Memories of the Club de Wash won't die

Wisconsin State Journal

Marques Bovre is concerned about the ghosts of Club de Wash.

''That place had a lot of character and I wonder where the ghosts will go now.'' he said. ''When old houses burn down, they say the ghosts have to find a new place to live.''

But memories are keeping the spirit of Club de Wash alive, even after a fire leveled the popular Madison music venue Sunday morning, taking the stage, sound system, horseshoe-shaped bar, and rare band photo collection with it.

''The Wash,'' as it was often called, was a 200-capacity club that was bigger in its influence than it was in its size.

Not only did small touring bands such as Soul Asylum opening for the Appliances, Smashing Pumpkins, Babes in Toyland and Alanis Morissette cut their teeth there, many local bands and their managers and promoters also made a living at Club de Wash.

Some even fell in love there.

''I met my wife at the Club de Wash during one of my shows in August 1991,'' Bovre recalled. ''Terese was a bouncer and a bartender so Club de Wash is special to us on personal level. It was more of a friend than a club.''

Bovre's manager, Scott Stewart, said that in 1994 he met his girlfriend, Denise Resch, there.

The club was special for reggae band Arawak Jah too.

New guitarist Mark Xavier, bassist Phil Meyer and drummer Vincent Davis joined Arawak Jah founder Ras Juan on stage Thursday night for what would become the band's first and last show together at the Club de Wash.

''It's ironic because we played a song I wrote that night called '911,''' Juan recalled. ''It was about love, but now that song seems sinister since 911 had to be called just two days later.''

Marcel Colbert said he had the same feelings about the club. Colbert recalls going there Saturday night, being greeted by his friends and ordering a beer from Opal, his favorite bartender.

It was just like any other night for Colbert, who had been going to the club for more than 13 years to hang out and play drums.

''It was always one of the nicer local music venues,'' said Colbert, who is the drummer for Booty Fruit the last band to play the bar before the fire. ''It was just a scene of good time and it was communal; the people were friendly.''

Colbert said his memories run the gamut from playing to drinking and shooting pool.

''Paul Black (a local blues slide guitarist) still owes me $5 for a shot I made,'' Colbert said. ''There is so much that was personal about the place.''

Lori Sandy, the bar's manager and concert booker, was doing some searching herself Monday afternoon.

Sifting through the ashes of the club, she found some old ticket stubs. But her calendar and list of band contacts were lost.

''The Club de Wash might have been small, but it drew great bands almost every night for 20 years because it catered to diversity,'' Sandy said. ''It was always exciting to see small, unknown bands come through and then turn into something big.''

Sandy promised that the bar will be rebuilt and the tradition will continue.

''We'll come back 100 percent bigger and better,'' she said. ''The people who came here and worked here share a sense of community and will work together to bring Club de Wash back.''

Tony Menzer, a local promoter, said the loss hasn't hit him as hard as others yet.

''It's one of those things that the more you dwell on it, the harder it will be to pick up the pieces,'' said Menzer, who books more than 20 bands, including the Rousers, Common Faces and Marques Bovre and the Evil Twins.

But Menzer admitted that the club's loss left a hole in the local music scene.

''I've known about and visited the Club De Wash since the late '70s,'' he said. ''And that's when I was booking bands from Stevens Point to Michigan. Club de Wash gave a lot of bands their start. They would take a risk.''

Menzer said his bands, which primarily play the blues, wouldn't be as hurt as more alternative bands.

Tom Layton, a promoter for First Artist, is waiting for a fresh start and in the meantime is finding alternative venues for his shows and taking some time out to recall his first concert at the club more than 10 years ago.

''It was Black Star Reggae,'' he noted.

Layton said he also recalls Dionne Farris, Peter Himmelman, and most recently Ben Folds Five playing packed shows at the bar.

First Artist helped turn the club into an important alternative music venue.

''In the earlier years the Club de Wash survived on the music of the Lou & Peter Berrymans, Free Hot Lunch and the blues,'' Layton said. ''More recently it was becoming more diverse and drawing a lot of popular alternative rock acts.''

Layton said his concerns are also for the people who were living above the bar at the time of the fire.

''The Club de Wash was a great music venue, but it also was just one piece of the support network that ran through the building,'' Layton said. ''If you took that one room out of the building and set it on the side, it wouldn't be so different from some other places. The Club de Wash needs to be remembered as a part of the Hotel Washington complex that contributed to its special spirit.''