|Anne, slinging drinks at Lefty's.|
Anne Mathey is the co-owner of Lefty’s Live Music, pourer of strong drinks, and a friend to animals (and some people).
She opened Lefty’s in April, 2015 with her partner in crime Erik Brown after both had spent time working, serving drinks, booking shows, and mopping floors at The House of Bricks. Having started as as a cocktail waitress at the HOB back when it was still on Merle Hay Road and sticking around for another 10 years, Anne developed a pretty good grasp on what it took to run a music venue / bar of that size.
She and Erik came up with a plan for booking shows and bringing fresh talent, faces, and money into the HOB just in time to learn that owner JC Wilson was planning to close shop and get out of the business.
What could have been another loss to the music scene in Des Moines turned into a blessing. The plan they developed for the HOB basically became the business plan for a new venue. Anne and Erik planned for about a year, getting the money figured out, and watching for a good location.
When the building on University where Hairy Mary’s was last located showed up on real estate sites, they set up a visit immediately. “We walked in and knew this was the place the second we walked through the door,” says Anne.
|Anne Mathey and Erik Brown, the Lefty's Dynamic Duo|
They received the keys on Saint Patrick’s Day and spent the next weeks working 18-hour days to renovate the place and opened exactly a month later.
In the past four years Lefty’s has become an integral part of the music scene in Des Moines, hosting regional and national touring acts, local bands, art shows, burlesque performances, and offering space on a historic stage for up and coming musicians to hone their chops in front of an audience.
It’s a kick ass venue with amazing murals on the wall, killer sound, strong drinks, and a men’s room that allows you to piss on Donald Trump while Frank Zappa looks on – reason enough to visit in my mind.
Anne took time to answer Five (plus) questions about the misadventures of running a music venue in Des Moines.
So you named Lefty’s after your dog, right? What happened to his leg?
“I adopted him like that. The shelter said he was walking on the river when the ice broke and his front leg went through and got caught in a log jam under water. The fire department had to put on wet suits and army crawl out to the middle of the river to get him. They took him to Animal Lifeline and they amputated because of frost bite and nobody claimed him. I got him in the spring of 2008, and he was the first dog I saw at the first place I went. I figured I couldn’t get the very first dog so went to like five other places and kept saying, ‘I like that three-legged dog better’ so went back to get him but they were closed so had to come back again the next morning.”
What sets Lefty’s apart from other bars that host live music in Des Moines?“One of the things we wanted to focus on was the quality of the experience. Any place can throw up a speaker so customers can listen to a band. But we really want people to experience live music in its entirety. We broke the bank on putting in the best sound system we could find, bringing in acousticians to explore the room and find the best placement of the speakers, finding dead spots etc. I personally spent an afternoon in a full body hazmat suit nailing up rolls of insulation under the stage so it wouldn’t reverberate like a giant drum. Little things like that that all come together to give music lovers the best experience in the city. Though we have regional, national, and international tours come through, we wanted to focus on local. Have local artist do the murals on the wall, have all local beers on tap, be a ‘club house’ for local musicians.”
What’s the most amazing show you’ve hosted?
“God there’s been so many it’s a blur. I’ll never forget the first one with Joe and Vikki Price and King of the Tramps. Mountain Sprout, an amazing bluegrass band came in 2016 (and a couple time since) the day that our good friend Jimi Scribner passed away. He loved that band and it was a really amazing tribute to have all his friends come out the day he passed and share stories and cry and listen to some of his favorite music (Jimi was the cook at HOB forever). I’m sure the band came in and was like ‘WTF are all these people crying about,” but that was a memorable show. Rev. Horton Heat was also a pretty awesome show.”
|Anne (center), on any given night at Lefty's|
Who’s the biggest diva you’ve had to work with?
“I remember at the HOB Chris Daughtry, who was on American idol I think, came in the winter and wouldn’t get off the bus until we dug out a path in the snow bank that the plows make on the street and put a carpet down over the whole path to the door. I guess so his shoes wouldn’t get snow on them?
How do you see the music scene in Des Moines right now?
“We really do have some pretty amazing talent around here. And it seems like whenever someone’s down for whatever reason and we have a benefit, everyone comes out in force and really pulls together to raise money and put on a show. We’ve hosted benefits for everything from my cat to Jimi’s medical funds and funeral costs etc.
The scene throughout time has had its ups and downs, as far as number of bands around, number of venues, number of fans and people who come out. I feel like we’ve been in a down swing lately. A lot of older bands just aren’t playing anymore because they’re all grown up and have jobs and kids etc. and there’s really not a new batch of young bands coming in to take their place—at least not enough of them. Part of the problem is Des Moines law forbidding minors into venues after 9 p.m., which we’ve been fighting since we opened and haven’t been able to make much progress on in the political world. Part of the problem is funding was cut in schools 10 or 15 years ago and the first thing to go was music and the arts. So fewer kids grew up learning and being exposed to music enough to want to start a band themselves.
I think Des Moines has always had a weaker scene then it should. There was that time in the mid 2000s when Omaha was big ‘the next Austin.’ We’ve never had that. I think in part because the city as a whole, politically at least, doesn’t support live music — doesn’t go out of its way to foster an environment that makes it easy for us to exist and the minor ordinance is a big part of that.”
It can be difficult to get people out to support live music – especially local music. Do you think that’s unique to Des Moines? What can we do to encourage people to get off the couch?
“So much entertainment comes straight to you these days via the internet you don’t have to leave your house to see a band. Just pull up the YouTube video. You used to HAVE to go to shows to see or hear any new material from your favorite bands. You’d go to a show and dig the opener and all of a sudden you have a new favorite. Now you get so much content coming straight to you, you don’t have to leave the couch to find new bands or a bands newest song or whatever. And it shows —daily I see articles about well-known, established venues across the country failing. We’re a dying breed that’s for sure.
How to get people off the couch is a struggle I fight daily. I think at some point people, especially young people, ARE going to realize that there is more to life than what you can view on a little screen. I would love to go back to the days where people would go out to a show whether they knew the bands or not, just to have something to do. We try to cultivate quality shows at Lefty’s. We want people to say ‘I’ve never heard of those bands but it’s at Lefty’s so I know it’s gonna be good.’ Some of my favorite bands now are ones that either opened for a band I knew or were bands I saw just because we were looking for something to do one night and wandered into a show.”
One piece of advice you’d give local artists trying to draw a crowd?
“Advice for locals is support your scene. GO TO SHOWS. Seriously I can count on two hands the musicians who I consistently see at shows that are not theirs. If we can foster a scene where musicians go to shows every weekend that they’re not playing our scene would slay! Lead by example, you want people to go to your shows? Go to someone else’s!”
Check out Lefty’s online here and then go to a fucking show already. If you haven’t been I promise you’ll dig the place.