UPDATED (6:40 p.m.) to add new Fitz General Manager Josh Merritt's comments.
The future of Fitzgerald's as one of Houston's top mid-size music venues, as well as one of its oldest and most historic, has clouded over. Formerly the venue's longtime sound engineer, Lauren Oakes has now resigned as general manager, she told the Houston Press in an email Monday afternoon. She and her other partners have been unable to see eye to eye, Oakes said – particularly about the pace of the extensive renovations promised for the old club – but Oakes insisted she harbors no ill will.
“Although my current affiliation with Fitzgerald's has ended, I wish nothing but the best for the venue and its management,” she said. “Fitzgerald's means the world to me, and I hope nothing more than to see it strive. I look forward to continuing my relationship with the venue in the future.”
Although Fitzgerald's reopened earlier this month after a short hiatus, the lack of much discernible work being done on the property — beyond a new coat of paint, an upgraded AC and removal of the upstairs double doors leading to the balcony, that is — quickly caused rumors to start circulating. When former tenants Pegstar Concerts announced in early August that they were leaving the venue (their lease was up September 15), on the way to building their own White Oak Music Hall on North Main, the condition of the building was high on the list of reasons they chose not to renew their lease:
Although part of Fitzgerald’s charm is being a 100-year-old dancehall, as our shows have begun increasing in frequency and scope, the limitations of the building have begun to work against us. Whether relating to noise, comfort, safety, parking, utilities, or even band load-in (try carrying a piano up a flight of stairs), producing the kind of shows that leave our artists happy and our fans inspired has become an increasing challenge.
Speaking to the Press a couple of weeks before Pegstar left, the new Fitz management team said the venue was slated to undergo a complete overhaul of its electrical and plumbing systems — "essentially ripped down to the studs" — and an elevator would be installed, plans that appear to be in limbo. Austin's Transmission Events, which recently signed on as Fitz's primary talent buyer, has already ended its partnership with the venue, with the slow pace of the scheduled remodeling cited as one of the primary reasons.
“We're just way too swamped with Fun Fun Fun Fest, Austin, Dallas, San Antonio, Levitation [formerly the Austin Psych Festival] and other events that we do to work on Houston right now, especially while the venue is in a transitional phase,” said Transmission's Graham Williams.
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“We have a bunch of shows there over the next couple of months that we're still promoting, but not doing as much booking after the holidays, when we need to focus on all our other venues when the touring season ramps back up in January,” he added. “I'm sure we'll still be doing shows in Houston, like we always have, but maybe not as much as we'd hoped.”
Bear in mind that Fitzgerald's remains open, and no shows been canceled that we know of. Monday evening, new Fitz General Manager Josh Merritt left a voicemail at our office, saying that besides the renovations previously mentioned, the venue has already upgraded its sound system, with many more improvements to come.
"There’s a brand-new PA system in that building, which is better than anything that Fitzgerald’s has ever had in that building," he said. "Ask any acts that have performed there. Me and the owner are in the process of doing more renovations, and we have a lot of huge shows coming up."
More on this as it develops.