Some changes are afoot at the fabled Longbranch Saloon, that institution on “The Strip” that’s been a part of Knoxville’s live music scene for decades.
Out: Coffee Doiel, the guy who booked shows at the club for the past two years, raising the venue’s status as a bastion of edgy rock ‘n’ roll and a place where the area’s punk scene could congregate. According to Doiel, it happened almost two weeks ago — via a note.
“I came in, and there was just a note that basically told me I was fired and that the whole punk rock thing isn’t working out and that they want to do something completely different with it,” Doiel told me this week. “They said the place was getting too trashed. I called them later on that night, and they told me the exact same thing that the note said.”
“They” would be John and Diane Stockman, the venue’s overseers. According to Diane Stockman, Doiel’s services were discontinued because of an overload of punk shows and the destruction left in their wake.
“We were having a little bit of trouble with the punk shows causing damage,” she told me. “We’re still doing kind-of punk, but not necessarily the death-metal punk.”
It wasn’t like the Longbranch — long known as a local dive whose charm can politely be described as “rustic” or “shabby chic” — was being torn apart at the shows, she said; but Doiel and the bands he booked didn’t do such a hot job of cleaning up the joint when the shows were over.
“It was just a combination of things,” she said. “Although he did do a good job and booked a lot of bands, I just felt some of them were a little too much of the skinhead-type of bands. We’re just changing the format a little bit and toning it down a little bit more.”
Now in charge of booking — Jordan Sangid, who’s worked there for about a year and a half. He hopes to make the Longbranch an arena for different types of local music, and he’s committed to honoring the shows that Doiel booked before his termination.
“We’re keeping it a local dive bar, but with a little more pizazz,” he said. “We were having punk rock shows here every night, and when you have shows where people get into it and move around, things get broken. And things were getting broken every night.”
Two shows of note on the Longbranch schedule — both booked by Doiel — the hardcore outfit ANTiSEEN, scheduled for Sept. 19, and The Murder Junkies, the former backing band of the late shock-rocker G.G. Allin led by Allin’s brother, Merle. Sangid also is looking ahead to the first show he’s booked in his new capacity — The Pinstripes and Royal City Riot, a double bill scheduled for January 2010 at the Longbranch.
The fallout from Doiel’s removal, however, remains to be seen. According to him, the punk shows were always well attended, and the bar sold a large amount of beer.
“And it’s not like we were just having punk shows — there were all kinds of shows on the schedule,” he added. “Since I got fired, I’ve had a lot of bands call me, canceling because they don’t want to play. They say if I’m not working there, they don’t want to do the shows.”
While such a statement may sound conceited, local scene legend Christopher Scum hails Doiel’s accomplishments at the Longbranch.
“I see him as like the Rus Harper of the 2000s, because he’s done more for punk rock in this town than anybody since the 1990s,” Scum told me. “He’s sunk his teeth into it and made it his business to have a place for people to go see music. As far as violence goes — I can’t say how many shows I’ve been to since he’s been working there, but I’ve seen one fight that whole time. One fight — and that’s because some college students from Florida wandered in on a football weekend.
“If people were getting slam-dancing mixed up with fighting, that’s a different thing. There was always a little pit, but it was all in fun — you’d knock somebody down and then pick them back up. It was the spirit of 1976, man — a place I was proud, being an older punk myself, to see kids come out and behave and show spirit in a way I haven’t seen in a long time. I think they made a grave mistake, but that’s their decision to make, obviously.”
For a full schedule of Longbranch shows or to contact Sangid, visit the venue’s new Myspace page.