To long-time Eugene residents, 44 E. 7th Ave. might seem like an unlucky building. The location, which was a country-themed bar under the moniker “Rock’n Rodeo” from the early ‘90s to the mid ‘00s, has gone through a slew of music venue changes in a short amount of time.
Though the location has hosted artists such as T-Pain, Waka Flocka Flame and Riff Raff in the last few years, the building itself has gone through just as many name changes. Venues like Studio 44 and Dusk couldn’t stay open for more than six months.
Businesses have tried to find promise in 44 E. 7th Ave., but none in recent past have had as much success as the location’s current venue: Hi-Fi Music Hall — which is still running strong in its seventh month of operation.
While still a young music venue, Hi-Fi has already successfully put on shows with big-name artists like Cold War Kids, Mudhoney and Robert DeLong.
Hi-Fi has found popularity in using a completely different approach than past venues by booking a diverse selection of musical acts, offering free live-streaming of their concerts, as well as advertising and gaining brand recognition in innovative and creative ways.
Many members of Hi-Fi’s team, such as venue owner Mike Hergenreter and partner Danny Kime, have resided in Oregon for years, but have the unique perspective of viewing the building’s previous venues from the outside without ever actually stepping in. Luckily, they have managed to avoid the mistakes that caused those venues to inevitably fail.
Hergenreter and his wife moved to Eugene in 2003. After the move, Hergenreter spent years booking acts for venues around Eugene such as WOW Hall and the McDonald Theatre before deciding to rent out the space on East 7th Avenue and Willamette Street.
“Having talent-buying jobs at a few of the best venues in town previously to Hi-Fi … has allowed me to build and maintain relationships with some of the best booking agents and band managers in the business,” said Hergenreter.
Hergenreter and Kime first met while sitting on the entertainment committee for the Eugene Celebration. While Hergenreter helped with booking, Kime worked on the other side of things as a site and operations manager.
“Mike and I realized that we were a perfect match for each other,” said Kime. “He booked music on the big stages and I understood event operations … Together, we had the experience we felt was necessary to create Hi-Fi.”
Sustaining relationships in the music business has helped Hergenreter and Kime, and the Hi-Fi team as a whole, work towards one of the venue’s major ambitions — beckoning a diverse array of talent onto Hi-Fi’s stage in order to appeal to the broad spectrum of music tastes of the area.
“The music Hi-Fi books covers genres [such as] bluegrass, rock ‘n’ roll, electronic, blues, soul, hip-hop, jam bands, punk — you name it,” said Hi-Fi social media coordinator Emilee Sievers.
Sievers, an Oregon native who graduated from the University of Oregon in 2013, said that although she was vaguely aware of previous venues that had filled the space, they seemed too tightly tailored to specific audiences.
The venue’s layout and moderate size has also given a better platform for artists looking to play in Eugene.
“Eugene has always struggled to bring [in] rising stars, up-and-coming bands and unique instrumental bands — that each draw up to 500 people or a bit more — because most of the venues are either too small or too large,” said Doug Fuchs, a long-time Eugene resident.
Fuchs works at Flying Ink Media, a publicity and marketing company partnered with Hi-Fi. With a capacity just over 600, Hi-Fi fills “a much needed niche” in the Eugene scene, said Fuchs.
Although the venue has already made an impact locally in its short time of operation, it has also gained popularity globally by live-streaming every performance for free on Hi-Fi’s website.
“We wanted to provide an opportunity for everyone to be part of our shows,” said Hergenreter, a goal that the venue’s live-streaming service has helped achieve.
“We get people from all over the world viewing our shows online, and it excites me when I see stats from our streams being seen in … London, Paris and even remote places in Mongolia,” said Hergenreter. “Folks around the world are finding out about Hi-Fi, experiencing what we are all about.”
The free online streaming feature is not only about the fans, but also about the bands, according to JD Hauger, the head of broadcast and video production at Hi-Fi. “We’re trying to present the bands an opportunity to make their show a little bigger and keep their fans connected, even if it’s an out-of-state audience online,” said Hauger.
Hi-Fi has also made attempts to gain brand recognition in other places around Oregon through cross-promoting with a local business called Pedal Power. The company sets up stationary bicycles at events like the Eugene Marathon and Oregon Country Fair. The energy produced from pedaling provides an environmentally-friendly energy alternative for indoor and outdoor events.
Past events at Hi-Fi have involved setting up bikes in the venue in order to power speakers and lighting.
“Our whole mission is to connect people,” said Pedal Power owner Dave Villalobos. “All the electricity that we [produce] is provided by bikes that the audience uses,” said Villalobos.
While the venue has transformed the possibilities for a formerly unimpressive space, it has more importantly become a way to bring people together, both inside and outside of the community.
Pedal Power does more promotion than pedaling with Hi-Fi, but Villalobos agrees that its environment is much more welcoming than the venues before it.
“I think it has to do with the team and the approach,” said Villalobos. “It seems like a recipe for success.”