A guide to Eugene’s popular music venues
With the school year now in full swing, many students are trying to find ways to let loose during nights of leisure. Among the many events people can attend to enjoy Eugene’s nightlife, catching live music is one of the most sought after. That’s why the Emerald put together this lineup of upcoming concerts, while offering a little bit of insight on the venues students will likely be spending most of their time at when catching their favorite acts perform.
Here’s a list of some of the most popular venues around Eugene, and the concerts each building is scheduled to host in the coming months:
WOW Hall — 291 W 8th Ave.
WOW Hall is one of Eugene’s most trafficked and historic venues and has been a community gathering spot since the late 1800s. For nearly the first 100 years of operation, various churches sat on the corner of 8th Avenue and Lincoln Street, and the local chapter of the Woodmen of the World (WOW) philanthropic fraternal organization convened within the celebrated building, according to the venue’s website.
In 1975, with the knowledge that WOW Hall was up for sale and at risk of demolition, the Eugene community banded together to form the Community Center for the Performing Arts “to save the building and keep it in community hands,” said Bob Fennessy, who’s been WOW Hall’s publicist for the last 28 years. The impassioned group of individuals set up a multi-day entertainment fest called “WOWATHON” and raised over $10,000 to put a down payment on the venue, intending to dedicate it to progressing the local arts scene and uphold a part of Eugene’s history.
The WOW Hall was designated a historic landmark by the National Registry of Historic Places in 1996.
The 8,712-square-foot venue is largely community oriented: The nonprofit organization offers a plethora of volunteer opportunities. “A lot of the people who are employed at some of the larger venues in Eugene got the experience that they needed here at the WOW Hall,” said Fennessy. Events there also welcome patrons of all ages and backgrounds, able to fit a capacity of 600, and its art gallery features the work of a different Eugene artist every month.
Every year, WOW Hall holds a membership party where the Hall celebrates its anniversary with a night of free food and music for its members. You can become a member of the CCPA through donations or volunteering. This year’s membership party is taking place December 8.
In addition to live music, the venue holds weekly dance classes. The hall even features a floating dance floor, where there’s some space between the maple floor and the underground concrete giving the hall some bounce. This allows concert-goers and class attendees to “dance all night and not have your legs all twisted the next day,” Fennessy said. In the basement, people 21 and older can have a drink at the cash-only bar.
Many improvements have been made in the venue over the years. The WOW Hall has since been been upgraded with an adequate heating and air conditioning system, restored windows and benches, a new soundboard that was installed in 2015 and a crisp audio recording set-up onstage. The open floor plan of the venue allows for great acoustics, intimate staging and all the space needed to dance to the many performing acts that grace the WOW Hall stage.
Upcoming shows at WOW Hall:
Japanese Breakfast, Friday, Sept. 28
Shellac w/ Buke & Gase, Monday, Oct. 8
Jay Rock w/ Reason, Saturday, Oct. 13
Beatles vs Stones: A Musical Showdown, Thursday, Oct. 25
Watsky w/ Chukwudi Hodge and Feed the Biirds, Saturday, Nov. 3
McDonald Theatre — 1010 Willamette St.
Built in 1925, the McDonald Theatre is another live performance venue that’s deeply embedded in Eugene’s history. Originally purposed as a movie house — sometimes featuring staged performances — the theatre was a hub for arts, knowledge and performance. It captured the attention and favor of one of the region’s most iconic figures: Ken Kesey.
“The Kesey family has kind of a special connection to [the theatre] from those days of seeing films with the rest of the community,” said Cami Thompson, the ticket manager at McDonald Theatre. The theatre’s historic significance was cemented in 1982, when it was officially recognized in the National Registry of Historic Places.
“When the opportunity came up to launch a new business, our owner, Kit Kesey, jumped at the opportunity to take over this space and turn it into a concert venue,” Thompson said. Kesey leased the McDonald Theatre in 2001, just months before Ken Kesey passed away. In 2009, the theatre was officially purchased by his family’s organization. This company, Kesey Enterprises, also has a joint concessions agreement with Double T Productions and the City of Eugene to bring concerts to another Eugene venue — the Cuthbert Amphitheatre.
Walking into the McDonald Theatre, images that encapsulate Eugene’s history within the building are proudly displayed in the hall leading to the performance space. And in trying to keep the community’s best interest in mind, the theatre also opens its doors for events that span from weddings to high school proms to non-profit fundraisers, according to the venue’s website.
The stage itself features beautiful architecture. Adjacent to the 4-foot high stage, roughly 24-foot-tall columns line up the general admission standing area’s walls, with a standing capacity of 1,300. The stage is fitted with all the LED lights needed to make any atmosphere a completely immersive one. “There’s been like little tweaks over time but a lot of the existing art deco charm of the building is still there,” Thompson says.
The sound system consists of a long list of subs and monitors to provide a heart-thumping fidelity. And if standing among the crowd isn’t your thing, there’s a 21-and-older upper balcony bar and seated section that offers a great view of the stage, architecture and crowd.
The McDonald Theatre provides one of the most complete live performance experiences that Eugene venues have to offer. And with a wide range of acts welcomed to its stage, there will be plenty of chances to catch a show at the state-of-the-art theatre.
Upcoming shows at McDonald Theatre:
Hannibal Buress, Sunday, Sept. 30
Hobo Johnson & the Lovemakers, Wednesday, Oct. 17
Borgore w/ GG Magree and Benda, Saturday, Oct. 20
Henry Rollins, Monday, Oct. 22
Lil Yachty w/ Bhad Bhabie, Monday, Nov. 26
Louis the Child, Wednesday, Nov. 28
Matthew Knight Arena — 1390 Villard St.
Matthew Knight Arena, built in 2009-10, is the venue of preference in Eugene for the biggest acts that make their way through town, and for good reason. The arena that the UO Basketball teams call home seats 12,364, and during concerts, the iconic Kilkenny Floor is removed to open even more space for a standing crowd.
While shows are happening, some of the food and drink vendors remain open to cater to the large crowds drawn in by international touring acts.
According to its website, Matthew Knight Arena is in pursuit of becoming LEED certified, meaning that it meets enough criteria to be considered environmentally responsible by the U.S. Green Building Council. If it receives certification, according to the list of certified projects on the USGBC website, it’d be one of the first NCAA arenas to do so.
The Ducks spirit remains strong even when the event is music instead of sports. The Shroud Wall, the Hero Graphics Corners and the Anthem to the Fan, artworks highlighting the passion of Ducks everywhere, are still displayed along the arena’s interior walls.
Over the last year, Matthew Knight Arena has welcomed acts including Elton John, Journey, Foo Fighters, Santana and Tim McGraw. Though they only have one artist booked for the next few months, it’s likely that more performances will be announced in the coming weeks.
Upcoming shows at Matthew Knight Arena:
Thomas Rhett, Thursday, Oct. 18
HiFi Music Hall — 44 E 7th Ave.
HiFi Music Hall may be the most casual spot to catch live music on this list. The intimate venue has two different stages that can offer two types of live music experiences.
The Main Hall is a wide open space where all-ages shows take place. The hall allows for patrons to be up close and personal with the performing acts, with a few tables in the back of the room where one can see everything going on in the open space. Behind the stage, there’s a bar and lounge area where people 21+ can hangout and grab a drink.
As the Main Hall provides a more conventional live music experience, the 21-and-older only Music Lounge offers a more relaxed atmosphere. “The vibe in the lounge is a little more artistic, a little more cozy,” said the owner of HiFi, Danny Kime. “We have a lot of neat plants, fixtures and cool artwork.”
The Music Lounge also has a full bar adjacent to the stage, and patrons can order food directly from the space. The lounge provides a cozy experience where one can either chill out on the couches or dance in the standing area to a range of performing acts.
”We don’t really stick to one niche, we do it all,” Kime said. “We can have heavy metal one night, EDM the next and Hip Hop on the following night.”
The venue is rigged with a Velvet Thunder Sound System recording setup, and the capability to live stream any event happening in the hall that night. There’s also an outside patio, where people can enjoy the food from the El Quetzal or Chaiyo Thai food trucks stationed at the venue.
“It’s gotta be the best Thai cart in town,” Kime added. He mentioned that the Chaiyo cart has recently been nominated by Eugene Weekly for the award of best food truck in Eugene.
HiFi hosts live music events most nights throughout the week, but the venue gets its fair share of big-name touring that, due to the laidback nature of the venue, are worth chilling out to.
Upcoming shows at HiFi Music Hall:
Grieves, 21+, Friday, Nov. 28
Snak the Ripper, 21+, Thursday, Oct. 18
Liz Vice, all ages, Sunday, Oct. 28
Plain White T’s, all ages, Sunday, Nov. 4
Blockhead w/ Yppah and Arms & Sleepers, 21+, Saturday, Dec. 8
Eugene Venue Honorable Mentions:
Cuthbert Amphitheater — 601 Day Island Rd
Deadbeats Tour 2018 ft. Zeds Dead, 16+, Saturday, Oct. 6
Hult Center — 1 Eugene Center
Eugene Symphony: Bernstein and Beethoven, all ages, Thursday, Oct. 18
Kip Moore, all ages, Friday, Nov. 9
Trey Anastasio (of Phish), all ages, Monday, Dec. 10
Sam Bond’s Garage — 407 Blair
Benyaro, 21+, Wednesday, Oct. 3
Haunted Summer, 21+, Friday, Oct. 5
The Deer, 21+, Friday, Oct. 12
Old Nick’s Pub — 211 Washington Street
Joe Jack Talcum (of Dead Milkmen), 21+, Monday, Oct. 8
La Cerca, 21+, Thursday, Oct. 11
Luckey’s Club — 933 Olive Street
The Critical Shakes, 21+, Friday, Sept. 28
Connor and my Friends, 21+, Oct. 6
Brown Stallion (Ween cover band), 21+, Oct. 27
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