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The Space: The man behind Hamden’s top music venue
On Treadwell Street, in the middle of an industrial park in Hamden, stands a lone building. The sign on the street says it is “The Space.” From the outside, it may look like another warehouse, just like the ones that form a barrier around the parking lot, until you take in the white, carnival-like booth marked “tickets” in large, red letters and the patio where people sit outside chatting and smoking cigarettes.
The inside looks like the basement of a house, with couches, tables and memories of the not-so-distant past. Upon further observation, you notice that it’s not a regular basement. Along the far wall is a raised platform with speakers and microphones; in front of you is a snack bar, a young worker resting her elbows on the counter.
The man behind the bar is wearing a red, blue and white plaid button-up over a navy T-shirt. Tan Converse All Stars peek out from beneath his jeans, which are ripped at the knees. “Do you mind if we go out on the patio so I can have a cigarette?” he asks.
As he sits down under the umbrella at the aluminum table, his dark hair pokes out from under his brown baseball cap and his blue eyes sparkle. He lights a cigarette and plays with the green and orange label of his East India Pale Ale as you ask him his full name.
“Steve Rodgers,” he replies.
Eight years ago, at 26, with his first child on the way and no money in his pocket, Rodgers leased a warehouse building as a place for him and his friends to hang out and play music. With support from friends within and outside the music world, Rodgers turned a lone building in the middle of an industrial park into an all-ages music venue for local and underground bands to perform and practice. The Space opened in April 2003, and its 21-plus sister club, The Outer Space, followed nearly eight years later in February 2011.
“I basically just didn’t sleep for a year while I opened that place, renovated the building from floor to ceiling,” Rodgers said.
Even before the opening of The Space, Rodgers’ life revolved around music. Nine years old and in fourth grade, Rodgers found an old stereo in the trash by the side of the road. He wheeled it home, where he set it up in his garage, and plugged in an old guitar he had received as a gift. He began to play.
“That was my first amplified experience,” Rodgers said with a smile. “And it was really, really sweet.”
Rodgers’ passion for music was echoed by his family. His father, Peter, a pastor at an Episcopal church in New Haven, played guitar and recorded music at BBC Recording Studios in England when Rodgers was young. His mother, Susan, a social worker in New Haven, played guitar and helped Peter write songs. Rodgers’ brother Jon is a professional musician who plays guitar in four different bands and travels around the country. He has also begun to write music for movies.
In high school, Rodgers and his brother started a band, Mighty Purple, and everything else took a backseat to his life as a musician. High school was 30 percent priority and the band was 70 percent priority, according to Rodgers. After graduation, he bought a 30-foot RV with his band and left New Haven to travel the country. Instead of attending college, he played shows at them; instead of learning in the classroom, he learned from life experiences on the road.
“Once my teenage years hit, I just started going to see shows all the time, and I just lived it,” Rodgers said. “I was always out either seeing a show, playing a show or hanging out with people before or after a show. Everything revolved around shows, so I guess it makes sense that I own a place where I do that 24/7, or two places now that I do that 24/7.”
While Rodgers grew up listening to his father’s Everly Brothers and Simon and Garfunkel records and his mother’s albums of R.E.M. and U2, he’s almost overwhelmed at the thought of naming one band or genre that he enjoys most.
“This is so much stuff,” he said. “It’s almost too much to talk about. It’s almost a whole other conversation. I love good songwriting. That’s my thing. If there’s good songs and I can tell that it’s heartfelt and real, then I’m really into it. I like things that are powerful.”
On tour with Mighty Purple, Rodgers’ passion for powerful and real things became apparent. He describes America as it was in the early 1990s, before chain stores spread to every section of the country, before GPS, cell phones and Internet were used. He remembers the days when you had to call around to set up gigs and take the risk of not getting paid to get the band’s music heard.
“I got to see a lot of that stuff, stuff you only see in books anymore,” Rodgers said. “There were almost parts of it that were still third-world country in a way when I first started touring. I think that was almost more exciting to me then.”
“I sort of at that point had built something that involved so many people in the community,” Rodgers said. “It would be a real shame if it stopped happening because it meant so much to so many people, so I kind of just went out on a limb and went and signed a lease without even having any money in the bank.”
After a minor complication when The Space was shut down by the town for not having the correct permits, two of his friends — Beth Corraco and Dave, whose last name Rodgers did not wish to give — sat him down and told him he had to learn how to run a business. He may have toured and managed bands, but he didn’t know how to run a music venue.
“I didn’t know anything about anything,” Rodgers said. “I didn’t really know that you need to have things like sprinkler systems and handicap bathrooms, you know, all this stuff, so I had a rapid learning experience. So I essentially ended up going and learning a whole lot from a whole lot of people in a short period of time. At the same time, I was expecting our first kid, closing on a house, so all of a sudden, when I was 26 years old, I was like ‘Oh shit, I have to be an adult.’ Like all of a sudden, you know.”
Once he went through the proper legal channels, Rodgers set to work reopening The Space. He decorated both venues with items that he collected off the side of the road, which started with the old speaker he picked up when he was 9. Everything he had in his childhood bedroom plus what he’s acquired over his adult years fills the walls, ceilings and floors of The Space, The Outer Space and his home.
Then the calls started coming. Pop-punk bands, from all over the East Coast, started calling to set up gigs at the all-ages venue. With a capacity of 150, The Space welcomes all bands, whether they are well-known or flying under the radar. Rodgers is conscious though of who he takes on as performers.
“I don’t like taking risks that cost as much as two years worth of mortgage payments,” he said. “I’d rather have a bunch of college-age kids working for me and giving them little jobs instead. Those are the risks I want to take. Taking somebody on for a year and paying them that kind of money instead of an artist in one night. That’s where I’m at. And I love the underdog. I love the underground musician. I love people who are really trying because a lot of the time they just have a lot of spark and a lot of fire.”
One of those “underdogs” is the Quinnipiac-based band Voted Most Random, made up of Ian Reibeisen, Salvatore Salemme, Scott Gunter, Chris Weiss and Joe Mauti. Over the past year, Rodgers has taken the group under his wing, making suggestions and giving advice on being part of the music business.
“He treats everyone with respect as long as they treat him, his employees and the venue the same way,” Reibeisen and Mauti said in an email. “Whenever we need anything we can either text, call or just stop by The Space, and he is more than happy to talk. Voted Most Random wouldn’t be where we are now if it wasn’t for the help of Steve and everyone else at The Space.”
With his cigarette long since burnt out, he finishes his beer and sets the bottle down in front of him, his blue eyes meeting yours.
“So that’s me in a nutshell,” Rodgers said, “after one beer and a night full of responsibility ahead of me.”