Move over Reno, it's time for a new name to claim title "Biggest Little City In the World". Co-owner of the Charleston Music Venue, Angel Perry, gives us an inside look at the journey of 'putting Bremerton back on the map!'
I told Andy, 'I feel like this is going to be the start of something big.' And boy fuckin' howdy was I right.
Where do you begin when speaking about one of the most important things in your life?
There was a meeting for a new art gallery/open art space to be held at the old Metropolis building down on Callow Ave (a former "alternative" arts shop as the suits like to call us). It was the fall of 2007 and I remember telling Andy, -- as cheesy as it sounds but this is word for word-- "I feel like this is going to be the start of something big." And boy fuckin' howdy was I right. Well for our lives anyways and a lot of other local kids' lives too. The meeting was the beginning of the AFU Hall. It stood for something we all thought our group of 15-20 artists, musicians and supporters represented well: The Artists for Freedom and Unity. We wanted to run our shows (music or visual art) our own way. Some of our members had been shunned from the snobby downtown rich bitch galleries and us musicians had been kicked out of every venue/coffee shop in town. We all seemed to have found our home sweet home down on the dirty streets of Callow Ave. The city seemed fine with us running our businesses and making noise with our 'funny looking' patrons as long as we stayed down on Callow. The 3 jack shacks on the block, yeah jerk-churches, they didn't seem to like all the new foot traffic on the block, but it was that kind of 'you stay on your side, we'll stay on ours' kind of unspoken agreement. Over the years, their back alley business hasn't suffered any, so alas we had found our home! The reason why any of this is important is because, not only is this where all of this really began, but it's this that creates that feeling you get when you come to Callow Ave and The Chuck (The Charleston). It's that feeling that somebody or somebodies actually fought so hard and put all of their blood, sweat and tears into making this the place, the home away from home spot it is today.
Angel Perry and her husband, Andy Moore, outside their venue on Callow Ave.
This place needs me as much as I crave it's blank canvas."
Photos borrowed from www.kitsapsun.com
She actually thanked us for providing a place like this for the kids. Now, her own daughter comes to our venue every weekend.
So one Sunday when Andy and I were running the shop (Sundays were our days to open and we'd BBQ and host the hangover) and we're throwing around the idea of getting the old movie theater turned gangster club across the street that had been empty for a couple of years and turning it into a full on music venue. We kept saying, "Oh and if it was our venue we could do this and this and make it open and fair to everyone and keep it away from the pay to play bullshit and phase out shady promoters that tell you 'too bad, it's the music-biz, get used to it'. After about a couple hours of that kind of wishful talking, it ended with, "Well, let's just call the Realtor. Why not? Let's just see the inside of the building." The day we met with that Realtor and saw our dreams all within reach and a badass musically diverse future for Bremerton, we signed our lives away to punk rock and dove in head first.
We wanted to keep it as true as we possibly cold to our musical roots. Having a deep love for punk rock and both of us (my hubby and I) being in punk bands of course that's going to be the main drive of the club/venue. But we have always had an appreciation for all types of music. Talent is talent. With so many different types of bands contacting us, we decided to do all genres of music, giving this side of the water the musical home it's been craving since the '90s, in the Natasha's days when Sound Garden and Heart played in Bremerton. This town was made more this kind of music scene. Being as small as it is, it's an easy travel from the sticks to the city. With us wanting to keep it as open and as accepting as we wanted, the the name of the building had to fit. I actually grew up right up the road from Callow Ave and used to come here when it was a movie theater. So we thought we'd keep it classy and name it after the theater, 'The Charleston'. I was either that or 'The Gutter'. Haha, yeah good choice, huh?
With the first 3 months' rent at $1500 and having our friends helping with the physical repairs and builds, the start up costs were somewhat minimal (compared to a 'normal' business, I guess). We basically got the $15 business license and started slow. Each show we had, we added our liquor license, food permit, and all that you see in the building today. The licenses were quite the battle, spending at least 3 months filling out paperwork and coming up with a business plan and meeting with inspectors, then making adjustments, then meeting inspectors again, then more adjustments, then over til they were appeased. And with the liquor license, that was a whole nother battle. But for us, the light at the end of the tunnel was too fucking bright. We couldn't give up. With persistence we got approved for it all!
I remember having a 1/2 bar, 1/2 all ages venue was so unheard of in little 'ol Bremerton that the lady at the city hall licensing office actually laughed at us and mocked us, showing our application to her co-workers saying, "There's no way this will ever be allowed in Bremerton." It was nothing but fuel to our flame. I do think they put us under a microscope for the first few years, especially when getting off the ground because of our age, the way we looked and the thing we were trying to do. 6 years later and that same lady was there at city hall when we went to go renew our license. She actually thanked us for providing a place like this for the kids and her own daughter comes to our venue every weekend.
There's not a whole lot to do in Bremerton, especially if you're under 21 years old. Even if you're over 21, there's just a few dive bars (which I personally love, don't get me wrong), a movie theater, and that other country bar across town. Under 21, there's Skateland. When I was growing up in B-town, we went out of town for entertainment or excitement. I've had people ask me, "Why don't you leave Bremerton, there's nothing there." All I can say is, "Exactly. This place needs me as much as I crave it's blank canvas." Plus, born and raised, I have a sweet spot for my home sweet home. I love to travel and touring is one of my favorite things of all time, but there's just something about this little po-dunk town that draws you in and makes you wanna come back for more.
The Charleston is so special because it is Bremerton. It's all the struggle we've been through. It's the people who died along the way, quite literally in pursuit of doing what they loved. Andy and I signed a lease a couple of years ago back to rent-to-own the building, so we decided we're here to fuckin' stay! Signed our lives away to punk rock Utopian dream and god-damn Bremerton, you're doing us fuckin' proud!
Angel Perry is a Bremerton native. She has been in the music scene from day one as supporter, musician and booker/venue owner. She currently sings for Generation Decline (Bremerton) and plays bass for Red White & Die (Tacoma).