Local duo renovates historic Grand Stafford Theater
Published: Wednesday, September 5, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, September 5, 2012 15:09
The University of Texas at Austin has always had an advantage over Texas A&M in its access to the state capitol’s music culture. Aggies who prefer their tunes with a little less twang and a little more anything else are usually looking at a two-plus hour drive to Longhorn country or Houston for their live music fix.
“College Station is great for Texas country, not so much for other genres. It’s kind of disappointing for a college town,” said senior English major Madelyne Adams. “It would be nice to see something being promoted that’s not Josh Abbot or Roger Creager.”
Enter the Grand Stafford Theater—the latest revision of Downtown Bryan’s oldest venue—which makes its debut this week with promises of injecting new life into Aggieland’s music scene.
“With The Stafford we are trying to bring a big city music experience to Bryan,” said Jose Arredondo, class of 2011 and managing partner at the Stafford. “There’s hasn’t been anything like this place in the area for a long time. We wanted to change that.”
Built in 1913 as a single-screen movie theatre and performance venue, The Grand Stafford Theatre is one of downtown Bryan’s oldest structures and is known as something of a local treasure. The latest incarnation, The Stafford on Main, closed down in summer 2011, leaving the town without an important performance space. Jose Arredondo, having had experience as a performer, a sound technician, and a promoter, saw the venue’s closing as an opportunity to breathe some life back into the local music culture.
“We started looking at how to go about reopening the Stafford as soon as it closed last summer,” Arredondo said. “There were people looking at it who wanted to use the space for offices, condos, stuff that would get rid of something really special to the community.”
Arredondo partnered with Cody Marx Bailey, a Bryan resident with close ties to the local community and an interest in the work required to run a venue, to create a bold business plan that would bring a new kind of music experience to Bryan. The duo’s first goal was to revitalize The Stafford without compromising the building’s historical status.
“It’s such an old place, and it’s got deep connections to the local community,” Bailey said. “We knew going into the restoration that we needed to preserve the sense of age that you get when you walk into the building.”
This isn’t to say that the Stafford is some quaint antique—thanks to a lengthy restoration process there’s far more new about the building than old. Much of the building’s interior was stripped away and rebuilt, including the venue’s newly-extended stage. Other reconstructed amenities include a new bar,a new air-conditioning system, but the most important renovations were made with a singular focus: the venue’s sound.
“We rebuilt this place with two goals in mind: provide the best possible listening experience for our patrons and the best possible performance space for our artists,” Arredondo said.
With that goal in mind, the partners set about to solve two major issues with the Stafford’s acoustics. A wafer-thin tin roof hemorrhaged sound out the top of the building, and the venue’s unusually narrow design tended to overwhelm performers and patrons alike with a storm of echoes, bouncing tunage from one wall to the next and back.
The duo’s solution: tear off the roof completely and replace it with a new one packed with acoustic paneling and foam, then outfit the venue with a custom-built audio system with three sets of state-of-the-art speakers positioned and tuned to take advantage of the building’s shape and fill it with sound without resorting to overwhelming loudness.
Arredondo, a former sound technician for MSC Town Hall, drew on his experiences working in various positions in the music industry to help tailor the venue’s sound to create a listening experience suitable for audiophiles and casual show-goers alike.
“Some places think that if you turn the volume all the way up to 11 then that’s all you need to do to have a good sound, but there’s a lot more to it than that,” Arredondo said. “I wanted to focus on the quality of the sound, not just how loud it was.”
Impressive as the care and though put into The Stafford may be, it would all be for naught without equally impressive acts to fill the house. Through partnerships with popular production and promotion companies from Houston and Austin, like Warehouse Live and Transmission, and his own Defacto Productions, Arredondo is bringing a variety of top-shelf headliners to the Stafford.
“The idea is to have bands of all different types of genres playing here each weekend,” Arredondo said.
Many of the scheduled acts are indie up-and-comers from around Texas, including opening-night electro-folk Ishi and Austin post-rockers The Octopus Project and This Will Destroy You, but there will also be Grammy-winners like salsa troupe Groupo Fantasma and former American Idol contestant Jason Castro.
Local favorites will be granted the spotlight as well. College Station staples Strawberry Jam and The Lonely Hunter are opening for Groupo Fantasma and Tim Halperin, respectively, and Arredondo plans on continuing to draw from local talent for opening bands in the future.
“With Defacto Productions I’ve always tried to help bands get good exposure however they can, so I’m going to keep using bands from around Bryan and College Station for openers,” Arredondo said. “But it’s not enough that a band is local, they’ve got to be playing quality music too. The Stafford is a professional place, so it’s not like I’m putting a band on stage just because there’s students in it.”
Part of the price that comes with operating a venue on the same level as one might find in Austin is, well, pricey. Students should expect to pay $10-12 for a show.
“We anticipate some complaints about the pricing, but it’s important to remember that this is a venue like any other, and the price reflects that.” Bailey said. “People aren’t used to paying cover charges for bars around here, but we’re not a bar. We’re not a place where you go have a drink and there happens to be live music. We’re a place where you go to see music that happens to serve drinks.”
The Grand Stafford Theatre opens Thursday, Sept. 6, with a show featuring headliners Ishi and opening bands The 71’s, GOBI, and Featherface beginning at 8:30 p.m.