Pictured L-R: Ambrose Tardive, Dan Green, Matt Wester, Kevin Takach
About a mile from the Delaware River sits an old warehouse on Phillipsburg’s Stockton Street. It was once abandoned, until five friends used the space to turn a dream into a reality.
The dream? Create a full-blown, DIY music venue to provide a great time for local bands and music fans alike. The venue? Warhouse Collective.
Lehigh Valley Underground sat down this week with Dan Green, Matt Wester, Kevin Takach, and Ambrose Tardive, four of the five founders of Warhouse Collective. One can quickly garner from a single conversation with the group that this is a team effort – one that has taken much planning, ambition and action from each member.
The idea of launching a live music venue in a once venue-rich area has rolled around in their minds for some time.
“We’ve had endless conversations about doing something cool,” Tardive said. “We knew we couldn’t keep sitting on the porch talking about it, which we did for the longest time.”
Added Takach, “We’ve had so many ideas – bars, restaurants. This is something that’s a mutual love.”
It wasn’t until returning from a trip to The Fest in Florida that Tardive and company were inspired to act.
“I was pumped up. I was thinking about starting a label, but we were looking at the numbers on getting vinyl printed, and there’s just not a lot of return on it,” Tardive said. “That quickly evolved into ‘Why don’t we just open a DIY space?’ I was looking at places online. We talked to the landlord, he showed us the space, we set up a tester show in January, and here we are.”
Warhouse Collective is a refreshing addition to a music scene in desperate need of a flagship venue since the closing of venues like Kate’s Kafé, which typically showcased young talent from in and around Phillipsburg until its closing several years ago.
“My father used to take me to Kate’s Kafé when I was 13 or 14. It just blew my mind to see all these bands, week to week,” Green said. “I would always be there. Since the two (venues) around here closed down, we want to be another one to throw our hat in the ring,”
“It’s fortunate that there are so many people involved,” Green said. “When one person takes care of one thing, somebody is taking care of another.”
Adds Wester, “We have a good system where, if there’s a list of thing to do, we’ll take a D20 die, roll it, and the lowest number has to handle that responsibility.”
Support from outside of the group has also been instrumental in the early success of Warhouse Collective. The group has received advice and help from folks like well-known underground New Jersey rocker Rocky Catanese, as well as support from a host of local musicians whom they call friends.
“We’re lucky that, in the immediate area, we know so many bands,” Tardive said. “We’re buddies with a lot of the bands in the area already, so it’s easy to get them to play and get stoked about it. They see our enthusiasm to give them the kick they need.”
Causing a Scene
“We’re kind of like Nucky Thompson from Boardwalk Empire. We’re trying to fight off the forces of New York and Philly, who are swallowing up all the cool bands, and we’re all really weird looking,” Tardive joked, before elaborating. “The bands that all of us like to go to see – there’s always a place or two in Jersey when they get booked, but more often or not, you’re going to have to drive to Philly or Brooklyn.”
While bands are unlikely to discontinue making stops in large cities, there is still plenty of opportunity for venues like Warhouse Collective to turn the Lehigh Valley into another important tour stop for both up-and-coming and established acts.
“I’d like us to become a hub,” Wester said. “It’s a slow start for now, getting our name out there and getting the younger generation involved. Mostly, the people coming are our friends and extensions of their friends. We want this to be a place for the up-and-coming generation, their bands, and their music.”
Making Warhouse Collective – and the Valley in general – a must-stop tour destination can take the necessity out of traveling to nearby major cities to see can’t-miss shows – a notion that is not lost on the group.
“There’s kind of a selfish element, too,” Takach said. “Rather than driving to see these bands, they can just come to us. It’s like we’re fishing with a really big, 4,000 square foot net.”
Rising to the Challenge
As with any new venture, the group has encountered learning experiences throughout the early stages of Warhouse Collective. These challenges vary in range and are typical concerns of any upstart venue
“Not ever owning a business or having any knowledge of it (gives us a challenge),” Wester noted. “In the conversations, it’s ‘Oh, let’s do it,’ but we don’t think that we need insurance, a fire inspector, or any of the logistics.”
“It’s a balance, because we don’t want to be too by the book. We’re kind of fast and loose as a group anyway, but we need insurance for the space,” Tardive added. “The fact that we want to do it ourselves means we have to get the insurance, the business license, and all of that stuff.”
The group has also had to adjust on the fly to technical issues – during one show, the middle band of a five-band set kept blowing a fuse, so the group reinforced the venue’s power supply the following week – as well as scheduling conflicts with artists.
“We’ve had two shows, and two bands have dropped at the last minute,” Tardive said. “The first show, it was literally four hours before the show. Luckily, our buddies who were going to be at the show anyway jumped on.”
Now that the group has a live music space to call its own, keeping it as active and full as possible is a priority for the Collective.
“Since we’re putting our money into this space, we want to host as many shows as possible,” Tardive said. “We’re just trying to stay busy and bring in as many cool bands as we can.”
That won’t be a problem tonight, for starters, when Sing, Bird of Prey, VoirVoir and Handheld come to town. Admission is $5, and doors open at 6 p.m.
“Handheld is super dope. They’re a nice, up-and-coming indie punk band,” Tardive said. “VoirVoir is taking this area by storm. They opened for the Flaming Lips at Musikfest and played SXSW. Sing, Bird of Prey is really good. They just put out a new single. It’s going to be a nice indie rock type of evening.”
Another big show on the horizon at the venue will take place on Sunday, April 10. That’s when Tender Defender, Pass Away, Trophy Lungs and MakeWar will descend on Phillipsburg.
“April 10 is our dream lineup,” Tardive said. “The fact that we have that two months in is insane.”
No matter the lineup, the guys at Warhouse Collective can come away after each show knowing that their labor of love is finally beginning to pay off.
“Knowing that this is here and, at the end of the night, knowing we did this is very rewarding,” Takach said.