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THE BELMONT GROWS UP
When Cursive came to town last summer, the popular Omaha indie act didn't play at a club in the Tower District. The sold-out venue was Big Game Studios on Belmont Avenue, a small rock club that had regularly been bringing bigger acts and pairing them with local bands, thanks largely to the work of promoter James Estrada.
On any given weeknight, it wasn't uncommon to see the parking lot behind Big Game packed with scores teenagers waiting for the next band to play. Hardcore, indie, and punk bands filled most of the Belmont club's bills, and occasionally sheepish, older rock fans could be seen retreating to neighboring Richard's Steakhouse for drinks served by the charismatic bartender, Dick.
A few months ago Bob Pierce, owner of Richard's, along with two investment partners purchased the next door venue with plans to renovate both the club's physical identity and the entertainment that it brings to Fresno. Famous sat down with owners Pierce, Doug Livesay, and Fred Martinez over a drink at Richard's to discuss the changes occurring at the popular Belmont Avenue club.
Partner Doug Livesay is a local insurance broker (Livesay Insurance) and musician who plays bass with his son Trey Tosh, the noted 14-year old blues guitar prodigy. They'll be playing at The Belmont this Friday night with New Orleans harmonicist Rockin' Jake in a benefit for animal welfare in Louisiana post-Hurricane Katrina.
Pierce's second partner is none other than Fred Martinez, the prior owner of Club Fred, who's enthusiasm for Fresno entertainment shows in his stories, like the time he took Timothy Leary out clubbing after a performance at Club Fred. Martinez wants to keep catering to the young crowd that made the venue successful as Big Game, while expanding its appeal to older audiences by bringing in genres like blues and jazz. "It has to keep moving," says Martinez. "Punk one night, blues the next."
Martinez says he wants to make The Belmont "the new Tokyo Garden," indicating his desire to emulate the downtown Japanese restaurant and venue popular with local indie bands.
Part of becoming more band friendly includes working with local promoters. Pierce wants to continue working with James Estrada and the smaller bookers he worked with, "like Joe G. and Eddie Numbskull," and Martinez plans to set up a hotline and a website so that artists and promoters can contact the Belmont directly to set up shows.
Physical changes, some of which are already underway, include pool tables near the entrance, removal of walls and booths inside the club, a lounge to the right of the stage, a greatly improved sound system, and an outdoor patio. Perhaps the biggest change planned is the addition of a bar with aims of turning The Belmont into the second all-ages rock venue that serves alcohol in Fresno. The Tower District's Starline is currently the only such venue.
Certainly a part of enticing an older crowd is alcohol, but the partners describe their efforts to obtain a liquor license as "a battle". The Fresno Police Department has told The Belmont that they'd prefer not to approve liquor and dance licenses to a venue that puts on all-ages shows in a "high crime area". Famous has attended several shows at the club and can attest that the only thing frightening about the crowd is how old it makes us feel. There's already a bar next door and convenience stores that sell alcohol within walking distance of the club, but it's understandable that a more popular nightspot would require more policework.
Still, Pierce plans on having enough of the renovations done to have the club in full swing by the the 1st of the year, liquor license or not. Currently The Belmont is offering a wrist-band to show-goers over 21, which will allow them admittance back into the club after thirsty treks to Richard's.
If everything goes according to plan, and the City sees a potential boon to its community rather than a threat, The Belmont could be one of the nicest places to see a show in Fresno. Or if it's just a facelift, a new name, and wider range of music, it'll still be worth the short walk for one of Dick's signature margaritas.