Santa Cruz Good Times

Tuesday
Mar 31st
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Her Name Is Rio

AE_Rio1On The Rio Theatre’s 10th anniversary as a music venue, owner Laurence Bedford reflects on its dramatic transformation
At the beginning of the present millennium, Soquel Avenue’s Rio Theatre was about to be knocked down. Though the venue had been a local landmark since the late ’40s, resistance to its demolition was less than overwhelming: Locals had long bemoaned the venue’s sticky floors and crud-encrusted carpets, which were held together with duct tape.

But then Laurence Bedford, a San Francisco mortgage banker who did guerilla theater by night, made an unexpected move: He purchased the building from the soon-to-be-bankrupt United Artists. A day or so after getting the keys to the place, Bedford, who had recently relocated to Santa Cruz with his daughter, paid a visit to the local community fixture known as Chip. “I told him what I’d just done, and he laughed for a little bit, ’cause he thought I was kidding,” Bedford recalls.

But once convinced of the truth of Bedford’s assertion, Chip introduced Bedford to various Santa Cruzans who would prove crucial to the process of transforming the run-down movie house into an all-purpose entertainment venue. Among these people was humorist Sven Davis, who would build the venue’s stage.

The renovation process began one decade ago this week: August 10, 2010. While The Rio was being painted and fixed up, Bedford rented the space out by the hour for classes in such disciplines as African drumming and Brazilian dance. Once the venue was presentable, Bedford opened it up for some small shows. A pivotal point came in 2001, when rocker Joan Jett gave a concert at the theatre. “Out of nowhere, we got the call,” Bedford says. “That kind of brought attention to, ‘What is this space?’ We had, really, nothing: There was no theater lighting, no sound system … It was pretty raw.”

Not long after Jett’s performance, filmmakers began to take an interest in The Rio as a place to show their movies about surfing, bicycling and skating. This opened Bedford’s eyes to the venue’s versatility. “The whole game with this house is being multipurpose: We’re not pigeonholed into anything,” he notes. “So, I didn’t say it was a jazz club, a blues club, a rock club … We just said we were a house for performing, essentially.”

AE_Rio2At an almost alarmingly rapid rate, demand for The Rio grew as a space for all kinds of performances, be they musical, cinematic, dance-oriented or something completely different. A particularly memorable show called “Puppetry of the Penis” fell under the final category. “When people remind me about things, that always seems to come up,” Bedford offers, seemingly unaware of the double-entendre. “We were called to do two nights. It was really funny that these two Australian guys get onstage buck naked and start doing origami with their units … and projecting it on the big screen!”

During the same month that The Rio held two back-to-back, sold-out puppet shows, the venue hosted a performance of “The Vagina Monologues.” “I have a picture of the marquee: ‘Puppetry of the Penis,’ and ‘Vagina Monologues’ underneath!” Bedford notes.

Though it wasn’t all favorable, the press generated by the marquee’s “Penis/Vagina” communiqué helped call attention to the fact that there was a 700-capacity room available for local performances. Music promoters like “Sleepy” John Sandidge and Pulse Productions’ Michael Horne began approaching the venue, and soon The Rio was featuring live music fairly consistently. Since then, the theatre has hosted more than 1200 performances. Musical acts that have appeared on the venue’s stage include Baba Maal, The Residents, Joan Baez, Arlo Guthrie and Santa Cruz’s own White Album Ensemble. “We built the stage, and they came!” Bedford jokes.

Nowadays The Rio isn’t just a far cleaner, more pleasant place than it used to be—it’s more welcoming than most live music venues, period. Contributing to its friendly ambience is the work of local visual artists such as Darryl Ferrucci, Bridget Henry, Dag Weiser, Robert Irwin and Wendy Simon. Another important factor is the lack of booze on the premises. “We’re not told that we can’t do liquor; we [don’t sell it] by choice,” Bedford explains.

Here at The Rio’s 10th anniversary as a music venue, Bedford—who frequently refers to the building as “she” or “her”—is delighted with the changes that the theatre has undergone so far. “When we look at the pictures of this space when we started, and you look at it now, it’s like you’re a proud dad,” he states. “Your kid’s going to graduation: ‘Wow!’”

 


For more information on The Rio Theatre, go to riotheatre.com or call 423-8209.
Comments (2)Add Comment
Ride A Wave member B of D
written by Tim Loomis, August 09, 2010
My involvement with community volunteers from the Santa Cruz community enables me to experience the giving capacity of human nature. As a member of the Ride A Wave Family I am always in awe of just how much an individual is capable of giving. Our volunteers put in an extremely heavy load of work at each of our camps held at Cowell's Beach. Just when I think I have seen it all in community involvement along comes Laurence Bedford and his seemingly endless supply of giving. Laurence has been one of our biggest supporters thoughout our existance here in Surf City. When we needed a venue for a fundraiser Laurence offered us the Rio. That started a decades old relationship that only exists through the amazing giving of Laurence. His sense of community grows with every local show he puts on. So I count myself as fortunate to be a part of the Santa Cruz Scene with Laurence Bedford and his Rio Theatre. Thank you Laurence for making Ride A Wave a success and being such a giving part of our family.
...
written by Michael Dorenzo, August 05, 2010
Thanks for this great local venue. There is such a community feeling at the shows and the space allows for an intimate connection between artist and Santa Cruz audience. This was recently reflected in Paul Thorn's show this year. At one point when Paul, missing his family, got weepy on stage, the audience stood and filled the silence with applause and finished singing the song with him. The Rio seems to hold the energy for sweet moments like that to unfold. Thank you Rio and the folks that make it happen.

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

Best of Santa Cruz 2015

In 40 years of publishing, Good Times has seen a lot of “bests.”

 

Spring Triangle: Three Spring Festivals—Aries, Taurus, Gemini

The Spring signs Aries, Taurus and Gemini constitute a triangle of force that sets the template for the nine signs that follow and the template for the entire year (Spring 2015 - Spring 2016) ahead. Aries initiates new ideas, Taurus stabilizes the new thinking of Aries and Gemini takes the initiating stabilized ideas of Aries/Taurus and disperses them to all of humanity. It is in this way that humanity learns new things, with the help of Mercury, the messenger. As Spring unfolds, three elements emerge: the Fire of Aries (initiating new ideas), the Earth of Taurus (anchoring the ideas of God through Mercury) and the Air of communicating Gemini. These three signs/elements are the Three Spring Festivals. They are the “triangle of force” forming the template (patterns) of energy for the upcoming new year. After these three we then have the soothing, calming, warming, nurturing and tending waters of the mother (Cancer). Cancer initiates our next season under the hot suns of summer. Planets, stars and signs create the Temple of Light directing humanity towards all things new. March 29 is Palm Sunday, when the Christ, World Teacher, was led into Jerusalem (City of Peace) on a donkey (humility). Palms waving above His head, signified recognition of the Christ’s divinity. Palm Sunday is the Sunday before the Easter (Resurrection Festival). Palm Sunday begins Holy Week, the week of capture, imprisonment, passion, sacrifice, crucifixion, death and resurrection of the christ. All events in the Christ’s life represent events (initiations) that humanity experiences through many lifetimes. We turn our attention to these holy events this week. Their concepts portray and reveal to us greater spiritual understanding. Then, Aries, the “light of life itself” shines through us.

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

Best of Santa Cruz 2015 Editor's Picks

BEST NIGHT CAP WARSAW MULE AT SHADOWBROOK
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

Spring Spirits

Sean Venus’ gin straight up, remembering Rosa’s and a tasting of Hungarian wines

 

What’s your favorite most recent outdoor discovery in Santa Cruz?

A hike that’s across from Waddell Beach. I didn’t realize you could go across the highway and do a super simple loop, and it’s beautiful. You can see the coastline. Liz Porter, Santa Cruz, Community Outreach

 

Martin Ranch Winery

Muscat 2012

 

Front Street Kitchen

Pop-up spot attracts paleo crowd with locally sourced low-carb meals