Since its inception, the Oakland Metro Operahouse has faced myriad challenges with its physical space. It began in 1987 with a small venue on Broadway and Second Street. By 2001, however, it had become a dilapidated structure that required major renovation, which, fortunately, the Oakland Opera Theater Company took on when it decided to make the venue its permanent home. Then, in 2007, spawned by new development in the neighborhood, the building's owner quadrupled the Metro's rent. The venue was forced to relocate during one of the opera company's productions to an empty warehouse further down Third Street. But the space wasn't yet ready for a full-time schedule, and closed for seven months. About a year ago, the venue finally reopened, hosting sporadic shows in addition to its popular monthly poetry slam and variety show, Tourettes Without Regrets.
Now, after more remodeling, the venue finally appears to be stabilized and poised to become a major player in the local all-ages scene. So far, it's booked about sixty shows — including metal shows like Tyrannosaurus Christ; punk; theater such as Handel's ancient political farce, AGRIPPINA; opera; and even a circus — and has several sold-out performances under its belt, such as Turn of the Screw. Metal, however, continues to be its most popular genre. About sixty future shows are already booked.
"We're really excited, after eighteen months of hard work, we can open our doors and show off a premier venue," said Mia Steadman, a co-owner of the Metro.
It's been a long time coming for Steadman and co-owner Tom Dean, her fiancé. When the Metro first moved into its new location, it had no running water, a poor sound system, and a lot of empty space. With the help of some stagehands and funding from the Fleishhacker Foundation, private donors, Oakland's Community and Economic Development Agency, its landlords, and some of their own money, Steadman and Dean have completely retrofitted the venue — a project that took nearly a year.
The new Metro is nearly twice the size of the old building at 6,000 square feet, and has fourteen bathrooms and great acoustics thanks to some new pillars, wall padding, and a new sound system. All that's left to do is hook up a couple sinks to the newly tiled bar and the "miracle," as Steadman calls it, will be complete.
Part of the reason for the abundance of shows coming to the Metro this summer is due to the final occupancy permit from the city that was acquired in June. That gives the owners liberty to book as many shows as they want.
And the acts are adding up. Duke Ellington's opera Queenie Pie recently played to a sold-out crowd, and the Mission Creek Music and Arts Festival will feature shows there this month.
One thing that hasn't changed is the Metro's "all-ages, all the time" policy. It's a major factor contributing to the club's popularity with bands and their fans, according to Dean and Steadman. While some clubs find it too risky to forgo liquor sales, Dean says that's the last thing he's worried about.
"Promoters prefer all-ages because we can make guarantees to sell more tickets." Dean said. "A lot of people want to see live music and our focus is not selling alcohol. It's putting on performances."
Alex Zepeda, who booked the venue for the Mission Creek Music and Arts Festival, remembers the disappointment she felt when she had to miss shows that were 21 and over. Now, as a promoter, she insists on booking venues that can promise an all-ages show.
"When I go to a new show, I study the audience, and the people having the most fun or connecting more with the artists are the younger crowd," Zepeda said. "I could have done a 21-and-over show but I don't like the idea of excluding younger people from something that's going to be so good for them."
Bands have adopted this philosophy as well. Sean McGrath — better known as "The Digestor" to his fans — performed at the Metro on July 3 with his band Ghoul. While most of Ghoul's members are now in their late twenties and early thirties, McGrath remembers having to wait outside 21-and-over venues with his old band, Impaled, because he was underage.
The "vibe," as McGrath describes it, is just better with all-ages shows. "We mostly avoid doing 21-and-over shows," he said. "The audience for our music is younger and the energy is not always so great when it's 21 and up. We're really glad there are places like the Metro where we can play for kids because they're the ones who are really amped to be there."
Besides catering to the younger generation's musical taste, the Metro's bookers also keep ticket prices relatively low, at an average of $10, and start shows at 8 p.m. so curfews can be made.
The Metro continues to grow, not only in size, but in shows and popularity. It's nearly doubled all three in a very short period of time. For owners and concert-goers alike, it truly is a "miracle."
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