To understand exactly where Kuppajoe stands in Fresno’s music scene, you can start with the numbers.
For 18 years, the all-ages nightclub on Shields Avenue has hosted live music every Friday night (and some Saturdays, too), says Jesse Kennedy, the venue’s program director. He estimates Kuppajoe has done close to 1,000 shows, not counting the venue’s final celebration, 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 20, with Lakes (from San Luis Obispo), The Soma Holidays (a reunion set), The Sleepover Disaster, Brother Luke and the Comrades and Swimming In Paint.
“We decided to plan a final celebration,” Kennedy says.
Kuppajoe invited some of the bands and artists that have been working with the venue since it opened.
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“I went to my first show there, back in ’97 or ’98,” says Luke Freeman, who sings and plays guitar as Brother Luke.
“I also played my first real show there,” he says.
He also played with several different bands, including A Pageants End. He remembers opening for Winter Wardrobe on its CD release show. The place was packed and after the show everyone went to In-n-Out Burger.
It’s his favorite memory of the club.
“It sounds cheesy, but it was a simpler time,” he says. “I am not sure what it means that the club is closing but Kuppajoe will always hold a special place in my heart.”
And he is not alone. Following the venues’ announcement last month, fans, bands and friends immediately took to social media, sharing their favorite Kuppajoe memories.
It should be a sentimental final show, Kennedy says: “Kuppajoe has changed many lives by giving many a place to explore/enjoy/express music in a safe place.”
That was a biggie with parents, who would often drop their kids off. They knew they “could be back to pick their kids up at 11 p.m. with their kids all in one piece,” he says.
The venue operated under the nonprofit Goorabian Family Life Center, which did ministry-based outreach in the community.
There were stretches during its 18 years when Kuppajoe was the only all-ages venue in town. Kennedy hopes the legacy of the venue will inspire others to start up similar all-ages venues, and to run them in the same caring, intentional and genuine way. It’s what Kuppajoe always strived for.
But the closure doesn’t leave underage music fans completely out of luck. The Chinatown Youth Center and C.A.F.E. Infoshop both host all-ages DIY shows in downtown Fresno. Strummer’s nightclub in the Tower opens the majority of its show to all ages.
Kennedy urges fans to support those venues: “They are a dying breed.”