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Aaron Holmes and Jana Meszaros move an old feature of HiFi Music Hall and discuss the future of the art piece. (Dana Sparks/Emerald)

The music venue once known as the Hi-Fi Music Hall in downtown Eugene has been ripped apart. Renovations are messy and some areas have been torn down to the studs, revealing graffiti tags behind unfinished wood frames. In its current state, the back room is unrecognizable, though some remnants of its past are strewn about — a link to the place’s history.  But when the renovations are complete, the venue will be totally transformed into Sessions Music Hall.

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Nate Hisamura, Shane Cavanaugh, Danny Kime and Aaron Holmes stand in front of the new Sessions sign. (Dana Sparks/Emerald)

For more than 20 years, the venue has been through multiple ownership changes and unsuccessful rebrandings. But Danny Kime, co-founder of Hi-Fi and current owner of Sessions, says the venue’s latest iteration is his next step in cementing it as one of Eugene’s premiere music spots.  

When he was 16 years old, Kime walked into Portland’s Crystal Ballroom, a three-story music venue with floors that shake and move when filled to max capacity. 

The hallways were lined with posters from past performances, outlining a rich history built of art and dancing, all influenced by people like Kime, who came for music but left with something just as valuable — a sense of community. 

“I used to be the guy that complained about Eugene not having a venue like that, until one night over a cocktail a friend of mine asked me, ‘Why don’t you just do it?’” Kime said.

That’s exactly what Kime did when he partnered with Mike Hergenreter in 2015 to open the Hi-Fi Music Hall. But in December 2018, after a protracted legal battle between the partners, Hi-Fi closed, though it continued to host shows sporadically. 

Before their split, Kime and Hergenreter built a new identity for the building at 44 E 7th Ave. as a thriving, accessible music venue in the heart of Eugene. With two stages under one roof, an outside seating area with food carts and garage doors opening into the lounge and bar, the venue became an essential piece of architecture in the landscape of Eugene’s music scene. 

Hi-Fi was known as a place where both big name touring artists and local musicians could anticipate high-quality sound and a crowd. Word of Hi-Fi’s closing hit Eugene’s music community hard. 

“I was like, ‘Oh god, what is it going to be now? The best thing in town is going to be another dance club,’” said Ramzi Habib, guitarist for local band Astro Gala. “When you’re a musician, there’s definitely only a handful of places you can play.”  

But Kime, who signed a new lease and reopened as Sessions Music Hall in March 2019, intends to carry on the musical legacy in Eugene with a twist. He said that with the reopening of Sessions, none of the venue’s fundamentals will change — and that it will emerge better than before.

“It’s the type of art and culture I’d like to have access to in the city I live in,” Kime said. 

From the “Hodeo” to the Hi-Fi

Before the building became Hi-Fi or Sessions, it had many incarnations through the years as a nightlife hotspot in Eugene.

For over two decades, Rock ’n Rodeo, a country-themed bar that had a rough reputation, occupied the building. According to Emerald archives, it started as a line-dancing club in the early 1990s, but by the turn of the millennium, it was known for its bar brawls and nicknamed the “Hodeo.”

Despite a rebrand and a sale to new owners, the Rock ‘n Rodeo finally closed its doors in 2008 and was replaced by a series of short-lived clubs.

Nightclubs Studio 44 and Dusk both lasted less than six months, according to Emerald archive reporting. After Studio 44 and before Dusk, a venue called the Rok Nightclub and Sportsbar lasted a few years but failed to make much of an impact. 

When Kime and Hergenreter started the Hi-Fi Music Hall in 2015, it opened with big acts like the Cold War Kids and Robert DeLong. Kime and Hergenreter told the Emerald they were to be perfectly matched for each other and the bad luck hanging over the venue seemed to finally have dissipated.

But just two years later, their partnership ended and Hergenreter sued Kime in August 2018, alleging that Kime excluded him from the company and they could no longer work together. According to the court documents, Tree House 6, the company under which they operated the Hi-Fi Music Hall, was nearing bankruptcy.

The judge sided with Hergenreter, and a Eugene attorney was given possession and control of Tree House 6’s assets as part of a third-party receivership in October 2018. Tree House 6 was dissolved and its assets were sold to pay down any of the business’s outstanding debts. Hergenreter’s wife bought all the assets, which included lights, headphones, and some sound equipment, for $10,501 in March.

Both Hergenreter and Kime declined to comment on their split or the circumstances that led to it.

Kime announced that he was rebranding Hi-Fi as Sessions Music Hall on March 12, the same day he filed the business licensing paperwork. 

However, the same day Kime announced Hi-Fi’s rebranding, the Emerald contacted Hergenreter, who wrote in an emailed response that it was not a rebrand at all. “My former partner is attempting to re-open a new business, under new ownership & name, copying the business formate (sic) that was created by Hi-Fi Music Hall,” he wrote. Hergenreter did not respond to questions about the split or lawsuit after this initial correspondence.

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The Sessions Music Hall staff. (Dana Sparks/Emerald)

Kime is now operating the venue as Sessions under his new company, Dankshaca, LLC, according to documents filed with the Oregon Secretary of State. The venue has much of the same staff, same management and the same sound company, Kime said.

“We’ve learned a lot from our wins, but even more from our mistakes at Hi-Fi and are happy to have the opportunity to reimagine, redesign and start fresh with Sessions Music Hall,” Kime said. “All of those ‘I really wished we had done it this way’ moments are being resolved.”

Sessions looks toward the future, cultivating local music

Nico Bisio — a University of Oregon student and local DJ known as Bizio — has worked with Kime for over two years at Hi-Fi and Sessions. With the support of the venue, Bisio began hosting weekly events in 2016 called Soul Tribe Sundays in the lounge at Hi-Fi. It’s a night featuring underground house music, what he described as “a high-consciousness, high-vibe, dance-oriented community event where everybody feels safe.” 

Kime’s support of Soul Tribe helped reinvigorate the underground house music scene in Eugene, which Bisio said is no easy feat for a Sunday night event with a niche sound.

Turnout for Soul Tribe Sundays was initially low. “Weeklys are a long game — you have to be able to wait and let the night grow gradually,” said Bisio. “It’s hard to find a venue that is willing to eat some shit with you and then continue to work with you, help and share resources with you. They really understand that it's a symbiotic relationship.”

Kime said the event has become one of Sessions’ most popular nights, drawing crowds of up to 200.

“It's become a community. It's a family and the venue has really helped cultivate that,” Bisio said.

Sessions closed intermittently throughout spring and summer as Kime and his partners renovate the venue and wait for a permanent liquor license from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. 

Bisio’s Soul Tribe Sundays took a hiatus. Other venues offered to host the popular night, but Bisio said he felt loyalty Kime and Sessions.

“All the elements that make it such a great space there — the impeccable sound quality, the awesome flow of the space, the way it looks in there, the staff — just everything they have going on there that's so magical. I didn't feel right doing Soul Tribe anywhere else so I waited for them to reopen,” he said. “It's supposed to be a welcoming place because music should be a welcoming and healing experience for everybody.”

Bisio said that during the transition to Sessions, the venue lost assets like decor and couches. “We're working on getting more deco in the lounge and getting the ambiance to be awesome in there,” he said. “I've even put in a couch there and some lamps.” 

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Siuslaw Construction Contractor Christopher Fitzgerald is a part of the team renovating Sessions Music Hall. Where Fitzgerald stands is the past site of a bar top and the future site of Sessions’s new stage. (Dana Sparks/Emerald)

The lounge is staying roughly the same with a few renovations.

When the larger Sessions renovation is finished, the venue will still have two separate stages, a main bar area and a new speakeasy behind the biggest stage where patrons can order specialty cocktails and drinks. 

“We are becoming a dynamic destination,” Kime said. “We will have three rooms that can be twisted to transform into whatever atmosphere makes sense for the evening (within reason). With 10k square feet, we have room to work with.”

Owner of Eugene dispensary Amazon Organics Shane Cavanaugh joined Kime in December 2019. The two are preparing the speakeasy to pivot into a cannabis lounge if Oregon makes public marijuana consumption legal. An Oregon senate bill that would have legalized pot lounges died in committee in May. 

“We know that there eventually will likely be an opportunity,” Kime said. “We see the way cannabis is moving and the music industry and cannabis growing hand in hand, so there's opportunities there. What exactly that is, what that looks like, we'll determine by the laws around it as they evolve.”

Sessions Music Hall closed again July 1 pending a new liquor license, which the venue has been without since December 2018. Kime said it’s an internal issue; he has to apply for a new license every time he signs with new partners, but he expects a permanent license will finally come through in two to three months. Kime said the OLCC will issue the venue temporary licenses for the six shows Kime already has lined up. 

Soul Tribe Sundays will continue through July but may be put on pause if a license doesn’t come through by August, Bisio said. 

“It's hard running a venue — it's a really hard business to stay in,” Bisio said. “It’s been a really amazing thing that this space has been able to stay open. And we've had our challenges there. But things are staying good. I'm really hopeful for the future.”  

When Sessions reopens, Kime sees many possibilities on the horizon, from a possible second venue to live streaming shows. “Who knows?” Kime said. “We will keep our eyes and ears open for all possibilities and analyze their potential on a case by case basis. For now, it’s one step at a time."

Senior News Editor

Emily is the Emerald's senior news editor. She is a former Register-Guard intern and is currently dedicated to covering the stories that are integral to UO and Eugene's communities. Send in news tips to [email protected]

Associate News Editor

Gina is an associate news editor for the Daily Emerald. She used to cover crime and courts and loves a public record. Send tips and pictures of puppies: [email protected]

News Reporter

Donny Morrison is a news reporter covering the city beat for the Daily Emerald. In the past he's written feature stories for both Ethos Magazine and The Torch. He takes strictly cold showers.