Free Press Summer Fest Team Taking Over Fitzgerald's

4:38 p.m.: UPDATED with more information from Afra.

Free Press Houston editor/publisher Omar Afra and Pegstar.net owner Jagi Katial, the principal figures behind Free Press Summer Fest, announced this afternoon they are taking over the lease and day-to-day operations of historic Heights nightclub Fitzgerald's, effective in September.

After current Fitz's owner Sara Fitzgerald, who told Rocks Off Monday that she was retiring after more than 30 years at the club (as announced from the stage Saturday by Denton polka band Brave Combo at Fitz's 33rd anniversary party) hands over the keys to the Summer Fest team, the club will close briefly for renovations, including improvements to the upstairs sound system.

Afra said he is "walking away" from Mango's, and no longer a partner in the Montrose vegetarian restaurant/music venue: "I'm moving on to bigger and better things."

"Between the shows [he and Katial] had been putting on together, we had always wanted our own venue," he said. "It really kind of clicked in our head when we did Local Natives a couple of months ago. 200 people got turned away there.

"What there's really a vacuum for in this city is not 200-person venues, and not for 1,000-person venues, it's for that middle of the road, like 400-500-person shows," he added. "That's what we don't have. There's a few of these - Rudyard's, Walter's, Mango's, 200-300 capacity, and then there's several House of Blues, Meridian, Warehouse Live, Warsaw, 700-800 on up, but 300-600 capacity, we had been looking and looking and looking for that place for a couple of months trying to find the right spot."

"We saw a couple places that could have worked, but at the end of the day we kind of looked at each other and said, 'We've been looking for a place that sounds as good as upstairs at Fitz," Afra said. "It's the best-sounding room in the city."

Robert Ellis & the Boys will move their weekly "Whiskey Wednesday" residency to Fitz's starting after the September 23 Grand (Re-) Opening, Afra said. Local independent promoter Super Unison also has several shows at the club already listed on its Web site.

"Thirty-three years is enough for anybody," Fitzgerald told Rocks Off Monday afternoon. She will retain ownership of the property while leasing the name and the business to Afra and Katial.

"They'll pay me my rent every month, and I'm going to go travel," she said. "Maybe I'll buy and RV and drive around, or go hang out somewhere."

"Anything that doesn't require me making a deli tray," Fitzgerald laughed. "I've got some writing I want to do - I've got a lot of material."

Fitzgerald's Web site will change from the current www.fitzlive.com to www.fitzlivemusic.com soon. Afra said that not only did he see his first show at Fitzgerald's at age 12 - Houston punk/funk legends Bad Mutha Goose - but the nearly 100-year-old building at White Oak and Studemont is also where he met his wife.

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