With a few exceptions, the capital city isn’t known for its funky venues, eclectic shops, or character-oozing holes-in-the-wall. Fortunately, a resurgent Mid City provides an oasis for these kind of spots.
A welcome addition to the neighborhood palette is Mid City Ballroom, a new music, event and reception hall nestled into an old church on South Acadian Thruway. The Ballroom is mated to the Baton Rouge Music Exchange, a music shop throwback to a time before big box stores and the internet killed off the mom-and-pop music stores that were once the norm in Red Stick.
As an old church should, a step into the door gives a welcoming feeling, at once homey and comfortable. An expansive hall with a raised stage at one end, backlit where stained glass once stood. Hardwood floors that provide great acoustics and, if one musician’s amplifier demo is any guide, near-perfect reverb.
Opened just five weeks ago, Mid City Ballroom is the brainchild of partners James Fogle and Steve Levine, who surmised that such a venue was exactly what Mid City needed.
“We started by just having an idea of doing something like this,” Levine said. “Then we started looking at places down along Government Street, and down along Acadian, and we saw some nice places but nothing that was right enough for this.”
Fortune would come in the form of his partner Fogle, by day a Century 21 real estate agent accustomed to keeping an eye out for good property.
“Just riding by, I saw a big for-sale sign that had been out there for a year and a half, and it just never occurred to me to come in. I rode by one day, called the agent and made an appointment, came in and just started texting Steve like a madman," Fogle said. "I was like, 'Get over here! You’ve got to see this!' "
The hall of the church would become what is now Mid City Ballroom, and the rear of the church now finds its once hallowed walls lined with instruments for sale.
“For the music store, it actually came out the way I envisioned it. I wanted it to be like a funky living room with a bunch of guitars and amps, with people hanging out,” Fogle said. “Everyone who comes here loves it.”
The inventory runs the gamut from modern to vintage, from beginner to pro. Separate rooms are afforded to drums, acoustic guitars, and even high-end, handmade Komet amplifiers — once only the province of touring musicians, yet made just across town in Baton Rouge.
As a live music venue, the Ballroom got off to a quick start, already hosting seven shows since its opening.
“We’re just getting our feet wet," Fogle said. "I think the most we want to do is three shows a week. We’re developing our mailing list, and we leave the store open so people can browse during the shows.”
While the building may have a lot of history, its features are modern and state of the art, with a brand new Presonus 32-channel mixing board and top-of-the-line subwoofers — a dream for any regional or national touring band looking for a gig.
Levine said there has been a renaissance of places to play music that aren't bars or restaurants in Baton Rouge. While those new venues range from people's backyards to listening rooms, Mid City Ballroom isn't any of those.
“We’re a moderate-sized, purpose-built venue that can accommodate anything from a solo acoustic player to a 13-piece 'Sgt. Pepper’s' live,” Levine said.
Baton Rouge Music Exchange and Mid City Ballroom are located at 136 S. Acadian Thruway. For more information on Mid City Ballroom, visit midcityballroom.com. For more information on Baton Rouge Music Exchange, visit batonrougemusicexchange.com.