Lincoln’s Bourbon Theatre celebrates 5 years

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Lincoln’s Bourbon Theatre celebrates 5 years

Posted on: May 25th, 2014 by tommyj

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LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Tenzin Moore was 10 days old when the Bourbon Theatre opened. This fall, he’ll start kindergarten.

"I can’t believe it’s gone so quickly," said Tenzin’s dad, Jeremiah, who along with his wife, Leah, five years ago took over the old O Street movie theater that had previously failed as an entertainment venue and turned it into what is now the centerpiece of Lincoln’s thriving music scene.

"It’s pretty much been exactly what we hoped it would be — that it would grow into a venue where we’d catch a lot of national acts passing through town," Moore told the Lincoln Journal Star ( "It’s been a lot more work than I imagined. But when isn’t it a lot more work?"

The Bourbon is celebrating its fifth anniversary this month, starting last Wednesday with its local showcase of FREAKABOUT! and Josh Hoyer and the Shadowboxers, who in January packed the place with the biggest crowd ever for a local band.

The anniversary celebration includes shows by Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers, and from May 29 to 31, Blitzen Trapper, The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band and HAIRBALL.

That lineup reflects something of the diversity of the Bourbon’s offerings. Unlike most venues, which specialize in one or two genres, the Bourbon books everything from hip-hop to country, death metal to electronic dance music.

"I enjoy all styles of music," Moore said. "If you flipped through my record collection, you’d wonder if it belonged to a single person, in size and in styles. It’s also because something we’ve prided ourselves on from the beginning is being available to Lincoln and celebrating its diversity. We always figured, this is Lincoln, Nebraska, we’re going to be open to everybody.

"If we did just one or two styles, we wouldn’t do as much business and we wouldn’t have as many people enjoying the shows. To provide entertainment in Lincoln, you’ve got to be broad. If we can take in all of these categories, it seems like there’s more going on in town."

In fact, the Bourbon is credited by many, including Pinnacle Bank Arena manager Tom Lorenz and those who run other local venues, for taking the Lincoln scene up a notch.

"These guys have done a great job of bringing new acts to Lincoln, some national acts to Lincoln that are on the way up," Lorenz said. "They fill that gap from the bar scene into bigger venues. It’s also helped Lincoln concert-goers get used to going out to shows.

"They’ve done it right. They’re very good at social media marketing and getting the word out. They really have made an impact, and it’s continuing."

"Definitely, it changed things," said Eli Mardock, a co-owner of Vega who has played the Bourbon with his bands. "The longer you’re doing it, you start building up relationships with agents and they start routing bands through the market. It’s made a huge difference."

Over the course of the last five years, the Bourbon has done more than 1,000 shows — some in the large main room, some in the former lobby that was converted to a small performance space and bar.

The Rye Room holds a couple of hundred people at most and features lots of shows by local bands along with some smaller touring acts.

"We try to keep our roots of where we came from, which is being accessible to everybody, whether they’re local or coming through," Moore said.

Those roots are in Box Awesome, the small club at Eighth and O streets that the Moores ran before moving to the Bourbon. With the move down O Street, Moore continued to book smaller, less expensive artists, allowing the Bourbon to get on its feet before taking the financial risk of large shows.

"We were young entrepreneurs without any financial backing," Moore said. "We had to do it the only way I know how to do anything, which is a little bit at a time."

Now Moore can look back at Bourbon shows with a sense of satisfaction and reward.

"A show like when we did Battles, that’s something I would have traveled to," he said. "To bring them here was amazing. To have Taj Mahal our first year, that’s music my parents listened to and I’m into the music that came before, and there was the recognition we got for having an artist of his caliber. We had Arrested Development and there were maybe 100 people here. But that was a great moment, to get to work with Speech."

The Bourbon has sold out many big room shows by artists as diverse as The Faint, Say Anything, Needtobreathe, The Eli Young Band, Explosions in the Sky, Third Eye Blind, Theory of a Deadman and, on Sunday, Twenty One Pilots.

In March, the Bourbon branched out, opening the Snake Oil Cafe in its front room. The eatery offers waffles with a variety of toppings.

"When our box office started selling more tickets, we realized we had to capitalize on that," Moore said. "We started adding waffles. There are thousands of people downtown who need lunch, and there are people that are hungry at shows. It was something we needed to keep it growing and add more hours for our staff."

The Bourbon now has a staff of about 25. The staff, Moore said, is one of the primary reasons for the Bourbon’s success.

"We’ve got quite a few folks who have devoted their time and life to this," he said. "I can’t imagine this business without those guys. They’ve all developed themselves and given a lot in their ability to work with people, keep up with understanding what we need to do. You can’t ask for anything more than that."

Information from: Lincoln Journal Star,

This AP Member Exchange was shared by the Lincoln Journal Star.

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