Story by Andy Lyons, Editor-in-Chief
After two years at its new location and more than nine years in business, The Bay in Warrensburg, Mo. is closing. With shows counting down the days until the day, June 30, Warrensburg’s live music venue will go out with a bang.
Owner Ben Blevins said the lease is up at the end of the month, and a plan to purchase the space fell through.
“It came as a shock to us, and we weren’t left with a lot of time to let it soak in, or prepare our bands, customers, staff for closure,” Blevins said via email. “It is an unfortunate situation, but we are staying positive and looking forward to future projects. Who knows, you may see The Bay again someday.”
While other venues in Warrensburg host live music, none have had the success The Bay has. Blevins has a long list of bands who helped make great memories at The Bay over its nine year history.
“We have seen so many wonderful bands at The Bay in the past nine years I could not possibly make a list of everyone that blew me away,” Blevins said. “My personal favorites are the bands that stuck with us through thick and thin: Not A Planet, Katy Guillen & The Girls, Spoonfed Tribe, Mountain Sprout, Danielle Nicole Band, Cowboy Bart & Band of Redman, The Bovine Arrival, Billy Beale, Molly Gene, Mercurial, Manda Shea & The Sumpthin’ Brothers, The Flood Brothers, Coyote Bill Band, Brody Buster, Pat Kay, Steven Cooper, The Lucky Dogs, Luehrman, Shaffer and Check, Into The Breach, Infinite Catfish, Vela, The Lunarheadz, Mad Libby, The Harvest Season Band, Brie Herrick, Abigail Faith, Instant Karma!, American Slim, Grant Conrad, Banjo Camp Massacre, Double Dog Dare, Fuzzbeater, Purple Skunk Funk Band, The Bends…
“Even with this massive list I know I am missing a ton of bands that have helped us keep our doors open, by being there for us in one way or another,” he continued. “We have had some amazing, amazing help, and are fortunate to have seen a ton of killer bands. It makes me emotional to think about all of the help bands have given us in the past, even in hard times.”
Longtime bartender Lacey Hites talked about the opportunities and friendships she’s made because of the bands that’ve come through The Bay over the years.
“We’ve had some really cool bands come through there,” she said. “The Yawpers, they’re a Colorado band, they’re one of my favorites they’re just really cool people. I’ve made a lot of friends at The Bay, The Bay People who inevitably come in and out of Warrensburg. And so it’s allowed me access to travel and see a lot of the world I wouldn’t have without that bar specifically.”
Blevins is maintaining a full lineup of bands leading up to the closing, with 10 shows between June 16 and June 30.
“We are gonna try our hardest to get everyone’s last show in here over the next couple of weeks,” he said. “Obviously we aren’t going to be able to fit everyone. It is humbling to me to see all of the personal messages from bands and artists who are writing me to tell me that The Bay was the first bar they ever performed in. I had no idea how much of an impact we had on the lives of so many musicians. I can’t even put into words how that makes me feel. I am happy to have made a difference in the community, and sad that we will no longer be able to do that. Either way, a couple of the big shows that we do have lined up already are Spoonfed Tribe on June 24, and I just set up Not A Planet with Infinite Catfish and Alex and the XOs for our last night, June 30.”
The sudden announcement on Facebook this week caught many off guard, with The Bay bringing in nationally touring acts such as Haystak, Devin the Dude, and Hyborian in recent months. One of the biggest draws of The Bay was how the staff nurtured the local music scene, hosting hometown musicians such as Molly Gene, Marilyn Brie, Steven Cooper, and Mercurial.
The Bay had even become a de facto art gallery hosting pieces from local artists all over the walls and becoming a meeting place for the Warrensburg Arts Collective. The local community was taken by surprise when the news hit.
Hites also talked about the duality of The Bay going out of business.
“At first it was really painful, shocking. On the other hand it was inevitable, so it’s bittersweet. I, particularly, over the years having managed it for some time at the old Bay, and then now being part of the team, I know I invest a lot and that place causes me more stress than my (other job),” she said with a laugh. I could have two day jobs that don’t cause me as much stress as that one night job.”
“It’s a miracle it stayed open this long but it’s because the people who work there love it and they care about it so much,” she added. “So on one hand, I’m kind of glad the stress is going to decrease but on the other hand it’s going to be hard to fill that spot in our life. This is where the weirdos go, it’s our family and that’s kind of our home.”
“A lot of shock. A lot of sadness,” Blevins said of reactions he’s heard. “I think people always liked the uniqueness of The Bay. It’s not your typical Warrensburg bar, and it gave the artists and musicians in town a place to hang out and socialize that wasn’t a sports bar or dance club. We had our own niche, for sure, and it was something that a town like Warrensburg needs, in my opinion. An outlet for the artistically creative people in the area.
“I have even heard some people call it their ‘safe haven’ and the bar they called home,” he continued. “It makes me feel wonderful that people felt safe there, because that was our main objective. There are plenty of places one can go in this world to be judged by others, but not The Bay. We wanted to make sure everyone felt welcomed, as long as they weren’t causing trouble.”
The staff at The Bay put together events throughout the week to draw people in. The most popular is probably Rockstar Karaoke, which couples with Taco Tuesday at The Bay. Blevins said the employees will probably end up working at other bars in downtown Warrensburg, and it wouldn’t surprise him if they took some of the ideas from The Bay and implemented them with their new businesses.
Blevins said he will focus on finishing his teaching degree to teach secondary education and continue teaching college at night, which he’s been doing for the past five years. He’s also looking forward to more family time.
“We are now able to plan weekend trips together without having to worry about a million things that need to be covered at the bar before we leave,” he said. “That will be a nice feeling.”
With two weeks left in business, Blevins wanted to thank everyone who’s made The Bay special.
“The only thing Jess and I really want people to know at this time is how extremely thankful we are to everyone who has been there for us over the past nine years,” he said. “Family, friends, employees, loyal customers, artists, performers, bands that have stuck with us regardless of the situation. We all built that bar together from scratch and kept it alive for nine years. That’s pretty amazing, and very heartwarming to know that people care about us and our vision enough to help make The Bay work.
“Aside from our immediate family, The Bay created another family for us. You’ve got to understand that we have bartenders working there that were there on day one. Through all of the drama, they continued to show up and help out. We’ve had some of the most amazing people help us through some tough times, and I am still trying to process the magnitude of that.
“I thank you all, from the bottom of my heart, for your support and understanding over the past nine years. Extra special thank you to Andy Lyons and Central Mo News for helping us get the word out and reach new customers, and for always believing in us.
“We love you all and appreciate everything people have done for us. We could never in a million years repay such kindness. The Bay loves you.”
For more information including a lineup of shows, follow The Bay on Facebook here.