Erika D. Smith

Ace of Spades a good bet for Live Nation

Bret Bair, left, and Eric Rushing, the co-founders of Ace of Spades, sold the R Street venue to Live Nation this week. They bought the place, formerly known as Empire, in 2010.
Bret Bair, left, and Eric Rushing, the co-founders of Ace of Spades, sold the R Street venue to Live Nation this week. They bought the place, formerly known as Empire, in 2010. lsterling@sacbee.com

On a random Tuesday night, when only a handful of people are sitting, having dinner on the patios of Iron Horse Tavern and R15, it’s pretty typical to see young people wrapped around the block of R Street waiting to get into Ace of Spades.

Sometimes radio station vans are parked out front of the music venue, broadcasting live and giving away swag. Sometimes fans are wearing cowboy hats. Other times, they’re emoed out in black.

Most of the time, though, the musicians who draw such crowds are people who, without Ace of Spades, would’ve probably skipped Sacramento for the Bay Area. For that reason, the venue has always seemed a little out of place to me. Too big for R Street – even the city – in a too-cool-for-school kind of way.

It was ripe for being picked off.

So I wasn’t all that surprised to hear that Live Nation decided to bring Ace of Spades into the fold of its House of Blues Entertainment division. The deal, announced Tuesday, will let the 1,000-seat venue keep its name and get access to bigger and better national acts.

Not that I’m complaining about the likes of Nick Carter, formerly of the Backstreet Boys, who was playing at Ace of Spades on Wednesday night. (OK, maybe I am a little.) But it’d be nice to get more acts like Snoop Dogg and Jimmy Eat World. Better than a Backstreet Man.

Sacramento was “the next logical move” for Los Angeles-based Live Nation.

I say Sacramento deserves it. So does Ben Weeden, chief operating officer of House of Blues.

He described us as a “vibrant music market with a very engaged population base that we think is underserved.” Um, obviously. Going to the Bay Area to see a show – especially on a weekday – is a hassle that almost isn’t worth it.

Weeden also called Sacramento “the next logical move” for Los Angeles-based Live Nation.

So logical, in fact, that the company is looking at opening another club somewhere downtown, this one capable of seating about 2,500 people and, therefore, eligible to be branded under the House of Blues or Fillmore names. It could open within a couple of years.

Add to that to the almost 20,000 additional seats for concerts that will come online when Golden 1 Center opens this fall, and Sacramento could suddenly be getting a wave of a new national acts.

This is good news, especially for the city’s ongoing quest to transform midtown and downtown streets once known for dull government offices into a creative hub for newer, younger residents. If these folks keep moving in, I doubt all of these venues will oversaturate our music-thirsty market.

This is also good news for R Street. I wasn’t around when it was a forgotten corridor of crumbling industrial buildings. I’ve only known it as a growing district of bars, restaurants, shops and loft apartments. It’s nice, but far from packed most days and nights. An Ace of Spades that can book bigger artists, using Live Nation’s connections, would certainly help with foot traffic.

The venue is already hot. According to trade magazine Pollstar, which tracks the concert industry, it was one of the most successful in the world last year. It ranked third in California by ticket sales.

Maybe it’s time I go stand in line to get a ticket.

Erika D. Smith: 916-321-1185, @Erika_D_Smith

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