The kelsey theater
Tucked in about 15 minutes north of downtown West Palm Beach is one of south Florida’s coolest and most unique venues, the Kelsey Theater. Located in the town of Lake Park, the Kelsey Theater and its older sibling the Brewhouse is the brainchild of Palm Beach’s AJ Brockman. SFL Music had the opportunity to chat with AJ about the Kelsey Theater, the Brewhouse and their very cool mural project.
SFL Music: Tell me about Kelsey.
AJ- Kelsey has a long history In the late 90’s early 2000’s it was the Kelsey club, when the buzz around this was the alternative rock Mecca, huge bands coming through Alien Ant Farm, Papa Roach, Janes Addiction, bands that were coming through on the radio tours so this was like the prime venue then and really the only venue in doors other than coral sky that they could put these guys, so if they were gonna do buzz bake sale they were playing here so that was huge and unfortunately back then the city got involved and they really didn’t like what was going on here, and then a lot of under aged drinking and one thing lead to another the buzz went away so it became more of a independent movie theater and so it became Mozart’s theatre sometime mid 2000’s. So we took over after that, I mean I came here for shows when it was the Kelsey Club and knew that vibe and we always wanted to honor that and when we took over we wanted to make it an all arts performing venue movies, music, live entertainment, stage shows, you name it and we’ve been open three years now so that was October of 2015 that we took over owner ship and took over and took over basically the whole plaza as well cause that’s how we came into Kelsey I didn’t really come in here knowing that I wanted to open a venue and revitalize Kelsey Club and what was going on here but we had so much success with Brew House next door and the landlord at the time didn’t want to be a landlord anymore and saw the growth and vision that we had offered to hold papers on the hole plaza so that’s how that all came about and Sue Ellen the previous owner, her son was the one who ran The Kelsey Club, she’s a very big patron of the arts and really believed in our vision and I thought I knew what I could do here at least and we’ve been making it work its been good and the more shows we do the more we find our grove and our nitch, people really like the freaky shit is what I said, we do really well with the freak shows and the burlesque and the more metal, I mean we’ve become more of a metal venue, which when we started out I really didn’t plan on that but we’ve been revitalizing that seen, we’ve had some big metal bands and so its really come into its own in the last few years.
SFL Music- Is there a partnership with the city?
AJ- So we are under CRA, community redevelopment area, that basically spans from 10th street park avenue which is down by the fire station from where you came in all the way to 6th street which is right here where we are, so it’s about four or five blocks. The city has been extremely helpful. Like when we first started they fast tracked all of our building permits, they are very easy to work with when it comes to doing special events and permitting and stuff like that and again there’s a hike pyrimidine shift, the city council that was involved when Sue Ellen had the Kelsey Club there were older mind set, they wanted it to be a sleepy little town like a retirement time and now the mind set is millennia’s and art and up and coming seen. Lake Park is the only under developed part left, like you can’t find affordable housing in northern palm beach county ya know unless you go to Stuart or north we really are the only area left, there is some stigma Lake Park is the ghetto or that it isn’t the nicest area but it’s not, we have been here for 3 years and have never had a car broken into, so we are drawing the right kind of people and its set to be kinda a cultural revitalization.
SFL Music: The murals on the back of the building are incredible.
AJ- So when we took over it actually became the property owners, ive always wanted to do a mural project and even when I first started Brew House in 2014 when we took over this place ive always had that vision of turning that entire back wall into something cool and the city they didn’t even have a mural ordinance like it was a hundred percent outlawed and they didn’t really know what that untilled and what the process was so when we took over in 2014 at Brew House originally I started the process way back then and it took 2 years to lobby the city and build a complete code from scratch that determines what mural came be done and how big it can be and how long it came be up, we worked with the town hand and hand for 2 years so when we took over I was originally doing it with Sue Ellens permission as the building owner but then we became the building owner so it worked out so we signed off on all the paperwork we did the first mural about right when we took over that was October 2015 and that’s the original what you see behind here, its piano keys and King Kong and monkey a bunch of cool stuff, so that’s the original its been there for 3 years now and then every four months we redo a part of it so the section behind Brew House we just redid and have redone it a total of four times now, the first part never changes cause it’s the original, the rest of the mural is always updated.
SFL Music: Is that due to the statues of the city they want keep it moving?
AJ- a little bit of both. The statue says we can reapply, again it comes down to tax dollars we can reapply for the permit ad keep it up every year up to 5 years. So then after 5 years then it has to be repainted. But we do it as well because it keeps things fresh. So it always gives you something to come and see, every few months you see a new mural. It helps build the buzz and it helps support the local artists, which is another real reason why we started the project, to actually pay artists to do the mural work cause a lot of muralists they get the wall for free but then they do the work for exposure and I’ve been an artist all my life and I always hated it when someone would ask me to work for free or do it for exposure.
SFL Music: Exposure doesn’t pay the bills
AJ- Exactly, our mission was to pay them what they deserve and re-prioritize all living working artists, they make there living from there art, they aren’t just weekend worriers and all local and all in palm beach county. And we got our official nonprofit Kelsey cares in July of last year so its been just over a year. That helps fund all sorts of projects, the mural project is the biggest piece of that. We underwrite, we had a play here Maple Wood Playhouse, we underwrote a lot of their rehearsal dates so that they could do the play and to help not have a financial barrier to the artists who want to perform here. It’s been a synergistic relationship.
SFL Music: How do you go about picking who is going to do the mural?
AJ- Craig is our art director and he has been in the south Florida art scene for like 30 years. We became really close friends and so me and him sit down every 3 or 4 months and look over the local Instagram posts, who’s making a name for themselves and then reach out to them. We do our research and some people submit to us and some people aren’t the right fit and we decline politely and some people we find that are amazing and just need to have their art showcased.
SFL Music: You have a nice eclectic group of shows here. Tell me how you go about booking.
AJ- Again when I started this I had no idea about the music industry I got ate up and spit out basically the first 2 shows we did were extreme financial loses when that happen you learn really quick. Really the first year we were just kind of getting our shit together figuring out how to do a successful show, what kind of audio equipment we needed and we focused a lot on the more local bands but really it’s hard because unless they are opening for a national its hard to get somebody to even to pay a five dollar cover to hear a local band when they get in for free at the bar next weekend, so we try to now prioritize our locals as openers, not only does that help us from a more ticket sales stand point it also helps local musicians get more expositor and some have made some great relationships with national agents just by playing a show with us, so that’s again more a way to tie in the local arts and our mission here but really its been trial and error. We cased a big net of what we wanted to do tribute bands, like I said full on plays, movies, and then really after that picked what was working and what was not working and then tailored our focus from there so again the metal does really well. Within the last year I’ve become the booking manager now. This industry is extremely relationship based so it’s taken me 3 years to develop those relationships and now just now those are starting to come to fruition. So, its defiantly a long process and if anybody is looking to get into the music industry its probably one of the hardest things you can possibly do but the fact that we have even been open for 3 years says a lot I think. There’s a lot of venues that have ten times the budget that we have that only last a few months, so I think that says a lot and we are. Summers are hard, but our calendar is almost completely full from November on. So again we try to piggy back on a lot of the snow birds and having that, but really the most marketable thing for me is being an indoor venue I mean in south Florida ya know we are not an amphitheater, we are not subjected to the elements and it really is the room can also be extremely intimate so we can host a lot of different artists it just depends on who’s routing and what the deal is on that. I guess if there is any draw backs and the only bummer is that with Florida there is hard to rout a lot of the bigger bands because they don’t want to come all the way down.
SFL Music: What’s the room size?
AJ- our fire code compactly is 485 and we are in the process, when they did that calculation when there was movie theatre seats in here so when we took everything out, now the fire marshal said you know you may be able to get your compactly rate raised, we are in the process of submitting paperwork to do that so as of right now It is 485 sale able for standing room only. For our more intimate shows we can do about 270 as a seated, I call it banquet style basically seated rows with dedicated seats and then typically the first 3 rows are VIP or we sell a VIP section. Then really as far as even we have toyed around with starting some dinner theatre where we would have seats and tables and a catered event and that would be about 130 people. So we have a bunch of different layouts and floor plans depending on the event and what it calls for. And having the back ally is huge too because we are in the process this year of doing even more festival style shows where we can have it wide open and rent a stage and have them in the ally, its already fenced off and just go to town. Always more room for growth.
SFL Music: What would you say has been your biggest surprise?
AJ- there are so many we could be here all day. But I think my biggest surprise is how involved it all is. Like when I got started I thought and really aside management like with Brew House being in the restaurant industry and bars that’s easy I have a really great team, we manage our staff, we have security, we have a bar manager, all that runs really smooth. And no surprised there even in a larger venue. The fact that you just can’t just call up your favorite band and book them was not really the world that I was used to so for me what the biggest shock and what I spend the most time doing now is trying to build relationships and just trying to put together shows. It’s a lot harder than it sounds.
SFL Music: Whats that one band?
AJ- if I could do it, I don’t even know if they are touring anymore, The Strokes, I would love that, that would be my dream, if we ever hit it big that would be a fly date for sure.
SFL Music: Tell me about brew house, the one thing that stands out to me is the art work on the inside.
AJ- again my background is professional artist, I’ve been a digital artist all my life so I started in commercial graphic design, I mean the commercial world doing websites but I really fell in love with using a computer to create art so my background is digital art, part of that was always wanting to have my own gallery, it’s really hard to pay bills on art alone so we came up with this concept of having kinda a co-op, a gallery co-op, where you split your over head between many different artists and they each have a spot on the wall, and then we took that a step further and said alright well what is the one thing that artists need the most or what equated to sales the most and the answer to that was exposure. So how do we get you the most exposure and still have a gallery and one thing led to another and we said events, so we started doing events, we started bringing in music over there, we expanded our craft beer menu, in the beginning we had one or two taps and a few bottles and cans. And that was right at the beginning of the craft beer movement we were right ahead of that wave a little bit when there were only a few breweries down here at the time now they are at every corner. So that was good timing for us and within the first year we expanded and broke into the unit that was next to us which was the convent store and we call that the cave now. And that’s where all the vantage games are, and our full draft system. So we went and put in a 42 tab craft beer system.
SFL Music: Wow, that’s great!
AJ: One thing led to another, the more events we have the more music the more the art would sell an we have a different model. So at Brew House the artist pay a low monthly fee to be on the wall because the traditional art gallery model is commission based where it doesn’t cost anything to be in a gallery but the gallery owner can take up to 50 percent of your sales, by the time you pay for your materials and your time you don’t make any money and I didn’t want to do that and we took our model and everybody says that’s weird why do you have to pay to be on the wall but really its about paying for the exposure and the artists that are really in this doing it for a living and put in the work to market themselves they make way over and above their monthly rent so it works out and again its kinda a double edge sward from the public prospective where “why would I pay to be in the art gallery” but it has really proven to be the most successful for everybody.