The Palms Playhouse returns
After months of uncertainty, the longtime Winters venue will reopen with a fresh perspective
After 14 years of shows in downtown Winters, the Palms Playhouse went conspicuously dark last April, prompting rampant speculation about the music venue’s future among its cultlike following.
Rumors had been swirling for months after word trickled out that the building’s owner was talking to potential buyers. That didn’t necessarily mean the end of the Palms, but it kicked plenty of uncertainty into the air. Longtime owner Dave Fleming pumped the brakes on booking and went into a holding pattern, scattering just a few shows across a couple of months.
The sale ultimately didn’t go through, but the Palms went on hiatus nonetheless. The silence resulted in a whole lot of small-town chatter, especially after word surfaced of some young locals making a push to buy the place.
On November 21, a half-year’s worth of questions were answered in the form of an open letter from the otherwise-silent Fleming, who had uprooted to Nevada months earlier and negotiated the sale of the Palms with locals Andrew Fridae and Nora Cary. Fleming didn’t reply to an interview request.
“I expect Andrew and Nora to continue with many of the musical elements that has made The Palms what it is,” he said in the letter, which can be found on the Palms website and Facebook page. “And I also expect them to put their own spin on what they want to produce.”
Fleming’s note does a tidy job of summing up how Cary and Fridae plan to proceed into their first venture as business owners when they reopen the Palms on Friday, January 6, with a performance by I See Hawks in LA.
“We want to invigorate and expand the listener base by finding younger bands in the same genres,” said Fridae, 26, who is an accomplished folk musician and heavily involved with the Winters Shakespeare Workshop and Winters Theatre Company.
He and Cary, 30, attended dozens of shows at the Palms with their families and even have childhood memories of its original location in a Davis barn.
“I wanted some way to merge my interests in the arts and in community outreach, and reopening the Palms seemed like the perfect way to do that,” Cary said.
They’re excited to book many of the acts that formed bonds with Fleming, like John McCutcheon and Rita Hosking, both of whom are already on the January calendar. But they’ll also make a point to look beyond that.
Fleming was quoted in The Sacramento Bee last year conceding that the venue’s aging audience was dwindling every year. Cary and Fridae are looking to address that head-on, not only with the artists they book but by getting creative with the space as well.
Musically, they don’t plan to steer too far away from the largely acoustic genres upon which the Palms was built, but they see untapped potential in a generation of younger artists who have put their own spin on subgenres of folk, country and Americana. They’ll also market themselves to younger audiences and make the Palms more hospitable across age groups. One major step in that direction will be to finally make tickets available for purchase online.
“We really want to make it an all-ages venue,” Cary said. “And we want to keep it affordable. We’ll very rarely sell tickets for over $20. That’s part of the culture of the Palms. It’s not a fancy place.”