Energy Exchange: New Venue Brings Live Music to Ventura

Photo by Keith Zacharski / In the Barrel Photo 

Thomas Cussins envisioned a Ventura where live music was integral to the community.

He envisioned a vibrant Ventura where locals ride their bikes after work to intimate concerts, enjoying the renowned artists who used to drive right past the coastal city on their tours.

In March, his vision became a reality with the opening of the Ventura Music Hall.

A collaboration between Oakland-based music company Ineffable Music, where Thomas is president, and local music executives, the venue opened March 22 with a performance by G. Love and The Juice.

“Being able to come together and participate in a shared cultural experience is vital to who we are as humans,” Thomas, a Ventura resident, says. “I hope to play a big part in bringing live music back locally and allowing that energy exchange to exist.”

Whether sitting outside of a little venue in Solana Beach listening to Tracy Chapman and Green Day because he wasn’t old enough to go inside or booking his college friend his first show in Santa Cruz, Thomas has always loved live music.

Ineffable specializes in bringing famous bands of all genres to smaller venues for once- in-a-lifetime experiences.

During the lockdown, Thomas recognized the need for a leading live music venue in Ventura. So he asked locals whether they wanted a new music venue in the city.

“Overwhelmingly, the answer was yes,” Thomas says.

When he first saw the building at 1888 E. Thompson Blvd., formerly Discovery Ventura, he knew it had potential.

To ensure the project’s success, Thomas recruited Bruce Flohr, executive vice president at Red Light Management, as well as music supervisor Cathy Duncan and Lollapalooza co- founder Marc Geiger.

“What better way to promote and nurture the local music scene than to have a premier music venue right here in our backyard?” says Bruce, an Oxnard resident.

The Music Hall holds 850 people, and every aspect of the venue was designed with the artists’ experience at the forefront, Thomas and Bruce say.

“It started, candidly, with making music the sole focal point,” Bruce adds. “We’re trying to make the artists feel welcomed to Ventura the minute they step foot into the building.”

Garrett Dutton, better known as G. Love, was the first artist to perform on the stage. He says he appreciated the strong leadership team, the smaller audience size and the thoughtfulness behind the venue’s design.

“It was an honor to be the first artist to headline the Ventura Music Hall,” he says. “What an epic room. I look forward to coming back through as soon as possible.”

Though the team will ask some of the most successful artists in the industry to grace the Music Hall’s stage, they also feel a responsibility to support smaller and local artists.

“Somewhere in Ventura, Camarillo, Moorpark or Ojai is the next Billie Eilish or the next Maroon 5,” Bruce says. “It will be our job to find them and put them on our stage.”

Photo by Keith Zacharski / In the Barrel Photo 

The only requirement?

“To engage an audience and make a group of people feel something—that’s real talent,” Bruce says.

Thomas says he would rather the Music Hall be closed than present a mediocre artist.

“Our hope is that you can trust that even if you don’t know the band, you’re going to get a quality musical experience,” he says. “If there are 8-year-olds and 80-year- olds enjoying the same music, that would be a joy.”

The pandemic, Thomas and Bruce agree, has been devastating for those who both create and consume music.

The inability to hold in-person events deprived artists of the opportunity to earn an income and improve. It also taxed residents’ mental health.

“Communities need places of gathering,” Thomas says. “Especially coming out of the pandemic, the more live music we can have and the more we can let these different cultural expressions happen, the better.”

There are few problems, he says, that good music cannot fix. Thomas hopes everyone who visits the venue feels happier when they leave than when they entered.

Simi Valley resident Shawn Turley saw Ron Artis II and G. Love perform opening night—his first live music event since the pandemic. He had been to Discovery Ventura several times and appreciates how intentional the new space is.

“We don’t have to drive into downtown L.A. for the intimate venue feel,” he says. “Live music is so amazing because it brings so many different walks of life together with one thing in common. It connects us all together for a few hours, and everything else gets put aside.”

He and his wife loved the venue so much they already have tickets for two more shows.

If successful, the establishment will also benefit the local economy. One dollar from every ticket sold will be donated to local nonprofits—the first being the summertime Ventura Music Festival.

“If you want to truly be a part of the fabric of the community, you have to invest in the community,” Bruce says.

Most importantly, he says, the Ventura Music Hall is a venue run by residents for residents.

“We’re neighbors, not a business,” Bruce says. “We’re certainly there to be successful, but the first thing is our doors are open and we want everyone to come in and enjoy. This is Ventura’s music hall.”