Albany’s Oglethorpe Lounge, easily recognizable by the bar’s iconic Carling Black Label Beer sign, is now recognized as one of Albany’s fastest growing venues for live music. (Staff photo: Brad McEwen)
ALBANY — If you build it, they will come.
Using that philosophy, venerable Albany watering hole Oglethorpe Lounge has gradually reinvented itself as a popular music venue and a hub where local musicians can find and support each other while also building an ever-expanding legion of fans.
From veterans rockers like Recreational Chemistry to indie rock newcomers Mopeland, the Oglethorpe Lounge is hosting live music every weekend and exposing audiences to a variety of local talent from all styles and genres.
Alison McCorkle, who has been handling event scheduling at the Oglethorpe for nearly two years, said she has been overwhelmed not only by the community’s reception to the new music venue, but also by the wealth of area talent that has played its stage.
“There are just so many talented bands and musicians from Albany and this area,” McCorkle said. “I really had no idea. I’ve met so many wonderful people and they’ve introduced me to more people and it’s just continued to grow. It’s really amazing.”
The transformation started a few years ago when Jimmy Pike, who has owned the bar since 1996, pushed aside the pool tables in the bar’s back room so his band could play occasionally.
“I’m a drummer and I’ve played in bands since I was a kid,” Pike said. “We had pool tables and we’d just move them so my band could play. It was just something I wanted to do for fun.”
It soon became apparent to long-time regulars like Chuck Jenkins and to Pike’s wife, Lisa, that people seemed more interested in hearing the band than shooting pool. So the Pikes set out to revamp the Oglethorpe and start featuring live music. One of their first moves was to hire local bartender and music fanatic McCorkle and allow her to use her connections to begin booking live music.
Once on board, McCorkle and the Pikes began tireless networking and promotion efforts to raise the musical profile of the establishment, while also working on renovations, such as installing a stage, a quality sound system, monitors and lights to allow for better shows.
“We just started doing some renovations, little by little, removing the pool tables, painting the walls, fixing things up,” McCorkle said. “We put in a drum riser and stage, a great sound system and just started booking music. We started slowly with our friends, people we knew would support us, and it’s just grown into this phenomenon.”
From local musicians that McCorkle had known for years, things have evolved to the point where she is now booking bands from not only Albany and the surrounding area, but from places as far away as Rhode Island.
The key, McCorkle says, has been the positive atmosphere that’s been cultivated by the Oglethorpe’s staff and patrons who have embraced all types of music.
“What we’re trying to do here is support the musicians and music,” McCorkle said. “We want people that are here for the music. And that’s holding true every week; it’s musicians coming to support their friends and other musicians. It’s a really cool support system and network we’ve got going on here.”
To illustrate her point, McCorkle shared stories about members of local bands like Jason Lodge of Dog Head, who not only developed his band’s following by playing at the Oglethorpe, but has also helped spur interest in the venue among other metal bands.
While sharing the story of Oglethorpe’s transformation, McCorkle rattled off an endless list of bands that regularly plays the venue and works hard to promote it among other musicians.
“Intoxicated Logic and Cut and Run Band are big supporters,” McCorkle said. “UBL (Unbreakable Bloodline), they’re one of our favorites. The list just goes on and on and on. There’s so many bands it’s ridiculous. There’s solo artists like Jon Gosa, Amanda Powell and Dwayne Bowden and then up-and-coming rock and roll like Mopeland. There’s G&S Experience, War Room, Realization, Invert the Idols.
“There’s also the Evergreen Family Band, Meow Kapow, Rock Kandy and Dog Head. It’s hard to remember all of them. I’ve got to mention TorQ, Poser and LoCast, too. And then there’s Jimmy’s band Recreational Chemistry; they open our open mic nights each week as their band practice, basically. It’s just a really good mix of artists.”
While Pike is thrilled he gets to rock more frequently during the open mic nights, he’s been amazed not only at the weekly event’s popularity, but also how it’s brought musicians together.
“There’s at least half a dozen bands that have formed from open mic night here,” said Pike. “Drummers have found singers and singers have found guitar players. It’s really cool.”
McCorkle, who has a large role in open mic night and like Pike has been able to participate and show off her vocal ability on a weekly basis, said her biggest surprise is how popular open mic nights have become.
“We started that Sept 5, 2012, and every week you just never know what you’re going to get,” McCorkle said. “One week it’s just a couple of guys with their guitars, and some weeks it’s full bands. Some weeks there’s not enough space to write them on the board. One night we had over 40 different acts sign up.”
In addition to the regular live music and open mic nights, the Oglethorpe Lounge also hosts Zipper Down Karaoke on Tuesday nights, which McCorkle said draws some of the bar’s largest crowds.
“Every Tuesday night Mark Bullard and I do Zipper Down Karaoke,” said McCorkle. “It’s almost our biggest night of the week.”
Aside from the fact that karaoke is popular with a large segment of the population, the night has been successful, McCorkle said, because the folks who participate are the same musicians that are constantly at the bar supporting open mic night and other live shows.
McCorkle and Pike both repeatedly mention the efforts of supporters like Mark Bullard, who not only sings with a few area bands and runs karaoke, but also attends nearly every show at the bar and volunteers his time to help bands set up equipment or lights.
“Mark’s definitely been a trooper and has been a big help,” Pike said. “It’s people like him and Allison and my wife Lisa who have put in tons of work to promote this and help it grow into something special.”
For McCorkle, the bar’s growth has fulfilled life-long mission of supporting a local music scene.
“We haven’t had a music movement in like 20 years,” she said. “There’s a buzz about this place for sure. I don’t know what it’s going to be like in a year. We’re kind of riding the wave and seeing where it takes us.”
In addition to the weekly open mic nights held every Wednesday and every other Saturday, the Oglethorpe has multiple shows on the horizon including: Mopeland, tonight; Matt Williams and the Gritty and Pretty Band, Saturday; Cut and Run, May 23; Realization, May 24.
The Oglethorpe Lounge is located at 825 W. Oglethorpe Blvd. in Albany.