Velo Fellow expands listening room, adds stand-along stage

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Photo: Mary Wilson/GVLtoday

Since the Velo Fellow opened in 2011, the bar and restaurant has been offering up live music alongside a choice selection of beer and an eclectic menu— from fish and chips and sandwiches to falafel and butter chicken. But due to the spot’s limited space, the artists that performed usually had to play solo acoustic or otherwise as stripped-down as possible.

About nine months ago, Velo Fellow co-owner Kirk Smith and his partners decided to lease the vacant space right next to them in their building, knocked down the wall that separated them, and build a stand-alone stage, expanding their capacity to around 150 in the process.

And they did most of the preparation themselves, seeking out just the right parts and pieces for the new stage. “We spent a lot of time finding this old wood,” Smith says. “We found it everywhere from abandoned high schools to barn doors, and we covered the stage with old tin ceiling tiles. It was meant to match the look of our existing space.”

With the expansion, they even had enough room to build their own brewery in the same area as the new stage.

The space next to the Fellow had long been vacant, but it took the partners a while to decide on the expansion. “We didn’t necessarily want to change it because it was successful and cozy,” Smith says. “To go for something more is a risk. But we certainly felt we had room for growth, and this space in the same location came available and it made sense to add it.”

The main reason for the change is that Smith wants to expand the kinds of bands they can bring into The Velo Fellow; in some cases, there were bands that were literally too big for them to book.

“Musicians can bring their full bands now, which adds a more upbeat kind of sound,” he says. “And it also allows me the resources to bring in bigger acts and utilize local talent better. We’ve got a really good musical community and it’s great to be able to help people express their art.”

The Velo Fellow is celebrating the grand opening of their new room with an all-day music festival on Saturday, with scheduled performances by Soul Service, Vilai Harrington and the Hamptones, Burgundy Wine, and DJ Tavo & Friends, along with belly-dancing by the Niad Bellydance Group. The show is free and begins at 3pm.

And speaking of festivals, there’s another one going on at Dr. Mac Arnold’s Blues Restaurant on Saturday, and it’s to celebrate something quite different. It’s called the Cigar Box Guitar Festival, and it’s an all-day salute to a do-it-yourself musical instrument. Virtually all of the performers will be playing one-to-six string guitars made out of cigar boxes.

“A lot of people in the old south who played the blues world couldn’t afford guitars,” says Steve Arvey of the American Cigar Box Guitar Association, who organized the show. That’s where these kinds of guitars originated in the early 1900s. And then in the mid-1990s, there was a major resurgence happened when a blues singer named Microwave Dave started playing one.”

Arvey says part of the appeal of the cigar box guitar is the primal, no-frills noise they make. “They have a real crude kind of sound,” he says. “You can find people online doing AC/DC and Metallica songs with them.”

The festival will feature vendors selling their own styles of cigar-box guitars and performances by Arvey, the duo of Michael J and Jimbo Mac, and, of course, Mac Arnold himself. And yes, one of the reasons they chose Mac’s restaurant for the festival was Arnold’s trademark oil-can guitar.

“Everybody wants to see if we can get Mac to play one of the cigar-box guitars,” Arvey says with a laugh.

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