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A year ago, the Yost Theater was dormant. But since November 2008, it has hosted the (International) Noise Conspiracy, the Bird and the Bee, Richard Swift, community events, a slew of local acts, and monthly screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Something that old—the venue was built in 1912—usually doesn’t see this much action without the aid of prescription drugs.
But under the operation of Orange County show veteran Dennis Lluy, the theater has seen a series of upgrades, with the goal of becoming an elite venue to rival the likes of El Rey or the Wiltern in LA. As much as Lluy and booker Ashley Eckenweiler accomplished this past year, they’re still nowhere near where they want to be. “We want this to be the industry-showcase room for Orange County,” Lluy says. “We’ve been doing heavy construction for the past four or five months.”
When completed, the Yost won’t be just a music venue. Lluy’s adding a full bar and restaurant, so the place can stay competitive with the 21-and-older venues while maintaining its all-ages status.
Before the Yost, Lluy ran Santa Ana all-ages venue Koo’s, which later relocated to Long Beach and struggled to find support from the community. Lluy says the opposite has been the case since he took the reins of the Yost, as he has won the support of local businesses, politicians and the downtown artists/activists of El Centro Cultural de Mexico.
“This has always been a dream of mine: to have a venue where we can truly do everything we want to do,” Lluy says.
Although he is often perceived as a very laid-back guy, his excitement is obvious when discussing the Yost’s potential. “It seems like, from a creative and an artistic perspective, it can be anything,” he says, “and there’s always been limitations with previous projects.”
When asked what best represents Orange County to him, he cites The Downtown area of Santa Ana, home to both the Yost and himself.
“This is, to me, the epicenter of Orange County,” Lluy says. “I think there’s always been a stigma to Santa Ana. When people look beyond the surface, there’s a lot of depth.”
Even though Santa Ana is the most populous city in OC, Lluy says it really doesn’t feel that way to him. “People just know one another here,” he says. “To me, it’s like the biggest small town in the United States.”
Lluy’s first event at the Yost was last fall’s SoundDowntown music festival, and he expects the theater’s remodel to be complete by the next one, scheduled for July 2010. It’s going to be “much bigger, probably fourfold the last one,” he says of the planned fest. He and Eckenweiler have been very selective about the shows they’ve booked at the Yost during this interim period (sometimes going weeks at a time without a major event), but the reopening has already helped strengthen Santa Ana’s Arts District—which is kinda the point.
“There’s so much enthusiasm and pride,” Lluy says of the community’s response. “People are willing to think beyond themselves and look at the big picture.”
Yost Theater, 307 N. Spurgeon St., Santa Ana; www.yosttheater.com.