The Cayuga Vault celebrates a decade of banking on originality
Listening to Linda Kimball and Pete Coates tell stories about their 10 years helming the Cayuga Vault, you can expect to do more than a few double takes.
The history of the eclectic music venue has been quite a tale from the start, and the pair’s passion for the grassroots venture that Coates labels “a calling” is obvious. So is their rapport with another. Romantic partners during the first four years of the Vault, the two remain extremely close as friends and business partners to this day. “Not many people can say they could overcome that!” Coates jokes, noting their multi-faceted relationship and the changes it went through in the Vault’s beginnings.
During our walk down memory lane, Coates and Kimball laugh, sigh, and pick up where the other leaves off as they ruminate over the past decade. Holding the keys to the arched doorway on the corner of Cayuga Street facing Soquel Avenue hasn’t been easy, they say, but it’s been a blessing they hope will continue to blossom.
A historical building built as a bank in 1915, the quaint spot in midtown Santa Cruz was being used as an office space when it was first offered to to the pair to host live music in September of 1999. At the time they were both volunteers at Kuumbwa Jazz and artists in their own right—Kimball a painter with a background in economic consulting, Coates a jazz saxophonist and recording engineer. A chance fell in their hands and they grabbed it. Only at night, that is.
“We took the space at night but it was still an office during the day, so we had to convert it from an office to a concert hall back to an office every time we used it,” Kimball laughs, looking back at the painstaking earliest shows they produced.
Adding art to the walls and transforming the high-ceilinged space into more of a warm, multi-use locale, the two were determined to satiate a need in Santa Cruz. They’d noticed too many artists leaving town due to the high cost of finding a place to perform, and they wanted to provide something new. Ultimately, Coates ardently states that the birth of the Cayuga Vault came out of the simple truth that musicians, whether big or small, deserve to be valued.
“A coffeeshop gig where you’re playing to the back of laptops is not the ideal concert performance experience, and particularly for smaller, emerging artists that’s kind of where you have to start,” Coates says. “We think, ‘No, musicians are super important individuals in the community and they should be respected as such.’ There should be a concert hall that’s small enough to accommodate people who aren’t that well known yet, so that they can be heard and appreciated for their talent.”
Months after they started casually putting on shows, the lease for the building was going to be up for grabs and Kimball and Coates were asked to take over full-time.
“I asked Linda, ‘How much are you willing to go in debt for this?’” Coates chuckles and shakes his head as he recalls that daunting, decisive moment.
With $500 in the bank between them, they got a loan to make the first month’s rent, and with Coates recording live shows for performers as an additional service, the Cayuga Vault’s reputation and ambiance was luring more and more acts so that it could sustain itself without the financial security of a bar.
Coates says the greatest challenge in the beginning was when the venue was forced to shut down while its owners had to go through permit processes. But they were not alone. At a very unusual Santa Cruz Planning Commission meeting, the public came out to defend the Vault’s status in the community, fueled with kind words—and chai and cookies.
“We brought chai and cookies to the meeting for our supporters in front of the Planning Commission,” Coates remembers. “We had over 30 people there to support the idea that we could turn the building into a concert hall. Normally there’s like five people there and suddenly it was full.”
The permit was granted and the Vault has continued to grow ever since. With a seated capacity of 99, and costing $300 to rent out on prime Friday and Saturday nights, the venue is a welcoming spot for CD-release shows and innovative, cultural performances. Local acts like Aza, Amanda West, and Oliver Brown have frequented the stage that Coates built, while rare performances from touring acts like Riffat Sultana (coming later this month), Stellamara, and Davka are some of the owners’ favorite out-of-towners. Kimball will put diverse performers together in one show in order to lure different audiences and give artists cross-exposure. She says that taking a risk is a good thing:
“What I’ve always liked about the Vault is that it’s always been a place where people can try something new and not lose their house or their finances because of it. Our principle is original music and original art.”
This week’s 10th Anniversary celebration on Friday, Nov. 13 showcases improvisational pianist John Steven Malkin, whose first CD was recorded live at the Vault in 2007. Kimball feels that Malkin is a perfect fit for a concert during this milestone season because he epitomizes the type of performers who’ve gravitated toward the venue all these years. “We’ve always had people that are highly evolved with their music, highly evolved with their spirituality and everything else,” she says, “and John totally represents that.”
Reaching its diamond anniversary the Cayuga Vault’s future is still uncertain, and its proprietors are hoping that with donations and volunteering, the public will support its mission for unique music, art, crafts and classes.
“Linda and I only have so much time and money,” Coates begins, “and we can’t do it for another 10 years. It needs the focused energy of other people in the community too.”
Like for most people in the local music scene, it hasn’t been the paychecks that have kept them going all this time. When it comes down to it, Kimball says her dream for the Cayuga Vault is really about watching it nurture other people’s dreams. “I just like to see artists succeed.”
Photo Credit: Charles Mixson
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