Punk venue hit with hard times

Neighboring music spaces Cafe Colonial and The Colony fight to stay afloat

The Colony is one of a kind.

The Colony is one of a kind.

Photo by jeff groves

Check out these upcoming benefit shows: 8 p.m. October 6 at Cafe Colonial (3520 Stockton Boulevard) with Pug Skullz, Dead Is Better and more; and 8 p.m. October 7 at Blue Lamp (1400 Alhambra Boulevard) with Monster Squad, The Abuse and Remnants.

By July of this year, Matthew Marrujo had all but conceded that he would have to shut down Cafe Colonial and The Colony, the two Stockton Boulevard all-ages venues he owns and operates.

A confluence of financial blows had drained his bank account. He could not envision a path to survival for the venues, which have been hubs for the city’s punk scene for the past four years.

This was right before Naked Lounge, Starlite Lounge and The Red Museum all announced their closures, so the usual “The scene is dying!” panic was already making the rounds. (The Red Museum has since reopened after getting up to code.) By the time news of Cafe Colonial’s potential shutdown rippled through the city, several local promoters came to Marrujo to better understand the issue and to contemplate a plan.

“We sat down and we came to the conclusion that we needed to do something,” said Marrujo, who quit his job last year to dedicate himself full time to the venues. “I know it sucks to say, but it just comes down to money. I’ve always had a problem asking for help, but this place has grown beyond just myself. It’s kind of bigger than I ever imagined it would be.”

The troubles started in earnest after Marrujo was hit with a fine from the California Labor Commissioner related to the use of volunteers in staffing the Cafe, which has the feel of a neighborhood diner crossed with a punk collective. Within one month of establishing a payroll, the writing was on the wall, Marrujo said. That same month, a PA speaker blew out.

There isn’t a ton of money to be made hosting shows for up-and-coming bands with limited name recognition, but Cafe Colonial and The Colony regularly provide that crucial service.

“There are only a few all-ages venues left in Sacramento, and Matt opens his doors to everyone,” said Sean Hills, who books shows under Punch and Pie Productions and plays in Bastards of Young. “Without venues like Cafe Colonial, there wouldn’t be a place for a lot of young people to play music, and the local music scene can’t survive without young people having that kind of an incubator.”

A half-dozen already-planned shows have been converted to benefits. The recent reunion show for Pounded Clown fully funded the renewal of the business’s permits, and the two-day Bat Guano Fest earlier this month served as a fundraiser. Three more are planned for October 6, 7 and 21.

A sustainable plan is the next step, and that will likely involve more benefit shows, possibly on the first Friday of every month, according to Marrujo. The business is also launching a Patreon account that will enable fans to support the venue in exchange for tickets, gift certificates and merch.

“The Cafe and The Colony have always been about the people,” said Marrujo. “I could care less about the money, but that’s what keeps it open.”