By Jessica Skelton
The Jury Room is easy to miss. With only a small, beat-up sign hanging above the bar, the Jury Room doesn’t seem to go out of its way to make its presence known. The bar is often referred to as an old man’s bar or a dirty dive.
But just because it does not have downtown status doesn’t mean that the Jury Room should be written off just quite yet.
The Jury Room is actually the home of a popular underground music scene. The bar supports small, struggling bands, and hosts free music nights a couple times a week, usually between Thursday and Sunday.
"The majority of the bands are either punk bands or harder rock bands," owner Timmy Hallbeck said of the bar’s musical acts. Occasionally other types of acts will play as well, such as surf bands or local blues bands.
Mandy Reed, bassist for Hell’s Belles and Neutral Boy, has played the Jury Room and found it to be a positive experience."It is good that Santa Cruz has a bar that supports struggling bands," Reed said.
Mike Frottage, Reed’s bandmate and lead singer of Neutral Boy said in his raspy voice that the bands that play at the Jury Room "are a lot more underground" than other at venues in Santa Cruz.
The mix of musicians at the Jury Room represents more than just local Santa Cruz bands, but rather groups from all over.
Reed, whose band hails from Seattle, appreciated both the opportunity to play at such a venue and to see other groups, "That’s punk rock," Reed said. "Going out and being able to see a free show."
A former software developer, Hallbeck bought the Jury Room about four months ago. Hallbeck says the shows at the Jury Room started the day before he and his wife took over the bar and he has been holding them pretty steadily ever since.
Halbeck provides some musical equipment to make set-up easier for the bands playing, in addition to running the soundboard himself. Bill Pesh is the promoter for the Jury Room. He books about 90 percent of the shows, according to Halleck.
Generally several bands will play in one night at the bar. On occasion, groups will display a projection or film against the wall behind them-anything from skateboard videos to zombie flicks. The Jury Room is very liberal about letting the performers dictate the ambiance at their shows. The films are one way that bands choose to do create an environment.
"Some of the bands have their own atmosphere they want to create," Hallek said. One band even brought in their own lights and a smoke machine to accompany their performance.
While the Jury Room still isn’t the most popular bar in town, the music scene there seems to have carved out a comfortable niche in Santa Cruz.
"It’s important for small bands to be supportive of each other," Reed said. "I’d be more likely to go to the Jury Room than the Catalyst."