New general managers Hallie Zillman and Brota Oroian don't mince words when it comes to talking about what was wrong with the Annex.
"Basically, it was in a shambles," Zillman says of the Regent Street nightclub. "It didn't really have a good booking policy. A lot of bands didn't want to play here because the people booking had left a bad taste in their mouths."
In a move to set things right, longtime Annex and Regent Street Retreat employees Zillman and Oroian decided to tap respected local rocker Darwin Sampson (Helliphant, Way Off the Horse) as "entertainment coordinator."
He'll be responsible for booking bands, working with local promoters and, perhaps most important, reestablishing good relations with musicians. Indeed, Sampson is adamant about making the Annex the kind of club that local bands see as supportive of Madison music.
"My booking strategy is, first off, to answer phone calls and answer e-mails," he says. "That was one of the big raps against this place: The bookers didn't communicate with bands very well. And I really want people to feel that they can come to me and get an equal chance."
Although the club has undergone recent remodeling (including the removal of its old back bar), money is tight at the Annex, the new general managers say. While they would love to support a full slate of bands every week, Zillman and Oroian caution that the club really can't afford to do a lot of in-house promotions just yet.
Still, Sampson has managed to fill out what had been a barren July calendar by booking things on his own and turning to independent promoters like True Endeavors, Frank Productions and Tom Klein of the Journey Music for many of the touring acts. (Shows already scheduled include the Spy in the MEs, July 6; We the Living, July 12; the Go, Aug. 2; and Peter Himmelman, Aug. 5.)
While the Annex has been typed as a metal bar in the past, Sampson, Zillman and Oroian all say that they won't concentrate on any one type of music or crowd.
"We're really trying to have high-quality entertainment here," says Sampson. "We're not just going to be filling dates. I like all different kinds of music, and we want to keep things very, very diverse here."
The trio doesn't have forever to turn the Annex around. Zillman says bar owner Bruce Gerhartz has been good about letting the new management team run with their fresh ideas. On the other hand, she admits that he's expecting results from the reshuffling.
"He wants it to sink or swim," she adds. "By the time football season is over, we should know if what we're doing is working and what we need to change."
In other club news, an investor group has completed its purchase of the Majestic Theater from the Schiavo family. In May, new proprietors Matt Gerding and Scott Leslie secured a liquor license for the former Club Majestic. They plan to run the 100-year-old theater as a 600-seat live-music venue, with the opening scheduled for the fall.