Visalia music venue closes after 15 years. But not before a last round of shows

Ty Segall lighing up Cellar Door in Visalia, CA. The indie guitarist is one of many who passed through the venue over the years. The venue could reopen as soon as Nov. 21, 2018.
Ty Segall lighing up Cellar Door in Visalia, CA. The indie guitarist is one of many who passed through the venue over the years. The venue could reopen as soon as Nov. 21, 2018. Sound N Vision

Matt Vitale can’t count how many times his band Indosurf has played at Visalia’s Cellar Door — but it’s big number.

The reggae-rock band has played the downtown music venue fairly consistently over the past dozen or so years. Its first (and only) full-length album release was at Cellar Door. The band brought in a string quartet from the Tulare County Symphony and played the whole album front to back.

On Friday, the band plays a final show at Cellar Door.

The nightclub is closing Aug. 19 with a series of weekend gatherings.

“It’s devastating,” Vitale says.

Over its run, the Cellar Door has served as the hub for live music in the South Valley. It was a place that was often packed, but never claustrophobic. It had good acoustics and an audience that appreciated the live music experience. As such, it earned a reputation for bringing in a diverse range of national touring acts; those bands topping through on the way to South-by-South West or Coachella or the like.

Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan played a rare solo show at Cellar Door in 2009. Cold War Kids played there in 2013, before they were headlining act.

Ditto for Foster the People and Phantogram (both of which headlined this year’s Grizzly Fest).

And Frank Black, Pinback, Diarrhea Planet and Bon Iver.

Vitale remembers seeing Vampire Weekend at the venue before the band really hit it big.

“It was at max capacity in there and it was amazing,” Vitale says

For the local bands, those shows were an inspiration. There was a certain cache that came with landing a gig at the Cellar Door, Vitale says. It’s the reason his band played there so often.

“Nobody wanted to miss those shows,” he says.

Much of the venue’s reputation came thanks to Aaron Gomes, who was the official talent buyer and booked shows in collaboration with the Sound N Vision Foundation.

Gomes was already a known quantity in the Visalia music scene when owners Dan and Denise Littleton took over the Cellar Door in 2006. He’d been booking all-ages shows at Howie and Son’s Pizza.

“At that time there really weren’t any downtown venues that were booking national touring artists and a variety of region bands,” Gomes says. “The prospects of building a downtown live music culture was exciting.”

His first show was the Japanese songstress Miho Hatori (of Chibo Matto fame). Her performance set the tone for the future of the venue.

“People were mesmerized,” Gomes says.

The announcement of the closure forced the cancellation of several shows, something Gomes hasn’t done in 15 years. He’s also taking the next month to regroup and reassess the goals of Sound N Vision Foundation, though the organization’s annual Tastemakers Festival is happening Oct. 6 at the Old Lumberyard (300 E. Oak Ave in Visalia).

But he will start looking for another venue soon, he says, and there is a possibility that the Cellar Door could be bought and reopened.

And there are other venues that have popped up in the area over the past couple of years, Vitale says. BarrelHouse Brewing has a stage and has been hosting live music. Rocky Hill Brewing Company in Exeter has recently started hosting bands and is a great venue, he says.

“It’s a question of who’s going to pick up that mantel.”

Joshua Tehee: 559-441-6479, @joshuatehee

Cellar Door

Final shows + gathering party

  • Indosurf, For the Record, 8 p.m. Friday. $5
  • Pete Ortega and the Real Deal, 7 p.m. Saturday. $20
  • Gatherning Party. 5-8 p.m. Sunday. Free.

All show at Cellar Door, 101 W. Main St., Visalia. 559-636-9463, www.snvfoundation.org

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