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It's been 30 years since WOWathon?

Byline: Carolyn Lamberson The Register-Guard

The Community Center for the Performing Arts - the nonprofit organization that runs the WOW Hall - is no longer a twentysome- thing.

The center, which helped save the old Woodmen of the World hall at Eighth Avenue and Lincoln Street from a possible date with the wrecking ball, will mark its 30th year with a membership party this week- end.

The party is free for members and will feature Adam + Kris with Sweetjuice, Brett Estep, Dharmika & Leslie, Scott Franzen and Jair, and a special guest appearance by poet Samuel Rutledge. The evening also will include a buffet dinner donated by local restaurants and caterers.

The annual party is a thank-you to members - about 900 of them this year - whose financial support helps keep the hall afloat, WOW Hall publicist and membership coordinator Bob Fennessy said.

`The benefits of membership are that they get to vote at the annual meeting - the members who attend the meeting elect the board of directors - they get the newsletter mailed to them and of course, because with a tax-deductible donation you cannot give people anything of value, we do get to throw them a free party."

After 30 years as one of the community's premier nonprofit arts groups, the WOW Hall is looking ahead. As part of the plan to redevelop the property next to the hall into low-income housing, the WOW was given the chance to buy the back parking lot, where bands park and load their equipment.

Access to that lot is crucial to the WOW Hall's success, said Denny Guehler, a onetime board member and board president who now serves on the back lot fundraising committee.

`They're dead in the water without that lot," he said.

The city of Eugene will sell the lot to the WOW for $55,000. TicketWeb, an online ticketing agency, has already pledged $10,000 toward the lot purchase. Members have kicked in $5,000, and the Oregon Country Fair has offered up to $30,000 in loans if needed.

The WOW Hall hopes to conclude the deal in May, Fennessy and Guehler said.

Beyond that, the CCPA is launching the organization's first capital improvements campaign.

"It's an old building, and there are a lot of things that would need to be renovated," Fennessy said.

The ideal plan is an L-shaped addition to the north and east sides of the building.

As Guehler pointed out, the building currently has no hot water or dressing rooms. The `green room,' where artists wait between sets, is small, and is on the opposite side of the room from the stage, forcing performers to walk through the crowd to perform.

There also are no separate bathrooms for the performers.

`They have to fight with the public lines between their sets," Guehler said. "It's amazing (the hall's) been able to book the quality of acts that they do."

Metro Affordable Housing, the developer of the mixed-used, affordable housing structure that will be built next to the WOW Hall, already has committed $50,000 to improve the WOW Hall's soundproofing and acoustics, Guehler said. That work may include adding air conditioning, which would allow the hall to keep doors and windows closed during the hot summer months, he added.

`I look to them to be very good neighbors and collaborators in the block," Guehler said.

Fundraising under way again

Saturday marks 30 years since the first WOWathon - five days and nights of continuous entertainment that aimed to raise $10,000, the down payment for the $75,000 Hall.

With help from individuals, KLCC, the Oregon Country Fair, KZEL and others, the first WOWathon raised the needed funds. According the the CCPA history posted at wowhall.org, the Hoedads Treeplanting Cooperative loaned the initial operating capital.

The hall originally was built in 1932 by the Woodmen of the World, a fraternal organization. After the local Woodmen organization became inactive, promoters used the space for various events, including some of Eugene's first rock 'n' roll shows.

It took the CCPA eight years to pay off the mortgage, in 1983. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997.

Over the years, the hall has hosted dance performances, live theater and hundreds of folk, rock, blues, jazz, reggae, hip-hop and even the occasional classical performer.

Tori Amos, Hot Tuna, Blind Melon, Alice in Chains, Chick Corea, Wilco, Built to Spill, Modest Mouse, X, the Dead Kennedys, Taj Mahal, Steve Kimock, Odetta and Arlo Guthrie are among the hundreds of performers who have taken the WOW Hall stage.

The Cherry Poppin' Daddies played there every few weeks in their early days. Floater holds the record for the most sold-out shows, in data dating back to Sept. 9, 1994.

`There's a saying around here among the staff that the WOW Hall is the house that the Daddies built and it's the house that Floater maintains," Fennessy said.

Robert Wynia, Floater's lead vocalist and bassist, said the WOW Hall is simply a great place to play.

`A lot of it, when we go back to the WOW Hall, is nostalgia,' Wynia said. `We're friends with a lot of the people there. It's a really friendly atmosphere.'

When the band would venture out to other clubs, such as the former Wild Duck, he said it never really worked.

`It never really captured the feeling of the WOW Hall," he said. "Most of our fan base didn't like it as much.

`We didn't play at the WOW Hall for a while, we played only bigger venues. When we put out our last record, which was acoustic, we went back to the WOW Hall just for the atmosphere.'

Like many Eugene kids, Wynia said he started going to shows at the WOW Hall as a young teenager. The club is one of the few in town that is open to those 21 and younger.

`A really good chunk of our volunteers are area teenagers, which is I think our biggest selling point as an organization,' Fennessy said. `The teens not only get to see the performances, but they get actively involved in putting them on.'

The WOW Hall draws on as many as 400 volunteers, but about half of those will only work one show a year, Fennessy said. However, there's usually a group of enthusiastic volunteers who sign up for everything.

`This year, we actually had a really strong crop of those volunteers," Fennessy said.

That strong, dedicated force is one of the things that makes the WOW Hall special.

As Wynia put it, `It's become an icon to a certain degree. I don't think any other place that was shorter-lived would get so many people rallying around it when it's threatened.

`The WOW Hall is so iconic, no one could stand to see it go.'

EVENT PREVIEW

30th Anniversary WOW Hall Membership Party

With: Adam + Kris with Sweetjuice, Brett Estep, Dharmika & Leslie, Scott Franzen, Jair and Samuel Rutledge

When: 7 p.m. Saturday

Where: WOW Hall, 291 W. Eighth Ave.

How much: Free for members; guests tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for children 6 to 11 and free for those 5 and younger; memberships available for $15 and up

CAPTION(S):

Adam + Kris are one of the highlights of Saturday's membership party at the WOW Hall.
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Title Annotation:Entertainment; The former Neighbors of Woodcraft hall marches merrily into middle age
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Dec 9, 2005
Words:1215
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