Ballard venue the Josephine, a longtime bastion of adventurous underground music and other species of unhinged performance arts, ceased operations Tuesday, February 3. However, Josephine lease holder and show booker Malaki Stahl says in an e-mail interview that the tenants who live in the space and work for the venue have not been evicted. "We are there at least until the end of this lease and may continue to rent there depending. The people who live there will remain, as far as I can see at this point." Stahl and fellow booker Olivia Mendez do not live at the Josephine, but have been crucial to its existence June 2011. Both staffers are diligently working with artists who have gigs scheduled there to relocate them to other spaces.
This turn of events, says Stahl, occurred when "the city investigated us (allegedly they have a few times, covertly), and then talked to the land owner, [and] he stipulated that we cease shows. The city didn't make overtures; in fact, the surprise inspection was exactly that, a surprise. We have learned that someone complained about noise and separately about building usage, i.e., the building having shows (which we maintain were private parties in our private residence). The city has only responded to a complaint; we complied with the codes to the degree that we could, but it wasn't enough to keep them from continuing to contact the owner.
"In the end," Stahl continues, "everything that is clandestine, or between the cracks of legality will eventually be uprooted, so it isn't a surprise that we are under scrutiny. The landlord making the decision to fold to the city's recommendation that we cease is another matter."
Stahl calls the Josephine's closure "inevitable and very sad for the scene, mostly." He says that the best thing about running the Josephine was the "shared experience. I mostly handled the booking, and the fix-it, janitor duties, sound for shows, door, etc. But I couldn't say any of those were the best part; the best part was knowing there was a space that ANYONE could play in the city. The house was and is held together by the housemates, each one doing their part, volunteering to learn sound, manning the door, keeping the peace and some semblance of cleanliness (which some will find funny). I am a satellite to the house people; they are the superstars.
"The Josephine never made a profit, it often only paid its bills on my and the housemates' backs. The shows would generate money in the form of donations, which we would take a small part of. The rest of the money went to the bands. [We were] often told that we were the highlight of many a band's tours."
Stahl says he can't pick a favorite Josephine show. "My bands and projects have played there many times, so many artists have been through there, so many amazing shows... Historically, it was a space held by the Sun City Girls, and even way back the show Bombshelter Videos was filmed there, I understand, back in the '80s."
In the aftermath of the demise of the Josephine, which was a steadfast haven for outlier acts that more conventional venues wouldn't take the risk of hosting, Stahl and Mendez are generating some benefit-show ideas that they hope will carry them through the next few financially precarious months. Stahl adds, "We may also need to do a benefit to be able to afford starting a nonprofit gambit."