First off, I hope everyone reading this had a chance to go to the Volcanic Theatre Pub pre-this date in history. And by that, I mean under Derek Sitter's ownership.
Founded by actors after connecting in the theatre department at Central Oregon Community College, Sitter and his student Don Tompos transformed a vacant garage next to Goodlife Brewing into a Bend entertainment hotspot. The Century Center's little hole-in-a-garage wall became my secret door to an industrial oasis that quite honestly, didn't make me feel like I was in Bend. My short and sweet time there included a drag Halloween Cult of Tuck show hosted by the severely missed and legendary Deb Auchery, the GOAT So-Cal surf punk band, Agent Orange (which Derek let me bring my hi8 camcorder into to shoot video), plus, a '70s themed game show/fundraiser for BendFilm, which had all of the organization's closest friends and family — including my own. The cast of colorful characters, talent and creative collaboration I saw in that space gave me a lot of hope for Bend's art and music scene.
The LOL moment in all of this is that Sitter had never envisioned it becoming such a hot spot for live music. But shortly after opening in 2012, the calendar filled quickly with high demands from promoters, agencies and concerts. He welcomed all with open arms.
"Every community needs a room that is open to bringing diverse artists and events to a community. It's important to have a place where people feel safe. It's crucial to have a room that supports the human experience...of EVERYONE!" stated Sitter. This February marks VTP's 10-year anniversary in Bend, and even though Sitter's ready for a new chapter, things aren't over at 70 SW Century Drive. They're just going to be a little different.
"I sold the business to John Davis of 1988 Entertainment. John is local and understands the Bend market for live music. He also understands the value of keeping it Volcanic. He has been an event promoter in the area for a while, so it was important that it was sold to someone who understood the Bend community, music industry and was independent. Running an independent venue is vital to the music industry. I had no interest in selling to a corporate entity," Sitter said.
Volcanic will also remain all ages, but now with a full bar.
"I was never interested in having hard alcohol in VTP. But I do understand people do enjoy a cocktail at a show. It's a significant change, but not necessarily a bad one." Sitter continued, "Operating Volcanic was a well-oiled machine. I ran Volcanic as my own child. It was part of me. It was an extension of my personality. It was a creation. I did things my way with my standards, integrity, respect, generosity and passion. Trying to figure out what people want is impossible. It's a failed business model for the arts. I believe you MUST have an identity that's organic and not pretentious. Trust your vision and follow your passion. I do know people respond to integrity and identity...and remember...everyone is not for you and you are not for everyone."
"We are very grateful that after 18 years of bringing concerts independently to Bend we finally have our home base," Davis of 1988 Entertainment told the Source Weekly. "We get to continue the great legacy and vision that Derek [Sitter] built; everything about the venue culture is staying the same including the staff and artists we bring."
I then asked:
Source Weekly: What's your relationship with Bend now?
Derek Sitter: Casual sex.
SW: What were some highlights for you? Cherished memories of having VTP?
DS: Aw...I think producing, directing and acting in the theatre performances will always be my most cherished moments. The time you spend rehearsing, designing and performing some of the greatest playwrights inside your own theatre is pretty damn special. Experiencing so many enthusiastic students that eventually became close friends is a very special environment. I'll remember those weekly classes and moments forever as well. They were all very special people and I'm damn lucky to have had that opportunity to share that time with them. I do have to mention that watching your own film screen at your hometown film festival inside your own sold-out theatre will always be a top-10 life experience. It was also very exciting to host smaller local, regional, and national artists inside VTP and later watch them perform on Jimmy Kimmel, The Ellen Show or Les Schwab Amphitheater. Noticing talent and giving them a space to showcase their talent and watching their success outgrow your room was very satisfying.
SW: Is Bend’s music and art “scene” being hurt by the city’s rapid growth?
DS: It's hurting the music and arts scene. Bend is an outdoor, skiing, and beer town. There's nothing wrong with that...it's just not an arts community. Going out and having some drinks and dancing is a chance to go out. Not an opportunity to experience art, music, theatre, film, comedy and all forms of artistic expression. Bend's identity has changed. It's pushing a lot of the artists out because it's no longer affordable and it no longer is looking out for artists. Bend is drunk. But HEY...Nine Inch Nails are in town. Take a loan out and go see them.
SW: What's next? Are you staying in the music realm?
DS: Travel! Back to acting, teaching, theatre, film, writing, directing. It's very important to note that I'm an artist with bipolar disorder. It is absolutely essential that I express myself. At first, Volcanic gave me that opportunity. Hell, the venue itself was an artistic vision. But, being reduced to a talent buyer, music promoter and venue owner is not healthy. Not for me. So, to maintain my mental, physical and emotional health, I must return to creation. Acting, writing, directing film and theatre is where I belong. It is my passion. I MUST EXPRESS MYSELF. If I don't, I get sick. I'll never retire from that. I hope to die on set somewhere.
SW: Do you have any advice for artists trying to get gigs?
DS: Once you've found your voice and identity, then you must market it properly. Give venues and promoters the tools to help promote you. Keep it simple and know you Matter. But, like any business or art...stick to your guns. It's your creation.