Hey there! This is Part 2 of an interview with Ron Atencio, founder and owner of Mojos in Ogden! You should probably check out Part 1 first by going to this link here, unless you've already read it, so in that case, enjoy the second half. --- (All photos still courtesy of Mojos' Facebook page.)
Gavin: At what point did things change from being a music cafe to being a full-fledged venue? And what made you choose to keep the coffee?
Ron: I think it was early on that this transition actually took place. I still held out for years that we would be more cafe then venue as I had originally envisioned. I had many tables and chairs and had the cafe feel for many years. Eventually, as tables broke, I didn't replace them but added chairs and the front part became more theater with the mixture of all kinds of chairs and then we would take them out when we needed the space for dancing. But we still always had some tables so that feel is also part of the venue as are the couches or to stand near the stage. All of it exists still. We leave a tray of blank paper on all the tables with a bucket of crayons and we now have books of art from the creativity folks have left us through the years. Big binders and people enjoy looking at all this original art. I think that when the night is peaking with creativity that kids just have to let it out. And this is one way to do it, to express that internal fire. Dancing is of course another. We have some amazing art in our binders from this and gather pieces every night still. The bands came out at us right from the start. I didn't know until the first band Gundhi played that it would work. And it did. From there, we have had tens of thousands on the stage. We began doing shows with promoters and one was Rick Shoes from Salt Lake City. He wanted to have a space that would hold mid size shows and he wanted to reach the Ogden market. So we began doing shows together in 2011 and that lasted for a year and a half. He brought some incredible bands and musicians to Ogden at Mojos and we got a lot of attention from it. They were starting to get too big and we had a visit from the Fire Marshall on that issue so we decided to give that a break.
Ron: Others have also rented Mojos as a music venue and brought in touring bands such as Jason Allen of the Basement, which was a venue that opened up in Ogden 2009 and lasted a few years. Now he does one show a month in Mojos as a promoter. We bought their incredible sound system and we work together well. On December 9, 2012, SLC Concerts brought in Allen Stone. That was one of the most amazing shows we have ever done and that night I realized that things have changed and that is when I decided to upgrade the stage, sound system and sound booth and realized and relinquished that we were truly a music venue. It was then that I realized that the cafe idea would not be happening anytime soon. The needs of the community spoke loudly. So we changed the name from Mojos Caffe & Gallery to Mojos Music Venue officially with the state and city. And that defines us better as it is. I started and intended to be a coffee house with music but ended up being a music venue that serves coffee. About the coffee, you ask. There is just that special feeling to sit and enjoy a hot, strong cup of coffee and listen to music and chill. I love coffee. We serve one flavor and that is Double French and we brew it double strong. If you want decaf we refer you to our herbal teas. Our cocoa which is the dark chocolate is very popular and we have our infamous Mojoccino which combines the coffee and cocoa with caramel and vanilla syrups and fresh cinnamon with cream and whip cream and more chocolate on top. They are very popular. Our menu is simple but very good.
Gavin: What was it like for you setting up shows and trying to figure out lineups that people would want to check out?
Ron: At this point in time we are booked a few months in advance. Most of our shows are those requesting nights. That is from bands, promoters or other groups. There was a time that I booked every band for every night in the early days but even then it was not too difficult as we had so many bands and musicians and so many requests. It was just coordinating and the fun part was putting different acts together to create that special evening. Now a band will ask for the night and host it and perhaps bring in a touring band and some of their local bands and friends and make a night of it. There are so many genres and we play them all and always have done every type of music. So whatever the genre is we have the ready built bands and crowds who are fans of that genre. In my youth we had one type of music and that was rock/pop and all teens listened to the same bands on the radio and bought the same records. It is not like that at all these days. There are sub genres within the genres. So many and within are the crowds that follow that music. Some cross over but not a lot. So we have friends from every genre. Our open mic jam night Thursdays bring them all together however and that is awesome and special. At the first we didn't have the internet working for us as it is today. When MySpace came our way in 2006, it was heaven sent. We had kids and we had bands and we just put them together with our site. Things changed that year when bands from all over the country (and world, even. We had one from France) request to play Mojos. I was so amazed these awesome bands wanted to play our little venue. I booked them all and that spring to fall was busy as can be with touring bands every weekend. The locals that played often at Mojos always played with touring bands. And every one was amazing. Some incredible shows and great friends that came through. Many I let stay in the venue on our couches. And it was always good. We have many regional bands from Salt Lake City, Provo and Logan who play Mojos often, too, from the very beginning. Our roots go wide and deep after a decade. Many folks have been in several bands and still playing even if they are of bar age at Mojos because they like the all ages crowds and want to reach the youth who buy merch and become fans. So many of our musicians and bands which began at Mojos long ago are doing well and playing everywhere from bars to festivals to touring the country. I am proud of that.
Gavin: The venue came around right as Ogden's rock and hip-hop scenes really started gaining steam. What was it like for you to watch those musicians grow, and the audiences double?
Ron: I knew there was untapped talent in Ogden for music and art. I knew there was not an outlet for the youth to showcase their music and creativity. I knew it. What I didn't know was how much and how long that well would pump once we tapped it. I don't even have words to express this. But it still gushes strong and in some ways even more. It is accumulative and it multiplies. We are Ogden's only all ages venue and have seen many come and go. We are still here. We are one of the longest running in the Wasatch Front pushing 10 years. I believe Kilby Court is the only one older than us and they have had ownership changes, but still I consider them the grand daddy of all-ages venue in Utah. I didn't even know that term "all-ages live music venue" when I started. I just wanted a coffee house with great local music to play and thought of the old hippie or beatnik days of past for what the atmosphere would be. And although we get the bigger concerts for a mid size venue we also have those nights that it is chill and very beatnik for alternative and progressive sorts. We have seen it all. From rock to punk to acoustic to Americana to metal of all types to hardcore to ska to reggae to blues to jazz to indie to progressive rock to hip hop/rap to ... well, you name it. It is what keeps me going as you ask what is it like for me. I have watched 10-year-old kids start and make a name for themselves and 50 year old's who just started playing and end up on our stage on a regular basis just for the love of music. I take pride in that and all those who are making a living or just enjoying their talents and sharing with others. And they know where there start is and come in often to play or to just hang out and reminisce. Our roots do run deep and wide and we have so many incredible friendships and magical nights to share and remember. And that continues each and every night. This is what keeps me going!
Gavin: What made you decide to keep Mojos an all-ages venue rather than turn it into a bar like many other Ogden venues?
Ron: Well, it's true that the money would be bigger if it was a bar. But that is not the atmosphere that I am going for and it never was. I love the coffee house atmosphere but not just a coffee house. I love the chill, relaxed setting. And I love going to bars on occasion and have a beer and listen to music. But where would the kids go if we did that? I like the sober environment where kids come to a safe place to hear music. They wouldn't have a place to go if we did that. I am more than happy not to deal with drunks and drinking. I have many friends in the bar business and respect that they handle this so well. But that is not for me. I want a sober environment. We have parents drop a car load of kids at our front door and do whatever they what to do and come back later that night to pick them up. That is the greatest endorsement and compliment that I could ask for as they know their kids will be safe, have fun and be exposed to positive things and have a great time and not have to worry about influences they do not need to be around. Many parents come in to hear their kids or just hang out in back while their kids are enjoying the show and their friends. I love when parents do that. I talk with them and they thank me for having a safe place for the youth to come to and be themselves and grow and have great times. It isn't about the money for me although we do alright. We pay the bills and have enough for improvements. It is about the good that comes out of it all and the magic every night. The kids have a place to play on great sound equipment and nice staff to welcome them and the guests are treated with respect and encouraged to enjoy themselves safely and freely and to express themselves also. I always say leaver your problems and dramas at the door. They most likely will be gone when you leave.
Gavin: What has the reaction been like from the city over the years, and how much support do you see from the community who aren't the average audience attendees?
Ron: The city has been more then supportive right from the beginning. In the beginning Mayor Godfrey encouraged and praised Mojos and we got the business of the month in our first opening days. And as I had said the city encouraged me to stay in Ogden and even funded our first year lease to do so. That was a big help and a big incentive. At that time they were really working hard to bring and keep small businesses into downtown Ogden. I was also supporting that with STREET Magazine and then again in Ogden City Planning Commission. The only thing we ever had trouble with was with a new Fire Marshall in this new administration who was concerned about our shows getting too big and stay within our capacity of 150 so we toned it down with the bigger touring acts and focused on mid size and local shows again. But they have been great and supportive of what we do. I have police officers tell me that they think it is great to give teens something to do and keep them off of the streets or parties where they may get into some trouble. It is positive, music, art and friendships. How can you beat that? I have enjoyed the city's support from the beginning and really appreciate that. We keep it clean and respectful and safe for our guests and go extra measures to make sure of it and that is also with me being in the venue every night and having a watchful and attentive staff. If anyone is out of sorts, I am on it right away and they are out. But thank goodness that doesn't happen very often. I think everyone watches out for Mojos as if it is their own home, for it is in many ways. So many say it is their home away from home and that is the highest compliment anyone could give me and to Mojos.
Gavin: How did you start building the collection of art and photos on the walls and what significance does everything have to both the venue and the city?
Ron: The art collection began with my own personal collection. Then I tapped local artists to display such as Steve Stones, Jeanne Harris, Bruce Case, Colby Robinson, David Winward and many others who have brought in a piece or two or a collection through the years. Some are for sale but many are either in my collection or just on exhibit. Some have been with us the entire decade as I get very attached to it while others change out often. It is forever changing and evolving. That is the beauty. It is original, raw and local. I think it adds so much to the space. We dim the lights and it just glows color while the music rocks out. And it is so nice when our guests just stand there listening to music staring at the art or discussing it. It is music and color and vibration in the air just growing and growing. It is something one feels and words are not really adequate to describe it. It is an experience.
Gavin: Mojos is slowly creeping up to the 10-year marker, how has it been for you watching the venue and music scene grow since opening and knowing you had an impact in it's growth?
Ron: Now that is an amazing question and one that I am going to have to contemplate on. I see this decade and all that has happened as magic and a powerful experience for me personally. I understand what you are asking but I am often within the bubble and it is hard for me to see from the outside looking in. I'm in that room every night for every show. I have taken very few weekends off. Mostly because I love it and don't want to miss out on the fun. It is humbling when you ask it this way. I realize my role and it is the amazing talent and the incredible kids who are open and sharing that make it what it is. It is truly community. I created the space and guide the ship but without those two parts it is just a empty space that is pretty. The magic comes with those that enter the door willing to give and receive the energy of the moment. I simply coordinate it, clean up, and pay the bills. And I know that sounds too simple and I know it is true and there is much more then that. I set the mood and insist on a positive and safe space for all. I know when it needs this or that. Such as lower lights, louder or softer music between sets, if there is someone who is not behaving right and to encourage the healthy friendships. To have seen so many fun times and amazing music is really a privilege for me and the highlight of my career and life. I consider this my life work at this time. How I define it? I am not sure yet. Maybe in another decade I can do that better. For now I just store all that data and events in my memory and live in the moment to create the new and future moments.
Gavin: Are you looking to do anything new with the venue down the road or making improvements, or are you good keeping things as they are for now?
Ron: The formula that it is here now will stay the same with the flexibility to change as the music and the kids change. I have seen many genres come and go and new ones come up. Attitudes and styles will change but the basic principles will stay the same always. The formula is set and I doubt will change unless kids/folks stop enjoying live music or other people but I doubt that highly. The way technology is going one wonders but I do not think that will ever changed. It was always the youth who guided music and the new trends and who go to concerts and buy the merch and support the local and touring music. I still fantasize about having that cafe and opening more nights or days even. But that is not in the plans in the near future. Just keep doing what we are doing until someone somehow forces me to stop or the kids or bands stop showing up. But what we have works great. Just more and different and more of the same.
Gavin: What can we expect to see from you and Mojos over the rest of the year?
Ron: When I began 10 years ago, I had acoustic nights on Wednesdays and we did that for five or six years. As the weekends exploded the acoustic nights were a bit slower start but still steady. I played the same musicians most every week and they loved it but we didn't get the big numbers in as the bands nights. But I believed in them and told them all just hang in there I know this is going to work. This is the the raw and beginning of it all. The heart and soul of music and of Mojos. And lo and behold, we had James King and Jake Smith show up around the same time and they made this night explode. I played them alternatively each week as they both brought a great crowd and other musicians and it evened out the nights. They were amazing and as big as our now Open Mic Jam night Thursdays. We did this many years. Then I decided to put them on Fridays and we did that for a long time. Then out of no where we got so busy and I had to reduce the amount of acoustic showcases. So we play them the first Friday of each month. I am considering bringing back the Acoustic Weds later this year. We have more acoustic musicians, singer songwriters again. Our open mics are incredible. They are packed and so many young and first time musicians get on that stage and play and sing their hearts out. It is so inspiring to see and that is truly what keeps me going when I see that raw, untapped talent just blossom before my eyes and the enthusiasm and support the guests give each other. I think Mojos will evolve on it's own as it already has but much is in place. There is a path set but there is flexibility as needed. That is the beauty and the fun of it all. Other then that it is the same rock and roll as we have done for a decade!
Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?
Ron: Well, every weekend I would like to promote and plug, and we do that through our Facebook site. But I guess the easiest way is to refer folks to our Facebook page: Mojos Music Venue and become a fan/friend and then those interested can get our schedules, posts of each weeks shows, photos, videos that we record of each show and other fun stuff. We do record every show and I post the entire sets on our YouTube channel. We also are on Twitter, Instragram and Snap Chat. But best of all is in person. Come in and check out our shows and see our great mercy as well. I hope folks will come on out and share the fun with us!
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