Utah in general has a fair amount of music venues, even if some of them are shitty dive bars, but there aren't a lot of all-ages places floating around. --- Oh sure, SLC and Provo both have two major ones making an impact. But when you leave those two counties, Utah becomes the musical equivalent of a desert as most major cities only have one venue, and you're lucky if the small-town hangouts have a karaoke stage. Not to mention the issues some cities bring up for no reason as we saw down south with a number of venues starting up and shutting down within a year. So if you're an all-ages joint that manages to make it past five years, chances are you have something awesome going for you.
One of the most prominent venues in the entire state is Mojos Music Venue, sitting at 2210 Washington Blvd., the place has become one of the most popular hot-spots in the city. Thriving off the hip-hop and rock bands performing in the area, it's become a jumping-off place for musical acts to gain experience and build a fanbase before striking out. Plus, the coffee shop has become a focal point for the community as a whole to grab a cup and chat while being able to see the latest local music in town. Today we chat with Mojos founder and owner, Ron Atencio, about his time in Ogden prior to the venue, starting it up and keeping it in business, his thoughts on approaching the 10-year marker and a few other topics. (All photos courtesy of Mojos Facebook page.)
Gavin: Hey Ron! First thing, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Ron: Well, I was born and raised in Ogden, I went to schools here in Ogden including high school at St. Joseph High School and college at Weber State. Back then in the '70s it wasn't a University yet. I was in the fraternity SAE and that was loads of fun. I studied for a history major and communications minor. I changed around a lot not sure what I wanted to do, but history and journalism really gave me passion for some reason. I had founded a high school newspaper at St. Joseph in Junior year and ran it for senior year too. We called it The Bird's Word as our mascot was the Jaybird. I don't know how I knew how to publish but I did and loved it. I also worked for the Signpost at Weber State. I loved history and wanted to do historic research eventually or even teach it in school. I tied history into my publishing later in life and eventually led to my position as Chair of the Ogden City Landmarks Commission.
Ron: I have traveled much in my life gaining many experiences. I have always been adventurous and a rolling stone. I moved to Salt Lake City a few times but first in 1976. From there I headed to Hawaii with a one way ticket and a hundred bucks in my wallet. I lived there for nine months and experienced the bicentennial there. I was 22 and full of adventure and ready to take life on. I was waiting tables at this time in Salt Lake and for many years after. I moved back to Ogden, then to SLC again, then to Seattle for a year and half. Back to Ogden, to Wisconsin for a summer, then back to Ogden to help open up a restaurant owned by a friend for a year, then off to San Francisco. I lived there for four years in the '80s working as a waiter at Ghiradelli Square then eventually got the dream job at the San Francisco Newspaper Agency which was the non-editorial corporation of the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner. I was the Promotion Assistant in the Marketing Services Department. This was the time of my life. I loved San Francisco. I dream of it all the time. I worked there for almost five years. I then got the bug again as I would visit Ogden to see friends and family and the beginning of the renaissance on Historic 25th Street had begun and the first seven buildings were renovated and their was great excitement among the community and my friends who were all involved somehow.
Ron: I left San Francisco to move into one of the newly renovated buildings as the first tenant above The Bistro on Historic 25th Street, and began the first independent monthly publications in Ogden called the Junction City News. We called it the Wasatch Connection in it's sub title as it was distributed all over the Wasatch Front at over 300 outlets. At that time, just a small publication, The Event was in Salt Lake. We had monthly calendars for the entire northern Utah and covered music, art, happenings all over and of course history. It had great success with 30,000 printed each month. We had an office in the third floor of the building on 300 South and Main in SLC which is now the huge high rise of Wells Fargo, as well as still on 107 Historic 25th Street. It is hard to believe the difference now in SLC and Ogden. In 1989 I got restless and the need to adventure took over. We merged Junction City News to a small publication called The Private Eye which had slowly been growing from South Salt Lake servicing the private clubs and I went to work for them for six months during the merge. This publication eventual became the City Weekly a decade later. John Saltas was great to work with and I enjoyed it as he gave me the art director duties and it was great relieving some of my old jobs to him in his publication. I got to completely upgrade his magazine. He told me he was going to go weekly as at the time he went bi-monthly. I told him he was crazy, and look at what he built. I was pleasantly surprised. I moved to Las Vegas after spending the summer in San Francisco with friends. My sisters live in Vegas so I stayed with them and after a grueling period as Publisher/Editor I was so happy being uncle to my niece and just baby sit for her. I eventually got a job at GTE selling yellow page advertising and this was very lucrative. I eventually moved to Monterey/Santa Cruz, California and worked for Great Western Directories in yellow pages also. Together that was another decade.
Ron: That leads us back to Ogden. I bought a small historic farm house off 12th Street on Gramercy next door to the home my mother and brother owned. Between us we had an acre of old orchard land. I loved being on the land. I knew I was done with yellow pages and ended up at AOL call center for a year and a half. I became miserable being tied up in a small cubicle and it was so very strict. I had gone from an independent advertising representative driving freely along the California central cost in my hot little Toyota Celica making my own schedule and making loads of money to being in lock down in a small cage. I hated it and wondered how the hell this happened. And from that discomfort I had the revelation to begin a publication again. Hence the birth of STREET Magazine in 2002. I started it on Historic 25th Street again.
Ron: The renaissance we had hoped for in the '80s was really being realized then and even more now. It took that long. With a new Mayor and administration in town that was very aggressive in development things started to really get going in Ogden in 2002. STREET Magazine was part of this new renaissance again and we covered much of the development as well as all of the activities. I will go further on STREET in another question you have down for me. But that led me from Historic 25th Street to Washington Blvd which was suffering due to the mall development in the '80s that failed in the late '90s. That's when I moved into our current building which has two spaces and two stories, and Mojos is on the north side at 2210 and STREET was on the south side at 2212 which is now Spikes Stuff & Things, my upcoming boutique. I had the vision for Mojos years prior and was set to do it on 25th, but destiny led me to this building and at one time, both operated at the same time in this building. I have been 10 years in this wonderful historic building and many experiences and changes have occurred. And what a ride! This is the highlights of my life and career. Each chapter has many chapters within and long stories of lifetimes of life and love. I have been lucky to have so many adventures and experiences but mostly friends and love. For that I am grateful.
Gavin: What first got you interested in music and what were some of your favorite acts growing up?
Ron: I was always interested and drawn to music. I played the viola in Junior High and that was the extent of my playing. I do wish I would have kept at it but other interests kept me going a different direction. But music always played a big part in my life as a huge fan. I got my first record player in sixth grade with two albums. One was The Beatles' Rubber Soul and the other was The Monkees. It was hard to believe how big The Monkees were back then. I date myself but that's okay. I then joined Columbia record club and would get my monthly LP and so looked forward to that every month. That was exciting. The FM radio was the only other means of music back then and we all listened to the same radio stations which were KCPX and KSVN in that day. There wasn't so many genres but all rock/pop from the radio and that is how we got our music in the '60s & '70s. And, of course, television. I was in fourth grade when The Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. And even for grade school kids that had huge impact on us, but especially the teens. Everything changed after that. Styles, ideas, music, dance and just plain being young. Other than school proms, there wasn't much live music or young local bands other than concerts in Salt Lake. I remember when the first Salt Palace was built in the '70s. I saw Grand Funk Railroad for my first concert and was just blown away. Later, I would see Alice Cooper and many others. As I had talked about my travels, I look back and realize that music was an amazing part of each place. Mostly live but in the '70s, disco began. And I tell the kids that they just cannot imagine how great that was back then and they may laugh, but it was incredible. DJ's became our superstars. I would sneak into places in Salt Lake since they had disco's not Ogden.
Ron: I was 20 when I entered my first disco. That was short lived but I got to experience them in Los Angeles, Denver, San Francisco and Seattle. They were much like the raves these days but every weekend and not so big and crazy. And drugs were not part of them, at least not what I saw. Perhaps weed was there, but I didn't see it. Just beer. Then disco died. At least became less popular in early '80s. Live bands became the rage again. My experience with that was largely in SLC at the Zephyr club and Gray Moose Pub. And other places but they were the biggest. They brought in incredible acts to the area and featured local bands. I was then doing Junction City News and we wrote of all the local acts and got to see the great music in town. I was lucky because I got tickets to all kinds of shows from being in publishing and getting press passes to everything. I was in my 30's and having a blast. Zephyr really introduced me to blues and jazz. And then were small promoters. I saw Oingo Boingo the first time when they were still small and later when they packed the house at the state fairgrounds. We had back stage passes on both and saw my first mosh pit then. I saw so many touring, local and regional bands and became very impassioned about them during this period. Since then I spent much time in clubs, coffee shops, concert halls in Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Nevada, California and all over the country before coming back to Ogden this time. I would do parties all the time and promoted events with both publications through shows. I just had the interest and always loved music. I am happy to say that I went from vinyl to 8 track to cassette to CD to iTunes in my lifetime so far. What's next?
Gavin: As briefly mentioned, you studied in Communication at Weber State, what was it like for you being a part of their program?
Ron: Yes, Communication became my minor to history major. I was able to stay in school because of history and my interest in journalism. And with communication, I focused on journalism. I thought I might be a writer or journalist at one time. Or perhaps a teacher. It really opened up my mind of all the possibilities. And as I look back I see how even then it was preparing me for my path.
Gavin: What made you decide to leave Ogden at first and what kept drawing you back?
Ron: Adventure would pull me away to other lands. I was young, single and adventurous. But Ogden has always been home. My family, including my widowed mother, lived in Ogden so I'm sure the need to be with them was a big part of coming back. I have many friends and memories in Ogden and love the outdoors here and the unique history. And the people. I followed my heart and opportunities as they came and every move was a new lifetime of stories, memories and experiences. I just knew when I was done and it seemed I needed to come home and apply what I learned and experienced out there to my home community. Ogden has been on a slow growth for many years. That is both good and bad. It kept it quaint and it's historic personality in tact. But also made it hard for a young person to expand if one needed bigger things. There's so much history and remnants of the past here and you can feel the difference from other Utah cities or in the country. The move from San Francisco back was the biggest. I thought then I would go back but got totally sucked into what was going on here in Ogden with this new renaissance and my abilities to make a difference. When I came back this last time from California I was seeking some land that was affordable and to be near my mother and brother. And the peacefulness of Ogden with some serenity. I hadn't seen the adventures which lie ahead of me this time but knew something was ahead.
Gavin: As you already mentioned, for a period of time you were publishing STREET Magazine. What was it like for you running your own publication and having an influence in the city at the time?
Ron: Starting STREET was so very exciting because were were riding on the excitement of Ogden's growth and the administration's vision as well as the Winter Olympics were coming and that created great excitement and positive energy. I have never felt such hope and excitement in Ogden and in Utah. There was a fever. Utah became so busy getting ready to show the world what we had here. I knew there was a need to communicate all of this including what I thought was to come for the area. I found a small space on 25th Street again and the publication is named from that... the street. Hence, STREET Magazine. I worked with the city fathers to get the stories and we promoted the growth, history and activities among other topics. There was a special energy in the air and we were in the center of it with this growth. I was asked to become a City Planning Commissioner during this excitement. That has been nearly 10 years ago and still on the commission and also Landmarks Commission which I love.
Gavin: What pushed you to become a member of so many boards at the time, including becoming Planning Commissioner for the city?
Ron: I was asked. It's hard to say no to a Mayor. I am still on some of them. Planning Commission (10 years) and Landmarks commission (five years) are the longest. I was on RAMP when it first started here for three years. I am music chair and on the executive board for the annual Ogden Arts Festival which is at the Union Station which I am on that foundation board also, which I love. I have been on Downtown Ogden Inc board for six years. Also a member of the Crossroads of the West committee. I love being a part of the action and helping solve problems and make things better for our community. Each project is different but all come together in making Ogden a better place to live and for the future. I am just a voice and a vote but love being a part of it. Very humbling. It is my way to give back.
Gavin: Prior to Mojos, the story I've read was that you were going to leave and head for Las Vegas. What was going on at the time to make you want to leave, and what got you to stay?
Ron: Yes, that is true. You are way good in your research. I am not sure where that info came from but you sure did your homework, Gavin. I did have a moment of anguish and anxiousness as I always have had where I was wanting to hit the road again. I was feeling like I was running in place and hitting my head against the ceiling and antsy as can be. The Olympic glow was leaving and the reality that things were back to the same hit me. And publishing is a lot of work. I felt the need to be with my family and my mother had moved to Vegas, too. I have nieces and nephews and sisters in Vegas and missed them. I had the idea and desire of being mister Uncle again. I was ready to sell my property and all my stuff and just hit the road. I told my good friend, Jeanne Harris (who passed last March just a year ago) about it. She worked in the Business Development Division of Ogden City. She said, "no you can't leave. Ogden needs you. I'll talk to the Mayor and see if there is anything that can be done to keep you." I was like, oh yeah ... whatever. That was a Friday and on Monday Jeanne called to tell me that the head honchos in the Business Development Division with the sanction of the Mayor wanted to offer me any space on Washington Blvd. in a grant for one year lease if I would stay in Ogden and had to be at least three years. I was like, "Oh really. Hmmm." They gave me a list of all the empty buildings on east side Washington Blvd. downtown which were many at that time in 2003 and I knew immediately which building I wanted. I always have looked at it this awesome building as I drive by with the huge Coca Cola ghost sign on the side. And just a majestic building in a simple way. So, I said what the heck. I felt needed and wanted. I ran STREET in the one side and started working on Mojos on the other. I had already knew I wanted the name Mojos from The Doors' L.A. Woman... mista mojo risen!!! That's another long story. So I took the space and the rest is Ogden rock and roll history.
Gavin: How did you come across the space that would eventually become the venue?
Ron: Well, I touched on it already but I will elaborate. When in high school the space that was STREET was called Village Fair West and had the greatest hippie-type clothing. These guys were older who ran it and appeared like hippies. They were Vietnam vets, actually. They had some great clothes and would make leather clothing right in the space and incense and fragrant oils were strong in the air. So I had the greatest memories of this space. Later they added Hobie cats in the '70s and in the '80s were skateboards. The same man owned the space all this time. Where Mojos is was a bar for many decades called the Mecca. It ran from the '30s/'40s to the '90s. The space got an overhaul in that time. Much of the furniture and other things were in the basement and we use a lot of it in Mojos such as benches, bar stools and chairs and other decorations. When we moved in the failed mall was still up across the street and not even torn down yet. We lived through that period and it was a dirt lot for years until the master plan got approved. I was a part of that eventually being on city planning commission. Then came the resurgence of growth and new businesses coming on east side Washington in downtown Ogden. We were pioneers and thankfully we had destination customers from day one and never relied on drive by or walk by traffic. It is exciting to see the changes and to know we are part of it and were pioneers and now the old timers on the block. There has been much progress but still more to come and it is coming!
Gavin: What was it like at the time clearing it out and turning it into a functional coffee shop and venue?
Ron: Luckily, the last tenant was a vintage/consignment clothing store in Mojos space. So they just had racks on the walls and other then dressing rooms where the stage now stands it didn't need any major work, just minor and cosmetic. Definitely some but not big construction. Next door, where the STREET office was, and the basement were filled with the clothing in boxes and scattered and it took 27 truck loads to clear it out. The front was perfect with the counter and we just added to it. They had track lights in front which we love and added more throughout the main room which was my best investment I made. We can set the mood just perfect and still show off the artwork. I sold my home when I got into this space, September 2002, and brought all of my belongings here. A lot of it became Mojos decorations and still is in the room. It has been modified since then but that is how it started. I went thrift shopping to get the other couches and tables and other things and received many donations. That created our eclectic decor, and that's my style anyway. The artwork came not only from my personal collection but from local artists wanting to exhibit. Some still is in Mojos from the beginning as we just like it so well. Some artists such as Steve Stones changes his out periodically. We do have Jeanne Harris' collection still hanging in Mojos. There are many other local artists who still show here and new one's all the time. I bought some collections because I liked it so well.
Ron: During 2004 while I was still getting the space put together, we would open on Friday nights for jam sessions. Some of the artists that worked for STREET Magazine were also musicians and they began the jam sessions. At that time there was not much live music but only at two bars in town, Kamikazes and Brewskis. So we had by word of mouth 40 or more musicians show up to jam. These were amazing times as magic was made every time. Everyone would bring their instruments and own amps and just play. It was a rock symphony. We sold coffee and that's all. No sign and it was very underground. After a year or so in 2005, I felt ready to open and asked these musicians if their bands wanted to play. All said yes and were excited. So hence, Mojos began! With humble underground beginnings and slowly evolving, she was open to the public and became a reality. Many of those initial young musicians are all over the place playing gigs in Ogden and beyond. Some are on both coasts and had their start right here on the Mojos small stage in the early days. I am proud of that. I had no idea then what this revolution of Ogden music was happening and now it is all over in pubs, restaurants, festivals, coffee shops and streets. We were in sync with the entire Wasatch Front as those communities had their own places and spurts of creativity also. I knew there was a ripe oil well here but never ever knew how much. It gushed from the very first day on February 5, 2005 and has never stopped. In some ways, there's more. They came at us from every direction. We promoted by flyers as this was before MySpace. We were swarmed from the beginning and open five nights a week at first. We even had new band Tuesdays. We had our first super star bands in 2005 in Gundhi, Invisible Rays, Omnipresent, Jebu, Spearit, Juse, X-Marks, Random, Fox Van Cleef, Space Between, Second Dept, Catalyst and many more. Each year brought new super star bands to us. Most are still playing music even though their bands may not have survived but are in other projects. It was organic and the space evolved with every band and every guest as it still does.
Gavin: What was that first year like being open, and how did you finally decide on the name Mojos?
Ron: The first year was magical beyond words. Those that were here and part of it will always remember that magic and often stop by and reflect on it. I think it was a major part of many people's lives. Many of them are still bonded and best of friends to this day. And many others are married with what I call Mojos babies. When a couple met at Mojos they are a Mojos couple and their kids become Mojos babies. And there are dozens of those. We all knew each others names back then and were a very close group. The Mojos super-star bands played weekly to all friends and new ones coming in all the time. Creativity was so strong and powerful and it was all new and exciting and even though we did flyers, it was word of mouth that got the initial blast and continued thereon. Nobody had seen anything like this here in Ogden, especially the youth and they loved it. I had wanted to create a space that was a combination of so many places that I enjoyed in all the cities that I lived in and visited. A combination of coffee houses, music venues, quaint and unique pubs and concert halls. Not just in decor but in ambiance. I spent many nights in places I enjoyed of different styles in the west coast. And I had my own idea of the eclectic, unique and artsy atmosphere but wanted the safe, chill and creative environment. I think that has been achieved and a success and is what many love about Mojos.
Ron: On the name Mojos: That is a long story but I will attempt the short version. After I came back to Utah in 1999, I took a road trip in my red Toyota Celica to San Francisco, Monterey then Las Vegas. I stayed a week in each city. This was a special trip as I went to see friends of the lives I'd lived in those cities in the past. It was wonderful. I took plenty of CDs to listen to on the way. But for some reason, I listened to The Best Of The Doors the entire trip. Never took it out. I never tired of it. It had so many songs on the CD that it never got boring and I just rocked all the way with it. Every time "L.A. Woman" came on and the lyrics "mista mojo risen, keep on risen" came on I just would get such a great feeling and realized that one day when I had my own hangout that would be the name. I knew it would be a coffee/espresso with music and art. I also knew then that it would be called Mojos for short. That was years before it was a reality but I knew it would happen and the dream always stayed with me. I thought it would be on Historic 25th Street originally and found a space next to the STREET Magazine office when it began there but it got rented out from under us. Which at the time was not a happy moment but grateful it did now. It was a few years alters and one other "almost" space before this happened. This space is perfect in every way for what I wanted and what it became. Jim Morrison has become our patron saint and in some ways Mojos is a shrine to him, his music and his philosophy of the time. I think the kids of this day get him as much or more then in his day.
Well hello dear reader! It is a rarity, but this interview is just too damn long for one page. Click this link for Part 2!
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