Inside Rising East End DIY Venue The Summit
James Vehslage outside The Summit on Navigation Blvd.
Photos by David Sackllah
In the wake of last week's announcement of another storied Houston venue closing, it's a good time to focus on the growth of the city's local music scene, in part aided by the recent addition of The Summit. Located in East Downtown at 3536 Navigation Blvd., the venue/DIY space opened by musicians Mike McMullin, Alexander Coco and James Vehslage has been hosting events for a little more than a year now.
Since the trio began renovating the space in March 2013, they have steadily, organically grown as an integral part of the Houston community, hosting concerts for local acts like Fat Tony and Young Mammals, putting on shows for national touring acts like The Hotelier and The World is a Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid to Die, and working with local nonprofits such as Bootown, 86 Cancer and Houston Zine Fest.
Given the shows and events the owners have put on, it's a surprise to find that the original intentions behind The Summit weren't to build a music venue.
"From day one we didn't think it was going to be a venue, " says Vehslage. "We had the idea of doing events but it wasn't going to be the main thing."
The space was originally conceived as a location for the three to play music together and grow their respective businesses, and organically grew into a music space from there.
"Since we [opened] it, we all started getting more invested in adding to the cultural landscape of Houston," says Summit partner Alexander Coco.
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"We originally got the space because we were playing music together," explains Vehslage. "I have a bunch of recording gear at home and needed a place to put it, and wanted a place to record music. Alexander has an online bookstore, Honey Badger Books, as well. The Summit houses both of our businesses and in the middle is the event space where we use that to help ourselves function."
The three started hosting shows about a year ago to raise money to help them keep the space, which is financed entirely by the three of them, afloat. Without a goal of making a music venue, the three used the space for all kinds of things, from video-game tournaments to private parties, and didn't want to corner themselves into one area.
"We didn't know what to call it for a long time," Coco says. "I guess the best label is a DIY space. Since we started doing it, we all started getting more invested in adding to the cultural landscape of Houston and promoting local things especially."
While the three did not have any grand ambitions in opening The Summit, they feel excited to be contributing to the growing list of DIY spaces in Houston, along with Black Barbie, Civic TV and House of Creeps.
"We weren't really in the realm of a lot of DIY spots when we started it," says McMuliln. "We weren't in that world so we couldn't identify or see these things that were happening. We didn't start anything, but when we got into it we noticed that a lot of other people were doing it at the same time."
Along with Black Barbie, The Summit has served as another spot for local art and music to thrive on the Eastside, even though that wasn't quite in the plan.
"A lot of this was providence," said Coco. "It's not like we tried to go to the Eastside, it just happened to be the space we found was there. It happened to be that we were musicians and knew people in the music community and wanted to promote that."
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The Summit is less than half a mile to the similarly styled, recently opened venue Black Barbie at 3621 Canal.
As musicians, the three have been involved with playing shows and booking them, but this is their first time on the other side of that coin. They have used that experience to set up the kind of live experience they are comfortable with. Along with using their knowledge of playing shows to craft the design and layout, they also operate with the goal of always paying the bands that play there.
"We always try to pay the bands because I can't tell you how many times I've played for free drinks," says Coco.
"There have definitely been some nights where we don't make any money and we just pay the bands," Vehslage adds.
In addition to providing a space for all types of events, when it comes to music, the three strive to not pigeonhole The Summit into being known for one type of genre. While they can't say yes to every band that asks to play because of logistics and availability, they strive to include all types of acts such as rock, hip-hop, country and punk. Apart from heavily politically charged acts, or "generic bullshit radio rock," the three explain that the list of things they won't do is much shorter than the list of things they would put on.
"We're not trying to be like anything," Coco explains. "There's no real artistic vision for what kind of genre we get. Just people we enjoy."
Additionally, the owners' attitude and love of promoting Houston expands to the choice of the name. The three chose the name The Summit as an homage to the classic basketball stadium, they explain, as well as their attempt to reclaim the name by associating it with the city they grew up in rather than the corporations who replaced it with the Compaq Center.
"It's definitely kind of a stick in the eye at the Compaq Center and the Lakewood Church," Vehslage says.
From trying to add to Houston's DIY scene and contribute to the local music community, the three also have the simple goal of trying to connect with the people who come out to shows there.
"We want to be able to talk to everyone, not just our clients that are coming to book the shows, but the people coming in to watch the shows," says McMillan. "That's a mission statement of ours. We can't shake everyone's hand, but we at least try to."
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