191 Toole: Faith in Rock n’ Roll

Entrance of 191 Toole with Skrappy's paint still intact.
Entrance of 191 Toole with Skrappy’s paint still intact.

191 Toole may be home to mosh pits and metal anthems on a Saturday night, but on Sundays they bring out the pews.

City On a Hill, a local Christian nonprofit, took over the lease at 191 Toole in downtown Tucson with no previous experience running a music venue. Tom Collins, executive director of COAH, said he was looking for a space to run his nonprofit when he stumbled upon 191 East Toole Avenue.

City on a Hill, which focuses on youth outreach, teamed up with Epicenter Church to run the space at 191 Toole. Now the location is both a concert venue and a church — which garnered some opposition in its inception, Collins said.

“People didn’t have the same vision that I had,” said Collins, who added that he does not plan on promoting 191 Toole as a purely religious space. “We didn’t want to scare people and have them thinking because we’re Christians there are just going to be crosses all over the walls.”

The street view of 191 East Toole Avenue which appears no different than the time Skrappy's Youth Collective was open.
The street view of 191 East Toole Avenue which appears no different than the time Skrappy’s Youth Collective was open.

191 Toole, in the Warehouse Arts District, opened its doors January in the space formerly known as Skrappy’s Youth Collective. During its time, Skrappy’s was a music venue that was promoted as a safe haven for Tucson young people.

After Skrappy’s was left vacant, the Warehouse Arts District said on its website that at the new venue, “The goal is for youth based programming to remain the prime use of the space.”

Brett Botting, an 18-year-old student at the University of Arizona, said he was happy about the new all-ages venue but he expressed some reservations about the religious involvement.  “I’m afraid it might deter some of the bands I’d like to see play there,” he said.

While the current space is solely a music venue and home to Epicenter on Sundays, the goal is to expand with free daily programs available to young people.  “The goal is to offer things to the youth in a non-pressure realm,” said Nick Lang,  the pastor of Epicenter.

The volunteers working at 191 Toole say they hope to have programs such as free music lessons, counseling, and study groups up and running sometime this month. The goal is for 191 Toole to be open every day.

Matt Baquet, booker for Club Congress and 191 Toole, said, “It’s about getting kids who want to do new things, learn new things, see new things, be in the music scene.”

Collins said the first priority is to bring the building up to code, since the place was left more or less in shambles. Since the staff at 191 Toole is all volunteers, money from concerts will pay the bands, with the rest going toward renovations. Collins said he is committed to keeping ticket prices low to make the shows easily affordable. “We’re trying to keep everything in the five dollar range,” he said. “Nobody’s making money here.”

In addition to cheaper shows, an aim to appeal to young people is by stressing that the location is safe. Collins said there will be security staffed at the venue for shows and future programs. “We want it to be as safe a place as possible so if parents drop their kids off they have no problems,” he said.

The venue will also help welcome a wider audience, instead of only those 21 and up.

“I think kids are really important and music can be important to them, and there’s no reason we should be leaving them out of the scene with all of these 21 and up shows,” said Baquet.

La Luz headlined at 191 Toole on Jan. 31. (Photo by Shannon E. Kurlander. Names from left to right: Alice Sandahl, Shana Cleveland, and Abbey Blackwell. On drums is Marian Li Pino.)
La Luz headlined at 191 Toole on Jan. 31. (Photo by Shannon E. Kurlander. Names from left to right: Alice Sandahl, Shana Cleveland, and Abbey Blackwell. On drums is Marian Li Pino.)

191 Toole has already hosted bands like Seattle surf-rockers La Luz, as well as a slew of local acts. The venue is booked this spring with a variety of shows such as black metal band Deafheaven, folk artist Waxahatchee, and Macaulay Culkin’s band The Pizza Underground.

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