Earlier this year, the unthinkable happened: The Provo music scene lost one of its most dedicated all-ages venues. Muse Music—a staple in the community for more than a decade, long before Velour or City Limits were conceived—shut down on University Avenue, effectively closing a chapter within the community. It seemed unreal, as the Provo music scene is currently booming with talent across multiple genres—primarily in electronica, pop and rock. So the closing of the venue immediately left dozens of Utah County bands without a supportive venue.
After a history of ownership shifts, principal co-owners Debby Phillips and Darcie Roy found themselves in a jam. Their studio manager moved away, effectively shutting down the recording-studio side, which turned into a makeshift rehearsal space. The venue sold much of the equipment from that area, but proceeds did little to put a dent in their bills. Meanwhile, the cafe area failed to pull in sufficient income from visiting patrons to justify keeping it open throughout the day, and sold little to ticket-holders during gigs. Keeping Muse Music open was grew more and more difficult.
"The last few months at the old location were tough," says Phillips. "Our rent had gone up, and summer business was down. We'd had a fundraiser that got us through a super-tough spot, but we didn't want to have to ask for help like that again. All-ages venues don't make a profit as it is; trying to make a third of the space cover the whole building's expenses was a constant struggle."
In December 2014, they closed up shop. However, neither Phillips nor Roy wanted to say goodbye to Muse Music. The duo made plans to bring the venue back in a new location. They spent months trying to find new digs that would accommodate Muse and its amenities but had no luck. Just as they were about to call it quits, they came across a shuttered arcade at 247 W. Center—a bigger space with room to grow—that would keep the venue securely in downtown Provo.
Renovating the building brought with it a new set of challenges. The building was in rough shape and required a new bathroom, extensive electrical work and a new stage, all of which the city of Provo and new landlord Rick Horsley of Pioneer Books have been helping Muse's owners with, right down to the wire before opening. Sadly, one of the changes includes saying goodbye to the cafe end of the business, mainly because it wouldn't pay for itself in terms of the space it would have consumed. Its removal, however, will allow Phillips and Roy to focus on something more important: being a music venue first.
As this new era starts up for Muse Music, Phillips and Roy are looking for a wide array of musicians from across the state, as well as visiting touring bands, to perform in what they hope will become the next premiere all-ages venue in Utah County. In a city with a thriving, increasingly diverse music scene, this will be a fantastic opportunity for undiscovered local acts to capitalize on.
"Pop rock is kind of dominating the scene right now, and while they're great bands, they're just one slice of the pie," says Roy, on the current Utah County vibe. "Utah is a hotbed of talent, and it would be a waste to ignore that. Our goal is to expose audiences to the broader range of statewide talent—people are missing out on some great bands! Even though Salt Lake City is a much bigger city, media attention has honed in on Provo, [and] bands have a better shot of 'making it' or, at least, growing their fan bases."