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Love and Rockitz

Memories of the downtown venue will come alive at a 25th anniversary celebration.

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Funny thing happened around December in the social-media world of Facebook. People older than 40 started realizing it was a happening place, especially if they were stuck at home most nights. They began joining in droves and nostalgic groups celebrating former scenes or venues sprouted like wild spores.

If you were a music fan in Richmond during the '80s, you probably remember Rockitz, on the corner of Laurel and Broad. The brainchild of Bill Kitchen, a University of Richmond grad, the 320-person venue got off the ground in 1983 thanks in part to generous community support during renovations. Soon it was packed for such wide-ranging acts as The Red Hot Chili Peppers, HA¬sker DA¬ and The Replacements, Willie Dixon and the recently departed Koko Taylor.

Kitchen left Rockitz after its mid-'80s years to work for Cellar Door Productions, the concert promoter in Washington, D.C., before running The Ritz in New York City and producing both inaugural events for Bill Clinton. He recalls that, pre-Rockitz, there was an urgent need for a larger alternative club and dance floor in Richmond.

“The same people showed up at all the concerts — they just loved music,” Kitchen says. “I've never seen that anywhere else.”
While the original Rockitz ended in 1987 when its managing partners moved on, the name has since become associated with the Floating Folk Festival, a musical co-op of sorts that books shows and supports a variety of touring Central Virginia musicians. “We are dedicated to providing a stage for many types of bands, and getting them publicity in general,” lead Floating Folk organizer Brooke Saunders says.

Now there's a Rockitz-reunion Facebook site and a Pandora online radio station dedicated to the '80s music of Rockitz. On Aug. 15, a 25th-anniversary party is planned at the Capital Ale House Downtown. The night will feature live music by The Bopcats, Bruce Olsen and the Offenders, Non Dairy Screamer and a Rockitz All-Star band. Kitchen, who serves as host of the party with former partner, David Hudert, has been hearing from people who met and married at the club, or who are planning to travel from other states for the event.

Jack Acree was a club manager and also worked as a DJ under the name Jack Danger. “Every night was a challenge,” says Acree, who will spin at the reunion. “There was always friction with the ABC board and the tax department — it was always, ‘How are we gonna make it tonight?'”
Most times they needed all the door ticket sales to pay the performer. That is, unless that performer happened to be legend Bo Diddley, who demanded payment up front after spending the day shopping Richmond pawnshops.

Kitchen expressed bewilderment that today's clubs still have the same ol' problems, from the costly admissions tax to the required food-sales percentage.

“The obstacles that seemingly still exist now were formidable,” Kitchen says. “An admissions tax on bringing affordable culture to the city? … I can't think of anything that makes less sense. The liquor laws, the food percentage, I've not seen them in any stretch to that degree in other markets.”

The admissions tax rate is 7 percent of the amount of total admissions, including the value of complimentary admissions. As an example of the kind of repercussions caused by this extra cost, Kitchen says that at the time Cellar Door, one of the biggest promoters in the country, simply ignored Richmond because it wasn't worth the trouble.

“Rockitz was my dream and people said I was crazy to do it,” Kitchen says. “But it never would've happened without the help of hundreds of people.” S

The 25th Anniversary of Rockitz will be held at The Capital Ale House Downtown Music Hall Saturday, Aug. 15, from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. Tickets are $20. 780-ALES

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