Jagi Katial, cup of tea in hand, is wandering the construction site for the soon-to-open White Oak Music Hall. There are cranes overhead, lighting to install, and stacks of pipes and copper tubing everywhere. In other words, there’s a long way to go before the three-stage venue on the Near Northside, just off North Main Street next to the new Raven Tower, opens its doors.
“It seems like we’ve been pushing dirt around outside for forever, but here we are,” says Katial, the head of Houston-based concert-promotion company Pegstar, who founded Free Press Summer Fest along with Omar Afra of Free Press Houston.
While the hall’s two indoor stages aren’t set to open until June, at the time of our visit the outdoor stage, set on a hill above Little White Oak Bayou with room for up to 3,000 concertgoers, is just weeks away from its debut. French electronic rock band M83 is booked to play the first show on April 9.
In 2013, Katial and WOMH managing partner Will Garwood spotted White Oak’s abandoned plot of land featuring views of the twinkling downtown skyline—located steps from a planned METRO Rail stop—and saw an opportunity. “I’m a music guy," says Katial, "so my thing has always been about attracting people through music. Everything has been focused around that.”
The venue’s sleek indoor stages—one of which will hold 400 people; the other, 1,400—will be outfitted with the latest sound equipment and all the bells and whistles required to make this a music-lover’s music venue (as well as a space for hosting lectures, weddings and conferences).
To call White Oak Hall an upgrade from Fitzgerald’s, Pegstar’s previous home base, is an understatement. “Fitz’s always felt like a house show,” Katial says, “but that was also the impetus for all the problems—sound problems, safety problems, floor problems, logistical problems.”
The schedule for the outdoor stage is still a work in progress, although a couple big shows are planned in addition to M83: Folk-pop trio The Lumineers play an already-sold-out show May 21, and The Flaming Lips take the stage on Memorial Day.
Katial emphasizes that big-ticket names like these weren’t always easy to come by in this city. In the past, he explains, “just to get people to come to Houston was a little bit of an uphill battle. But people are always intrigued about Houston.”
With anticipation surrounding the new venue building to a fever pitch, the old adage seems truer than ever: If you build it, they will come. “I have no doubt it will be packed,” says Katial. “People are hungry for music in Houston.”
April 9. 7 p.m. $32.50. White Oak Music Hall, 2915 N. Main St., whiteoakmusichall.com