By Sarah Bennett
By Adam Lovinus
By Jena Ardell
By Nate Jackson
By Gustavo Arellano
By Nick Keppler
By Nate Jackson
By Alex Distefano
Yost Theater operators aren’t in a rush to flood the revived venue with shows
Last November’s SoundDowntown didn’t just bring a couple of dozen hip indie acts to downtown Santa Ana—it also marked the rebirth of the nearly century-old Yost Theater as a live-music venue, hosting diverse artists such as the (International) Noise Conspiracy, the Entrance Band and Nortec Collective.
Even though the Yost was still in the midst of several needed improvements, it was already a cool, distinctive place to see a show. A historic theater in a downtown area, complete with an old-school marquee; it was the kind of place common in LA (the Wiltern, the El Rey, the Orpheum) but scarce in our county. There was a palpable air of legitimacy that’s missing from a lot of venues in Orange County—and elsewhere.
Three months later, the Yost reopened permanently, with a concert from LA space-pop duo Bird and the Bee and local acts Melanoid and Stacy Clark. Several rows of seats had been removed (a natural step, given the transition from movie theater to concert venue), and stage lighting had been upgraded. At that point, it seemed like the potential for the place was limitless.
Three more months later, the potential is still there, though it seems the venue hasn’t capitalized on its momentum. After a busy March, their schedule has been pretty light; some of the shows that have happened, like a March gig headlined by LA’s Parson Red Heads, didn’t come anywhere close to filling the space to its 800-person capacity. Since SoundDowntown, the most crowded I’ve seen the Yost was in late March for the Orange County Music Awards live-music finals, a free show on a Saturday night featuring five popular local bands.
Dennis Lluy, operator of the Yost and founder of all-ages venue Koo’s (which hosted shows in Santa Ana from 1994 to 2002, before relocating to Long Beach), makes it clear that it’s still early in the theater’s new life and that he and booker Ashley Eckenweiler aren’t looking to jam the schedule with whatever crap they’re offered. When asked what he sees as ideal shows for the venue, he cites Mars Volta, Grizzly Bear and the Richard Swift show that they hosted in March.
“We’re being incredibly selective,” says Lluy, who took the opportunity to operate the Yost because of dissatisfaction with his Long Beach space. “We’re definitely not in a hurry to fill every single night in the venue. We’re still in the process of making a lot of improvements.”
Those improvements include adding a restaurant and full-service bar; several events at the Yost have thus far had limited alcohol based on one-day permits, and “the city only lets us do that so many times,” says Lluy.
“Reality is, that’s the only way we can keep the place,” he says of the new additions, which are in the works pending permit approvals. “We have a lot of events that are more geared to the adult audience, and the clientele just gets upset when there’s no alcohol.”
Lluy also takes the Yost’s place in the Santa Ana community seriously. “We’re not just letting people come in and use our space because they tell us they’re going to bring 500 people,” he says. “We want to make sure that what we do is actually benefitting the local community.”
To that end, the Yost has hosted several community events recently, including the Guerrilla Aid symposium (a benefit for the Global Colors organization), city events and charter-school performances. The theater has also hosted independent film screenings and a book release for The Good Things About America. UC Irvine-based radio station KUCI started hosting monthly concerts there in April, with one this Thursday featuring OC/LA bands Mothers Sons, Vast Atlantic, Slings, the Fling and Red Cortez.
Lluy sees the Yost—or what the Yost will eventually become—as an integral part of Santa Ana’s cultural evolution.
“We have the makings of a metropolitan city,” he says. “The Bowers [Museum] has exhibitions from all over the world, and so does the Grand Central Arts Center. We plan on doing many bands from South America, from Mexico. It just makes sense. We’d be idiots to not cater to Latino audiences.
“The last thing we’d like to see is it turn into a downtown Brea,” he adds, “with chain stores, a Yard House and Old Navy.”
The Yost Theater, 307 N. Spurgeon St., Santa Ana, (888) 862-9573; www.yosttheatre.com.