By Jef With One F
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Only in Houston
Halloween is right around the corner, and once again it's time to talk spooky stuff. Let's look around the city to see which Houston music venues might be haunted.
First, let's define haunted, and to that I must defer to Poe, because her Haunted is one of the greatest albums ever released. By haunted I mean a state of being filled with phenomena or sensory perceptions that cause a feeling of dread or unease. Sometimes this is attributed to ghosts, and sometimes we have no idea why certain places cause heebies and/or jeebies.
It shouldn't surprise anyone that Fitzgerald's has something of a haunted reputation. It's one of the state's oldest and most recognized stages, and the greats have trod its boards both on the way up and the way down. Before it turned into the venerable rock setting it is today, Fitz served as a Polish dance hall dating all the way back to 1918.
It's a much more labyrinthine building than you think it is. If you begin wandering backstage, the sagging wooden structure begins to give off a definite surreal vibe as the doors and floors no longer completely match up.
"I've had all manner of weird shit show up in pictures of many of my bands playing there over the years," says Eddie Travis, drummer of The Freakouts and Scum of the Earth, by e-mail. Considering that Travis has also played at Club 219, the Milwaukee venue in which Jeffrey Dahmer picked up some of his victims, you can bet that he knows creepy.
The existence of a ghost upstairs at Fitz was easy talk among the staff when I staged a monthlong run of Hedwig and the Angry Inch there in 2004. Reminiscing with my producer and lead actor Dave Gill, he recalls, "We had a few incidents where the power on the mixing board would turn on and off by itself, or with things being moved when no one was looking. I recall the staff there all telling us, 'Oh yeah, that's the ghost,' like it was just a fact of everyday existence."
Bunny Dast of Skeleton Dick, who worked at Fitz for six years, also remarked that creepy, inexplicable things were a regular occurrence. But the identity of the Fitzgerald's ghost, if there is one, is unknown.
Another Houston venue with a darksome reputation is Numbers. Its position as Houston's premier goth haven certainly doesn't take away from the idea that a ghost could be inhabiting the grounds, and unlike at Fitzgerald's, there is plenty of tragedy in the club's past to assign any number of restless souls a home in the club.
Mike Terror, front man of the eponymous Houston industro-goth band and certainly no shrinking violet, has sworn off ever performing onstage at Numbers again after feeling unwelcome by the antics of a spectral critic.
"We've played Numbers three times, and every single time everything goes to shit when we are onstage," Terror says via e-mail. "Everywhere else in the venue, things are fine. But once we are onstage and it's time to set up or perform, bad energy rises, my band gets irritable, equipment messes up, performance suffers, etc.
"We didn't really think anything of it until we found out that somebody had been murdered on that stage," he adds. "It just doesn't feel right up there."
The murder Terror is referring to is that of Brody Darnell, who was fatally stabbed in the Numbers restroom in 2003.
Across the street from Numbers is AvantGarden, formerly Helios, formerly The Mausoleum, appropriately enough. If any Houston venue looks haunted, then it's certainly this one, with its Anne Rice patio and narrow stairways. Though there's an idea that a ghost wanders the building, it's probably just a bit of fun hype. No one I could find had any concrete story to back up the rumor.
There is definitely at least one haunted square of musical ground left in Montrose, and that's the Rock 101 KLOL studios, now Lovett Place Condos. Some of the biggest names in rock played live on the air back when KLOL was a proud resident of Houston's radio row, and more than one DJ recalled strange events at night.
Lone Star Spirits Paranormal Investigations (LSSPI ) inspected the building in 1999, close to the end of its run as Houston's rock mainstay. DJ Chuck Shramek told LSSPI that phones would launch themselves off the hook, stuffed animals would occasionally walk across the shelves they were sitting on, elevators would open and close on their own, and mysterious shadows could be seen from the corner of the eye.
The most prevalent ghost story was that of a Hispanic cleaning lady often seen in the halls; LSSPI briefly glimpsed her wearing a denim shirt during its investigation. This same specter is rumored to still walk the halls of the condominiums, but as with so many juicy pieces of Houston music history, it's possible that she, too, has faded, yet another victim of over-gentrification.
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