Augusta's Last All-Ages Venue: The Epicenter
In the back alleys of Augusta, Georgia, you’ll find a nondescript place that still bears the markings of the laundromat it once was to the city, not knowing the amount of musical history it has housed over the years. For music venues in downtown Augusta, we are laden with bar scene stages and theaters who cater to an older, outgoing crowd, but the underbelly of downtown has, for years, been home to all-ages venues. The newly-titled Epicenter has been through many name changes, but has long been the go-to spot for those hungry for the next thing in music, and now stands alone as the only venue of it’s kind downtown. It’s an important place where those not old enough to pile into a bar can find a home to perform, to support, and to flourish in this town. Yet it was almost brought to an abrupt end.
I sat with current owners and operators of The Epicenter, Muuka Vogel, Parker Grantski, and Travis Moore, to talk about where this all-ages venue has been and where they want to take it.
In 2017, the venue was titled Iron Heights, and for a few years had catered almost exclusively to a hardcore and metalcore base. It was owned and operated by one person who, understandably, had incredible difficulty dedicating enough time to keep the establishment going. “It became more and more of a financial burden”, Moore stated as we discussed the downfall of Iron Heights. After a major flood causing massive damage to the property resulted in canceling crucial shows to the venue’s bottom line, it’s easy to understand the growing detachment felt from the previous owner. Some, though, realized the importance of the only all-ages venue left in downtown Augusta. Vogel, a local performer, certainly felt affected by the idea of Iron Heights closing its doors. “Playing in 21+ venues made it where none of my friends could come. We played to a bar crowd that had never seen us [or] cared about us. Having come here [to Iron Heights], hearing kids talk about it in school... a lot of people from our peer group had grown up with that. It didn’t seem fair to me that the generation after us wouldn’t have a resource like that.”
With the announcement that Iron Heights was closing, Vogel worked to get word out that he had interest in keeping the venue open, and sought out like minded people from the scene to help him keep it running. One of the calls he made was to Parker Grantski, who already had business experience helping his brother, Evan, in opening a local record shop, Grantski Records. Grantski “always thought that would be fucking cool. I always kinda talked about the idea.” So he, along with Vogel, worked fast to set up everything they needed to take over. They started booking bands, hired Moore to run sound, and began the cleanup process to get the place ready. While most people said the venue would be better off left alone, the “let-it-die” mentality never eclipsed these three’s passion to finish their job and set up a better, more open environment in the Augusta music scene.
“I had just gotten fired from my job. Me and Vogel spent like a week and a half to two weeks just getting the place ready,” Moore remarked, recalling the days before their opening. “We got the license one day before [the first] show”, Grantski laughed at his own remark. As last minute it all was, The Epicenter has now been open for almost four months with steady support. They have already lost count of the shows they have hosted over the short amount of time, organizing events under different titles. “I was trying to come up with names for the events. The bands themselves wouldn’t necessarily draw you, [so] we captured a theme overall to be something more organized and grab a person’s attention,” mused Vogel. Over the months, bands from all different music scenes have come through the door, creating more adventurous lineups than those seen in the past. The Epicenter is still a place for blood-pumping and hard-driving sounds, but the proprietors also created nights where acoustic singer/songwriters, rap artists, pop enthusiasts, and basically anyone from any genre can feel at home. “We’ve been fortunate to have a couple of different musical sects intersect here,” Moore stated, while giving credit to Todd Soles and Mitch Gayle of the Disgusta Collective for constant support in booking great bands at the venue.
The Epicenter has owners that now want to think beyond a singular vision, as Vogel rightfully put when we first sat down for an interview, saying that he wanted “a place where you can find creativity”, especially one that broadens beyond just music. The walls of The Epicenter are already adorned with images from local artists, such as a painting of Ringu’s creepy well girl holding bats on strings provided by Amanda Anderson McHugh. A couple of Macy Goodwin’s monsters creep from the opposite side. A geometrically-designed female head created by Madeline Margaret Johnson stands out in stark white along the dark black walls, and quite a few others are scattered around the font and back of the venue. And Vogel has every intention of bringing more artists into The Epicenter to build upon it.
“The things that we’re doing here would not be received anywhere else. Downtown is the art center of Augusta, and this was conceptualized in the center of the art center. That’s why it’s called ‘The Epicenter’. It’s where the quake starts… The point was to create a place to inspire people to start a movement of their own”, Vogel stated, reflecting on the venue’s ongoing developments. The current team plans to upgrade their sound system, continue bringing in local artists to contribute murals to the walls, and possibly even begin showing cinema films on certain special nights (the team is working to get the rights to do this).
One thing about the place is certainly true, and well stated by Vogel “As long as people want shows, as long as people want music, we’re going to be here giving it to them.”
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