While he’s been a part of the inner workings of Mesa Theater for years, Rick Christensen still can be caught off guard by how other people see the venue.
For some, it was the place where they saw a favorite band. For others, it was where they were introduced to the “Star Wars” saga during the spot’s movie theater days, said Christensen, general manager and talent buyer for Mesa Theater, 538 Main St.
With COVID-19 introducing another layer to Mesa Theater’s history — because of the pandemic it temporarily closed in March, reopened months later in a limited capacity, and temporarily closed again in October — Christensen has been surprised at the support Mesa Theater has received.
“There are people who don’t get an opportunity to frequent the place who have reached out,” he said.
There’s one man, a fan of the local band Zolopht, who comes by to have a beer or two at the theater’s bar, which is open with limited hours four nights a week.
“He’s not a heavy drinker by any means” and getting through that second beer can be a struggle, Christensen said.
But for that customer, and others who have dropped by the bar or purchased one of Mesa Theater’s limited issue T-shirts, it’s a way of showing support. Their actions say, “this place matters,” Christensen said.
Beginning at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 8, another way of helping Mesa Theater will launch with Mesa Aid Live, a free virtual concert spearheaded by the local band Ricky Bobby & The Hellcat Fury.
Ricky Bobby will perform and host the live feed and introduce prerecorded material from other bands.
Those bands include locals Zolopht, Peach Street Revival, El Camino Burnout and Sin7ul along with Royal Bliss from Salt Lake City, In The Whale from the Front Range and others.
“A lot of these bands have a lot of new content,” Christensen said. “This crazy thing happened in 2020 where people had a lot of time.”
Along with that music, band members will talk about what Mesa Theater means to them with stories and memories. The live stream will have some surprises as well, Christensen said.
The idea behind Mesa Aid Live is to offer great music while also raising about $9,000 in donations to cover a month of Mesa Theater’s fixed expenses — mortgage, insurance, utilities — and to help get it closer to the day when it can reopen, said Robert Woltjer, who is known as Bobby Hodown as part of the band Ricky Bobby.
Along with being part of a band that plays at Mesa Theater, Woltjer is the venue’s sound engineer with a firsthand view of its struggles as well as successes.
“I kind of feel like it’s the heart of downtown,” Woltjer said.
When Mesa Theater is busy, all of downtown is busy, he said.
It adds to the music and culture of the Grand Valley as the biggest spot for alternative, non-mainstream bands to play and that includes both local and national bands, he said.
But “right now, there’s no exact date when we can open up again and have live music,” Woltjer said. “I just thought that (Mesa Theater) could probably use this.”
Christensen is hopeful Mesa Theater, which is five-star certified, will be able to open in some capacity in February, but that’s purely dependent on the COVID-19 activity levels.
“I’m honestly booking stuff that’s really exciting for August, but I’m still crossing my fingers that we’ll get to do it,” he said.
In March, when Mesa Theater first had to close because of the pandemic, it was in the midst of one of its strongest quarters ever financially, he said.
It had a nest egg for improvements and was in a good financial position, he said.
But the pandemic has worn on and hasn’t allowed the venue to operate anywhere near full capacity during the few months it was open, and then had close again and lay off its staff, he said.
Fortunately, there is “light at the end of the tunnel” in the form of possibly getting a federal grant from the $15 billion Save Our Stages Act, but those funds won’t come until late spring at the earliest, he said.
In the meantime, any community support will at least make it easier to talk with the mortgage company and not fall behind on bills, Christensen said.
Donations of any amount will help, he said, noting that people often apologize for giving $10.
“Ten dollars is $10 we didn’t have. We appreciate every dollar,” he said. “I don’t think the amount of the contribution shows how much you love the place. It shows you’re there and thinking of the place,” Christensen said.
Along with providing a little financial cushion for Mesa Theater, Woltjer is hopeful Mesa Aid Live will remind people that the venue is still trying and still around, he said.
“We’re too stubborn to bail,” Christensen said.