.”

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A rendering of the new White Oak Music Hall

Image: Pegstar

What they came up with was the creation of a custom-built, multi-level venue, one with three large performance spaces, 15,000 square feet of interior viewing space and an open-air yard with 17,000 square feet of viewing space. White Oak Music Hall is set to debut in the spring, spanning five acres at the intersection of North Main Street and North Street with more than 400 off-street parking spots and two dozen bike racks. Katial says he’s enthusiastic about the future.

“We’re excited about the ability to improve the quality of shows all the way around, whether they are small local shows with 50 die-hard fans or major touring acts that draw thousands,” says Katial.

Sounds great, said many music-loving Houstonians on social media, but what about Fitzgerald’s?

Well, it’s not going anywhere. On Sept. 15, a group of Fitzgerald’s veterans will take over the historic Heights venue. Backed by a private investor who, according to Fitzgerald’s spokesman Dutch Small, has poured millions of dollars into renovating the building, the new team plans to give Fitzgerald’s a major facelift, which includes new bathrooms, a new balcony–one that doesn’t “look and feel like a death trap,” Small says–and an industrial elevator to assist in the loading process for bands. A few houses behind the venue will be torn down to accommodate a larger parking lot, and Small said a beer garden will be added to host happy hours, whether a show is going on or not.

At that time, Fitzgerald’s will proceed under its new general manager and managing partner Lauren Oakes, who has been involved with the venue since 2004, in collaboration with booking company Transmission Events, which puts on Fun Fun Fun Fest in Austin.

“We honor and recognize that Fitzgerald’s is the heart and soul of local music in Houston,” says Small. “We’re going to bring in national acts with Transmission, but we’re also going to strongly leverage our power to develop Houston talent… We’re looking for the next Suffers, the next Tontons, the next Beyoncé.”

After the group takes over in September, work will begin on the venue. Their hope is to have Fitzgerald’s open again within a month, but stay posted, as the team has no idea how much of the building is rotten and will need to be replaced.

“When you’re restoring a 100-year-old building, it’s impossible to know what you’re getting into until you get into it, but our aim is to get it done by Oct. 3,” notes Small. “Once we re-open, what Fitzgerald’s lovers and the city will find is the Fitzgerald’s that they love, just comfortable, clean and operationally feasible.”

And as for Houston’s newest music venue opening in the spring, Small says the more, the merrier.

“Houston is growing so rapidly, there’s room for White Oak Music Hall to be a massive success, and that’s what we want for them.”

For now, Pegstar is gearing up for its last Fitzgerald’s show, with general admission tickets costing $10 for attendees under 21 and just $3 for anyone over 21. On that night, the company is saying goodbye to the venue with a long lineup of local artists, including Buxton, Wild Moccasins, Sideshow Tramps and Young Mammals.

“Pegstar has always strongly supported local musicians, and likewise, they have always strongly supported us. The farewell show recognizes that relationship and features many of the local bands that have grown up with us,” says Katial. “I think people who attend will relive many of those moments that made our five-year run at Fitzgerald's so memorable.”