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Canyon Club aims to put Montclair on the live music map

Live music fans will soon have another nearby option when the Canyon Club opens its doors at the Montclair Place mall.

“I’m trying like a crazy man to open up on the 30th of November,” said owner Lance Sterling. The Canyon Club Montclair, located at the west end of the mall in the former food court area, will boast a $1 million audio/video system and have a capacity of 1,300.

It will be a relatively intimate room, with the worst seat just 78 feet from the lip of the stage, and that proximity to the action is intentional. “I’m a football guy,” Mr. Sterling said. “I’d much rather just sit home and watch it on TV if I can’t be reasonably close to the field.”

Tickets will range from $20 to $58, with no fees if they’re purchased at the box office.

“If you pick a band like Air Supply, and you saw them at the Wiltern [in Los Angeles], or at the Hollywood Bowl playing with five other bands, you’d be paying $200 or $300 a ticket to sit as close as you would be in our worst seat,” Mr. Sterling said. “Their best seats are $1,000 at those places.”

The club will also house the Crowdsurfer Café, which will be open daily from 11 a.m. to rock ‘n’ roll closing time. The menu will include burgers, sandwiches, salads and a sizable selection of healthy items, all with an Asian twist.

The artists that Mr. Sterling books run the gamut, from 1960s hitmakers The Zombies to country swing legends Asleep at the Wheel, and from blues royalty Buddy Guy to beloved Rockford, Illinois rockers Cheap Trick. Punk rockers X, the Adolescents and Bad Religion have all tread the boards, as has torch stylist Rufus Wainwright, LA roots rockers The Blasters, Las Vegas kingpin Wayne Newton and the legendary Taj Majal.

Overall, the calendar leans heavily on classic rock from the 1960s forward, but also includes pre-rock performers such as Frankie Valli and Paul Anka, as well as comedy, corporate events and weddings. The first two acts on the Montclair location’s calendar are The Spinners on May 10, 2019, and Herman’s Hermits August 30.

Montclair is located central to the Canyon’s demographic, Mr. Sterling said. “It’s people that are middle America. They live in suburbs and they live in tract homes.” He tailors the talent to the club’s target audience, which generally skews from ages 30 to 60.

One need not be a retail or real estate expert to note that Montclair Place mall, which opened its doors in 1968, has not been thriving in recent years. Los Angeles-based CIM Group took it over in 2010 after the previous owner, General Growth Properties, filed for bankruptcy. CIM is now in the midst of a refresh that will give it a new look and add several new tenants, including the Canyon and a 55,000 square-foot dine-in AMC Theatres location.

Mr. Sterling sees the novel mall location of a live music venue as a win-win. “If you look at a couple thousand people coming through your doors, we actually drive a lot more people through the doors than the big department stores do, and we drive it through twice, that’s the cool thing.” he said.

The Montclair location is the sixth in a chain of similar-sized venues Mr. Sterling has opened since launching the original Canyon Club in Agoura Hills in 2000. Along with his flagship, he also owns The Rose in Pasadena, which opened in 2015, The Canyon Santa Clarita, opened in 2017, and the forthcoming Canyon Montclair. Since 2013 he has been operating (but does not own) the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills, and he’s been producing concerts at the Libbey Bowl in Ojai since 2016.

Mr. Sterling’s business model is a bit of a throwback: As the concert business has consolidated and become increasingly corporate over the past two decades, independent promoters—long the regional standard in the touring music world—have all but disappeared.

Modern day concert conglomerates such as behemoths Live Nation and AEG, who not only promote the tours but often own the venues and ticket services as well, often include “radius clauses” in artist’s contracts that bar them from performing at other locations within a certain range of their properties. Mr. Sterling’s regional circuit of clubs in off-the-beaten-path locations both circumvent some of these radius clause restrictions and offer second tier touring acts the opportunity to play several dates in a Southern California regional circuit.   

Mr. Sterling got his start with the House of Blues, partnering early with company co-founder Isaac Tigrett. He stepped out on his own in 1996 when he took over a former HOB location in Atlanta and renamed it The Tabernacle. He sold it to SFX Entertainment in 1999. As he’s built his Southern California empire over the last 18 years, the Inland Empire seemed a natural fit.

“We recently built Santa Clarita, and I got a lot of [feedback] saying, ‘Can you come out to Ontario and San Bernardino?’” he said. “We were nervous because we have The Rose in Pasadena. But after being there three years we realized that no one in their right mind would drive down that 210 freeway willingly—in San Dimas and Claremont and Montclair and San Bernardino and Ontario—we would get people who would come to big shows, but they were not coming regularly like the rest of my crowd comes 15 times a year.”

Though Canyon Montclair will be booking acts from all over the globe, it’s looking to connect with its local audience, including bands, fans and potential employees. “We’re looking for staff who live there,” Mr. Sterling said. “I’ve got to find that music freak who wants to manage a restaurant/concert venue.”

He encouraged local musicians to log on to the website to inquire about getting booked for opening slots. “A lot of the bands that we use are from the local community,” he said. “That’s what we care about. We don’t care if you have a following in LA; we care about that you have a following where we are.”

The Canyon Montclair’s website is at wheremusicmeetsthesoul.com. Local artists that would like to be considered for opening slots can click on wheremusicmeetsthesoul.com/canyon-montclair/openers for info.

—Mick Rhodes

mickrhodes@claremont-courier.com