February 27, 2024


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Owners of The Bur Oak opening a larger music venue nearby, creating ‘arts district’ | Entertainment


The owners of The Bur Oak performance venue on Madison’s East Side are opening a larger music hall five blocks away in a building last used by Operation Fresh Start.

The Atwood Music Hall, 1925 Winnebago St., next to the restaurant Mint Mark, will present concerts by acts too big for The Bur Oak and will be available for private events and weddings, partners Toffer Christensen and Jake DeHaven said.

They hope to open next spring after a complete renovation. The building will be able to hold about 700 people standing or 350 seated, they said.

Christensen said the new venue — which will be close to The Bur Oak, Barrymore Theatre, Communication and Cafe CODA — will be part of an “arts district that we see coalescing in that neighborhood.”

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Steve Sperling, who runs the Barrymore, doesn’t view the hall as a threat to his 755-seat Atwood Avenue theater, which has a 1,000-person capacity for standing shows.

Sperling said the hall will be good for the neighborhood and its development. “This will be another piece of the Willy Street, Winnebago, Schenk-Atwood, East Washington entertainment district. It just puts one more potential venue in this corridor.”

Christensen said he’ll book two or three shows per week at the hall. He’s interested in smaller touring national acts, local bands and interesting events. “We’re looking at it as an extension of what we’re already doing down the street, just on a little bit larger scale.”

The Atwood Music Hall view from the stage

A rendering shows the view from the stage at The Atwood Music Hall.

Even though the hall isn’t on Atwood Avenue, calling it The Atwood Music Hall is intended to reflect the neighborhood, he said. “I wanted to make it easy for people to understand where it is.”

He said he thought that name also sounded better than calling it The Schenk Music Hall after the neighborhood’s name.

Christensen said he hopes people call it by its full name so it isn’t confused with a bar called The Atwood, 2116 Atwood Ave., which until 2017 was Mr. Robert’s Bar & Grill.

“Maybe it will be good for them,” Christensen said. “We’re going to bring a lot of people to the neighborhood. So, I hope they look at it that way.”

He said he’s most excited about the “Students of Live” program he’s created in partnership with the Goodman Community Center’s Lussier LOFT to expose young people to live performances and industry professionals, and to teach them about the music industry.

Christensen said the program will address racial and socioeconomic inequality in the arts and will start when the hall opens next year.

“For me, being in this business for so long, being able to give back is really important,” said Christensen, 44, who grew up in the neighboring Marquette neighborhood and graduated from East High School.

The Atwood Music Hall

Looking toward the stage at The Atwood Music Hall.

New York DNA

He was in his early 20s and in a music business master’s degree program at New York University when he began working for record labels and for Blue Entertainment, the company that owned the intimate Blue Note Jazz Club.

The company also had the BB King Blues Club in Times Square. Christensen was an assistant to the talent buyer, and as Blue Entertainment opened several more rooms in New York and up and down the East Coast, he became its lead talent buyer. “I booked hundreds and hundreds of club shows per year,” he said.

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After he and his wife had their first child, he started his own music promotion company while living in Brooklyn. A year later, they moved back to Madison. That was close to nine years ago.

Meanwhile, in February 2019, musicians Jake and John DeHaven opened The Winnebago performance space in the old Sons of Norway building at 2262 Winnebago St.

By fall, there was pressure on the brothers to change the club’s name, because even though it was named after the street, the name is considered a derogatory way to refer to the Ho-Chunk people.

It briefly went by “The Venue on Winnebago Street” until they changed it to The Bur Oak in May 2020, around the time Christensen, who had been booking acts there as an outside promoter, became a partner with Jake. John left the business.

“I’m really excited about the opportunity to cultivate another arts facility,” Jake DeHaven said. “Just my background being from a family of music and then having a career in architecture, I just really felt like Madison had some room for another nice space.”

Versatile venue

DeHaven, 30, the nephew of longtime local jazz singer Kelly DeHaven and the grandson of the late Madison jazz musician Doster “Doc” DeHaven, said the new music hall is Christensen’s vision and he’s honored to be part of it.

“It’s a really nice-sized space where a local act can sell it out. And then also it’s big enough to accommodate a national act. Madison very clearly is becoming much more on the radar for all touring acts. It seems like there is a real need in the community.”

The Atwood Music Hall

The lamella roof structure at The Atwood Music Hall.

DeHaven said he studied architecture at Madison Area Technical College and has been working at KEE Architecture for seven years, and has learned under the mentorship of Douglas Kozel, David Ewanowski and Sohail Khan.

“All of the elders at that firm have really shaped the way that I think about what architecture means in a community,” DeHaven said.

Christensen said DeHaven has thoughtfully designed the new space to maximize the room’s flexibility and accessibility. He’s also put together a soundproofing plan.

The building was built in 1931 for the Madison Gospel Tabernacle as its gathering and performance space, and is one of the last buildings left in the Midwest with a vaulted lamella roof structure, the partners said.

The redesign, they said, will pay homage to the Art Deco period in which the building was built, incorporating some booth seating and a tiered, seated balcony.

“It’s been sitting empty for years and prior to it being empty, it was used as office space. So there’s a lot of things that need to happen for it to become a gathering space again,” Christensen said.

Christensen said in their research into the building, they haven’t learned when the church left and what the building was used for until it became Freedom House in the 1970s and put on the first Latin music show in Madison.

They are investigating the potential of getting a historic landmark designation, DeHaven said.

Stepping stone

Christensen said the new hall will fill a void between The Bur Oak and the Barrymore. A sold-out show at The Bur Oak means 130 people. The Barrymore’s capacity is 1,000.

“There’s really nothing in between,” he said. “This is an in-between step for a band to go from selling out a Bur Oak show to playing The Atwood and then hopefully selling out The Atwood and playing the Barrymore.”

In 1995, a similarly sized venue, the East End, operated for 15 months, at 2053 Atwood Ave., about a half block from the Barrymore.

City officials halted shows there because of license violations and the increasingly popular club’s incompatibility with the neighborhood. The venue started by hosting local acts and later brought in an average of four national acts per week.

Christensen said The Bur Oak holds six or seven shows a week. “When you’re doing smaller shows and local bands, unfortunately most of them don’t sell out. That’s why we need shows every night to stay open.”

The club is doing well enough and staying busy, he said. “The economics of a small venue are such that you have to be open all the time. With a larger venue, you can make enough money off a few shows a week to not be open all the time.”

Jamie Hoang and Chuckie Brown, who own Ahan, an Asian-inspired restaurant inside The Bur Oak, plan to sell food and bubble tea in a shop in front of The Atwood Music Hall.

“Madison very clearly is becoming much more on the radar for all touring acts.”

Jake DeHaven


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