Opening a club, bar, or entertainment complex during a pandemic seems like a crazy idea.
But Santino Zurzolo is aware of the challenges that lay ahead and is more than willing to meet them head on in order to bring more live music to Northeast Indiana.
Zurzolo, owner of the Rockstar Lounge, said in a recent interview with Whatzup that the intention to create a new rock venue for Fort Wayne began in early 2020, before social distancing became a part of our daily vernacular.
The plan was to transform the former Shangri-La East building into a state-of-the-art club that would fill a need in our community for a small venue that could present bands that music fans might want to see live without having to travel to another city.
“It was January when we decided we were going to go ahead and do this,” Zurzulo said. “It just happened to be bad timing.”
But he and his team remained on course, staying closed most of the year while waiting out the pandemic, renovating, and making the space the best it could be.
An impressive 400-square-foot stage was built on the south side of the room and a new, permanent sound system is being installed piece by piece with a goal of having a complete PA system in-house in the very near future.
“We had to rent a system for our first show in November,” Zurzolo said. “But with every show, we want to get a little closer to owning a permanent system.”
Taking care of customers
Fort Wayne favorites Trapt headlined that first show and by all accounts, it was a success. An unexpected tightening of the COVID-19 restrictions caused Zurzolo and company to have to pivot unexpectedly at the last minute, but they were prepared enough to pull the show off without a hitch.
Zurzolo was happy with the result as he and his crew knew from the start that the first night wasn’t going to be about an opportunity to make money on a show, rather it was about “getting everything right, showing the people what this place is about, and finding out what we can do better. In the end, the band was happy and the people were happy,” which is about as much as you could ask for in an inaugural event.
Careful thought has gone into keeping in line with COVID-19 regulations as the venue goes forward, though Zurzolo knows it will be a challenge as he has to abide by ever-changing regulations from both state and local authorities.
“Masks are required, obviously, and signs are up all over the building stating that fact,” he said.
Social distancing is encouraged, and the venue is operating under mandated reduced capacity.
“We had to move a bunch of tables and chairs that were already set up (for the first show), but we kept them on hand in case there was something that would require us to need them,” Zurzolo said. “We were ready for anything like that.”
Extra care was given to making sure that all regulations were followed throughout the night.
“If the authorities were to come in and check us out, I wanted everything to be in place to let them see that we were following everything correctly.”
Finding bands still touring
Another challenge of the times was that of finding bands that are actually touring. Most artists have been off the road since March of last year, choosing to ride the storm out at home rather than piecemeal some kind of tour together at venues that are still able to host events.
Zurzolo receives input from many sources when booking bands including social media, agents that have previously booked shows in the area, other promoters, and friends and family.
The 2021 concert schedule is quickly taking shape beginning with another Fort favorite, Flaw, set to headline the first show of the New Year on January 16.
Thunderstruck, America’s AC/DC Tribute Band, a group that Zurzolo is particularly excited about hosting since they have developed a huge following in our area, stops by six days later on January 22.
Tantric hits the Rockstar Lounge stage February 12, just in time for Valentine’s Day, and Sponge will round out a busy two months on March 6.
Though most of the bigger bands just aren’t touring yet and not committing to bookings before summer, Zurzolo said it hasn’t been a problem so far.
“A lot of the bands that are just a little bit smaller are very easy to work with,” Zurzolo said. “They want to do the best they can and are willing to work with you to try to put a show on.”
Zurzolo said that one of the future goals for the venue, once people have discovered it and have seen what it has to offer, is to open during the week to host local bands while also being available for private parties and events like weddings and receptions. But for now, the Rockstar Lounge will concentrate on bringing great music shows back to The Summit City.
“Fort Wayne has been dying for some rock shows and we are going to help fill that void,” Zurzolo said.
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