A dirge for the Starlite

When it came out that Starlite Lounge, Sacramento’s best venue for underground metal, had about one week of remaining life, many scalded themselves fumbling with their hot takes. Media lumped the closure with Naked Lounge’s plan to phase out live music and prognosticated the end of the Sacramento scene. Some less-tactful community members ruminated on the venue’s bathrooms and staircase as reasons for its demise.

There are hints of half-truth in those sentiments. Starlite wasn’t glamorous. Sometimes the building’s wiring would infuse a band’s quiet bits with hints of some Top 40 radio station’s transmissions. And, yes, the bathrooms might not have been for the squeamish. But to think of such things now is a vicious insult to those of us who were there week in, week out, engaging with a flawed but somehow perfect venue that clearly held some elusive, deeper significance.

A small batch of underground metal junkies made a church of this place, myself included. For us, this is the death of a loved one.

Starlite’s status as such is primarily because the booker of nearly three years, Chris Lemos, was allowed to do what he wanted. And, man, what Lemos wanted was glorious. Were I to make a list of every great band that he busted his ass to bring to Sac, every local act that sharpened its tone on that stage, it would take up this entire column. The man is among the few people willing to put his livelihood on the line for the Sacramento scene, and Starlite gave him and the artists the space to shine, to grow, to reach out to the rest of us and share something pure and vital. Now, that space no longer exists.

“It’s one less room in the city that’s open to weird shit,” Lemos says.

But if it was so important, then why did it close? The easy answer is money, he says.

“It’s hard to sustain a music venue in Sacramento without selling your soul to the deejays,” he says.

So what happens now? For Lemos, it looks like finding new venues for his upcoming shows that Starlite can no longer host, and then continuing to book fresh bills at different venues. He says that he’s already had some folks reach out about new opportunities.

For the building itself, it’s harder to say. Today’s Sacramento is unrecognizable to the Sacramento of four years ago, when TownHouse Lounge closed and morphed into Starlite. That change re-created a space that put art and community above money—with our inordinately expensive, real-estate hungry “world-class” status, it’s hard to imagine such a revival happening again.

“I’m really hoping it doesn’t turn into a non-music-venue bar, or gutted and turned into condos,” Lemos says.

And for the scene of which Starlite was only a small but beautifully important part?

The Sacramento scene is not hurting and not dying,” he says. “It’s thriving. There haven’t been this many quality shows in Sacramento in a long time.

“It’s not the end. It’s a fucking speed bump.”