New armory managers have big plans

For the stream of touring musicians traveling down Interstate 5, Ashland is often just a convenient rest stop between Portland and San Francisco.

Jason Gallagher and Jack Stull are out to change that.

Co-creators of a production company called Live at the Armory, Gallagher and Stull have recently taken over management of the Historic Ashland Armory, with plans to turn it into a haven for local artists and a cultural hub for Southern Oregon.

"We're lucky that we're right on I-5, so everything passes us by," Gallagher said. "But in the past it has just been passing us by. That's the problem."

While shows and events have been held at the armory in the past, Gallagher said he and Stull plan to have more consistent and diverse events, partner with local businesses and use aggressive advertising to become a well known venue like Portland's Crystal Ballroom or San Francisco's The Fillmore.

"As the armory exists now, it's not necessarily the place where people think, 'Oh, I want to have some sort of cultural experience, I'm going to the armory,' " Stull said.

While they plan to provide a stop for headliners, they also want to support regional artists through local showcase nights. The themed showcases will feature three or four local artists of a certain genre, from bluegrass to Latin music.

"Any genre with people performing quality music in this area that there's an audience for, we'll bring in," Gallagher said.

Smaller, local bands usually can't afford to play at the armory. At local showcases, however, artists will play for free and take home a portion of the door receipts.

Medford musician Dave McKey of Hungry Girls said the showcases could provide a needed opportunity for local musicians to play outside of coffee shops, bars or festivals.

"If we help it flourish, it could be a really good thing for people who want to play music in the valley," McKey said.

Hungry Girls will play at the first local showcase on Thursday, Aug. 14, with Jesse Lawson, Boomerang Kids and Harlee Case.

Gallagher and Stull aim for the armory to be more than a concert hall, however. They also plan to host private events, dance performances, comedy, movie nights, presentations and lecture or workshop series.

"It's not just about the music," Gallagher said. "It's about creating a community cultural center that isn't an economic hindrance, that's really a viable thriving business."

A new multimedia production system will allow Live at the Armory to record shows, live-stream events and expand its reach outside of Southern Oregon.

For example, Gallagher said they could host a conference and bring in experts from anywhere in the world using large projector screens to create an interactive global conversation.

"I want to create the idea in people's minds that there's always something amazing happening at the armory and that there's something for everyone," Gallagher said.

While watching local artists or speakers, visitors will be able to enjoy local eats.

A professional chef will provide in-house catering and bar service, Gallagher said, focusing on using local food as much as possible.

"We're very, very much about supporting the local food production," Gallagher said. "It's all part of our mission of re-localizing the economy."

The armory will participate in Ashland's First Friday events starting Sept. 5. It will be free to attend and will include vendor booths, art displays, music and food.

"We hope it will be somewhere people end up after First Friday," Gallagher said. "Usually people just dissipate. This could be a place to linger."

Live at the Armory will conduct a soft launch during the month of August, beginning on Aug. 9, with March Fourth Marching Band and SambaDá.

Stull said the popularity of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Britt Festival, both organizations they hope to partner with, show that people in the area are excited about arts and cultural events.

"It's clear to us that people in the area are hungry for more cultural activity and a center where people always know something is going on that will be fun, intellectually stimulating and culturally rich," Stull said. "Live at the Armory is going to provide that."

Reach Mail Tribune reporting intern Kelsey Thomas at 541-776-4368 or Follow her on Twitter @kelseyethomas.

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