The Knitting Factory
Reno, NV 89501
In 1987 in Brooklyn, N.Y., long, discordant saxophone cries emitted from a once dilapidated and thoroughly reappropriated Avon Products store on Houston Street: The Knitting Factory.
Founders Michael Dorf and Louis Spitzer originally had intended the 300-capacity venue as a café and an arts showcase. They initially booked jazz concerts on Thursday nights, but, since New York’s established jazz venues favored classic forms, eventually the out-there jazz and the avant-garde took over the whole of the Knitting Factory’s schedule. It became a place where you could hear the new, the unhinged and the rabid forms of noise and performance art. It harbored such enemies of traditional musical states as free-jazz pianist Cecil Taylor, who considered the piano keys as 88 tuned drums.
This birthplace of new sound is appearing in Reno as the Knitting Factory Concert House at 211 N. Virginia St. While the Knitting Factory has long since expanded beyond its Brooklyn history, including to houses in Boise, Idaho, and Spokane, Wash., as well as a recently-closed venue in Los Angeles, it still acts as a home for new music.
“I don’t think we’re the same as we used to be, with just avant-garde,” says Knitting Factory president Morgan Margolis. “We’re trying to achieve what’s new in music, but we’re also not against other music.”
Alice in Chains is one of the bigger names in the Knitting Factory’s initial schedule—they perform on Feb. 10—but the venue will also stage the French pop of Phoenix on Jan. 27, and to a likely smaller audience.
“The scene has morphed from what it was from back in the ’80s,” says Margolis. “I think also the community changes. Before the internet, you didn’t know half these bands. We’ve got Phoenix coming through, and I don’t even know how it’s going to do. Who knows this French band?”
“We looked at the Reno market, and we feel like it’s very under-served as far as the cutting edge kind of bands that come in,” says Dean Hanson, general manager of the new venue. “We feel like the bands that roll through here seem to be more centered toward that casino demographic. … That doesn’t mean Alice in Chains and AFI and shows like that aren’t important. But again we’re going to see some things like the Flobots and Paolo Nutini—some stuff that maybe doesn’t hit here very often or at all, and we’re going to give them the venue to play.”
The Reno location, according to Hanson, is intended for an audience of about 1,200. Regardless of its size, Hanson says he intends to use the venue to showcase the local scene and to provide a space where its audience can grow.
“In the bars, I think most of the local bands, for the most part, they get 40 or 50 people in there and they’re happy,” he says. “Boise was like that three or four years ago, and now we’re at the point where we get 1,000 people in for the local bands.”
Hanson says he wishes to do the same here.
“There’s some great talent in Reno. I’m just not sure they’ve had the opportunity we’re about to offer,” he says. “That’s one of the foundations the Knitting Factory is built on, is helping the creative scene, helping to boost the arts.”
Some local band members have grumbled because the Knitting Factory doesn’t pay local bands, but others see it as an opportunity for exposure and potential merchandise sales. Locals Sol Jibe, Drinking with Clowns and Jelly Bread, among others, will perform at the Knitting Factory on Jan. 21.
“I think that Reno has been sorely missing a first-rate venue of this size for a long time,” says Hanson. “It’s been one extreme or the other. Either you’re playing the bar scene or you’re getting to that 2,000-plus mark, there’s nothing in that 1,000-capacity range that’s a quality venue. We bring it.”