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October 20, 2011 | 12:00 a.m. CST
Video produced by Chelsea Myers and Paul Mossine
It’s 9:30 p.m., and patrons at The Bridge start piling in for Blues Night. It has been seven months since the venue opened. Co-owner Wes Wingate monitors the soundboard while instruments play in the background.
When The Bridge and the Columbia Academy of Music first opened their doors in March, the goal was to offer a place where music is both taught and performed.
“One day, Wes said he was tired and didn’t want to be that guy with nine cats teaching out of his house, so that’s where this place came from,” Andrew Weir, director of operations at Columbia Academy of Music, says.
Shortly after opening, the Academy went from having 30 to 150 students under the direction of more than 20 teachers. The staff gives instruction on just about any instrument — even the hammered dulcimer and banjo.
The Bridge, in coalition with the Columbia Academy of Music, has stepped in to fill a void in the Columbia music scene. In addition to providing a much needed space for students to showcase their talents, The Bridge and the Academy offer live recording options and audio engineering classes.
Throughout the past few months, word about how much they support and encourage live music has continued to spread. Many of the staff members also play their own music at the venue.
Wes Wingate and co-owner, Casey Conway, both play in an ‘80s tribute band called Spandex Ballet.
Violet Vonder Haar, lead singer for Violet and The Undercurrents, also teaches voice, guitar and piano to her 15 students at the Academy. She plays in a band with Phylshawn Johnson, another teacher at the Academy.
Vonder Haar says the best part about The Bridge is that people who understand music and the importance of having great sound quality were the ones who designed the venue.
The Curly Joe Harper Blues Band was the host Oct. 10 for Blues Night. Curly Joe, a man with an earring and a newsy cap worn backwards, led the group on vocals and harmonica.
The Bridge tries to diversify its lineup throughout the week by hosting Blues Night on Mondays, Open Mic Night on Tuesdays, Jazz Night on Thursdays, and featured bands perform on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Each night, a different host band plays music that goes along with the theme, and then there’s a sign up for people who are interested in coming on stage to jam with the band.
Don Atchley, who has been a Columbia resident for 40 years, attends Blues Night every week.
He also runs the Honky Tonk and Blues River Jam at the Missouri River, where he plays his drum set and draws the musicians who participate in the jam.
“It’s just really nice to see downtown evenings in Columbia activated again,” Atchley says.