If the inside looks familiar, that’s probably because you’ve visited the building in its past life as a fusion bowling alley/small(er) music venue, formerly known as Discovery Ventura. While the bowling lanes have been replaced in favor of additional high-top seating, the large horseshoe bar, booth seating area and notable Quonset hut-style, wood-paneled ceiling all remain as a quiet reminder of the establishment’s humble beginnings.
What was supposed to be a soft opening on a mellow Tuesday night turned into a maximum capacity rager at the much-anticipated inception of the Ventura Music Hall, featuring jam-funk fan-favorite G. Love and his opener, Ron Artis II. Purchased in 2020, mid-pandemic, and the brainchild of Ineffable Music Group president Thomas Cussins, the Ventura Music Hall is a much-needed addition to the downtown Ventura nightlife beat.
VMH seeks to offer a casual-yet-robust gathering place for locals and a new and hopeful California stop for touring artists. Cussins comments: “Bands only have so many days to play in California. We wanna convince them that Ventura is worth a stop.”
Anxious energy hung in the air, as fans began trickling through the doors around 7pm.
Small groups of friends gathered near the bar, sipping their Topo Chico seltzers and Modelos, laughing. By 8pm, Ron Artis II began playing and the crowd of 200-ish loosely congregated towards the stage. Both seating areas, packed with hungry patrons chowing down on Ruff House BBQ (I hear the tri-tip sandwich is to die for), are abuzz. I’m standing at the merch booth with the woman running it, Caroline, watching show-goers pour in.
“What’s the maximum capacity here?” I shouted into her ear.
“I think 600 or so,” she shouts back.
We both glanced at the overflowing bar. By 10pm, G. Love begins his second set and the entire room is pulsating. I stopped Thomas Cussins to congratulate him, joking about the night very much not being a ‘soft opening’ and we briefly chatted:
So, why Ventura? Did this just fall into your lap or did you seek out this market intentionally?
- TC: I’ve always felt like shows performed really well in Ventura and Ventura County, in general. Part of our big belief is that if you have a thriving ecosystem of concerts and festivals and music being released, you can have a really active scene. So, in order to have that scene that can sell tickets, that consume music, that go out to festivals, you need to have places to develop bands and for people to see them play.
- That was the thought process. I’ve always loved Ventura and I was obsessed with the building itself, so when that opportunity presented itself, I got with a lot of people that are from Ventura and I decided to make it happen.
What else are you hoping Ventura Music Hall will add to the community?
- Well, I was looking on Uber the other day and to go to a show in LA it was $183. There’s a million people in Ventura County. They should have a venue that can be open 200 days a year, that can have live music all the time consistently. So, that’s really the goal: to have it be a cultural hub — a living room of Ventura — for live music.
You bought this place during the pandemic. There was no live music happening. What was your biggest challenge in opening?
- The pandemic was difficult, but it also allowed us to really study and understand how important gathering together as a community is to us. In terms of challenges, bands only have so many days to play in California. We wanna convince them that Ventura is worth a stop.
Photography by Allie Adams