Music News & Reviews

Manchester Music Hall aims to be something for everyone

Kaelyn Query, director of programming for Manchester Music Hall, in the former Buster's space in the Discretely District on Manchester Street in Lexington, Ky, on Nov. 23, 2015.
Kaelyn Query, director of programming for Manchester Music Hall, in the former Buster's space in the Discretely District on Manchester Street in Lexington, Ky, on Nov. 23, 2015. palcala@herald-leader.com

The longer the former home of Buster’s Billiards and Backroom remained vacant on Manchester St., the more Kaelyn Query began formulating ideas about what she would do with the space if given the opportunity.

As founder and president of LexEffect, a Lexington-based events management company, she has overseen public and private happenings around the country, including the locally produced Moontower Festival. But staging events in a set, permanent venue offered an entirely new set of possibilities.

“It was weird, because one day I had jokingly said, ‘I wish someone would buy the Buster’s space because I have all these things I want to do there,’” Query says. “At 5 o’clock that day, I got a message.”

The correspondence came from the Pikeville businessmen that had purchased the property and wanted to enlist Query to oversee booking duties so the space could remain a music venue. They are Mitch Potter, Adam Hatton and Ryan Schwartz, operating under the name Manchester Realty.

“I was in a meeting but I immediately called them back and said, ‘I’m in,’” Query says. “They said, ‘But you don’t know what we’re doing yet.’ I said, ‘I don’t care. I’m in.’ So we met the next day and of course I was foaming at the mouth with this laundry list of things I wanted to do — outdoor festivals and markets and fairs and concerts and private events. I had a folder full of things that could be done.”

I’m very passionate about Lexington and having this space grow. The city is just doing so many cool things right now. I want this to be one of them.

—Kaelyn Query, director of programming for Manchester Music Hall

What emerged were plans for the newly redubbed Manchester Music Hall, which has its grand opening on Thursday. The name establishes the mission — a large music performance room with capacity for as many as 1,100 patrons on a revitalized downtown block. But the difference between the Manchester Music Hall and Buster’s is that the new venue won’t be devoted solely to music. Query sees it a multi-purpose facility that will also present private events (meetings, weddings) and community events (fundraisers, markets).

“This is a challenge because everyone says, ‘Oh, you’ve re-opened Buster’s,’” Query says. “Well, kind of, yes. We’ve reopened the building and the space, but it’s it now Manchester. We’re trying to offer a little more of an even split between music and events. It’s still music heavy, but in Lexington, a venue like this is just not normal.”

Query hopes to present a national touring act on a monthly basis with “middle tier” regional touring artists performing more regularly. The rest of the booking would be devoted to local shows, private events and community based activities. Manchester will also be made available to outside promoters to book concerts. What she doesn’t want, however, is a venue stamped exclusively as a rock club.

“Really, we just want Manchester to be something for everybody,” Query says. “We’re hoping to spread out the genres so you can come to a jazz or a blues show that’s seated, then the next night you can come to a college rock event. The night after that it might be used for a conference or a comedy show or whatever. We’re hoping to allow this space to become part of this block that’s being transformed as a community space that everybody can get behind instead of, ‘Oh, that’s just a rock place,’ which is the way it is with most venues.

... At the end of the day, if we can’t pay the mortgage, it doesn’t matter what it looks like or how it flows. The doors will be closed.

—Kaelyn Query, director of programming for Manchester Music Hall

“We’ve got an unofficial committee that we formed with some friends and their contacts in the music community. So before we even started, we asked them what they liked about past things here. ‘What did you like and what didn’t you like? What do we need to fix? What do we not know about?’ We want to use their help to make this a really great space. Then we got some community people here and we asked, ‘How could you use this space? What would you like to see? What do we need to have to make it usable to you?’ Then we did the same thing for the private events, because at the end of the day, if we can’t pay the mortgage, it doesn’t matter what it looks like or how it flows. The doors will be closed.”

Query is quite aware of the increasing number of closed doors at Lexington venues in recent months. Manchester’s opening comes on the heels of the temporary closing and relocation of Willie’s Locally Known and the indefinite shutdown of Natasha’s Bistro. She said a vibrant music scene in Lexington depends on a wealth and diversity of such businesses.

“Obviously, we hate to see those venues not be around. It’s tough because Lexington needs everybody. We need the Rupps, we need the Singletarys, we need the Natashas and the Willies and the Cosmics, as well as the Manchesters. We need all of those spaces because different shows lend themselves to different atmospheres.

“A show that goes into the Lyric Theater or the Singletary Center is not the same show that may go in a Manchester space or a Cosmic Charlie’s. Size wise, there are things that are better suited for Manchester. We hate to see any space go under because there is such a need in Lexington for music venues. But not all those shows are conducive to a space the size of ours.

“I’m very passionate about Lexington and having this space grow. The city is just doing so many cool things right now. I want this to be one of them.”

Read Walter Tunis' blog, The Musical Box, at LexGo.com

If You Go

Manchester Music Hall Grand Opening

Performing: Alcatraz Shakedown, Justin Wells, Ben Lacy and Driftwood Gypsy

When: 7 p.m. Dec. 3

Where: Manchester Music Hall, 899 Manchester St.

Admission: Free

Call: 859-230-5365

Online: Manchestermusichall.com

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