When The Southgate House Revival opened in Newport on October 12, 2012, it was not just the soul of one of Cincinnati’s greatest musical institutions that found new life. The red brick building, which celebrates its sesquicentennial this year, dates to 1866, and was home to Grace Methodist Episcopal Church for 120 years. It survived a direct hit by a tornado on July 7, 1915 and a catastrophic windstorm March 10, 1986. The former sheared the steeple from the northeast corner (which was never replaced), and the latter shuttered the church for good. It stood empty for a quarter century until Southgate House founder Ross Raleigh came looking for his venue’s new home.
For 35 years, the Southgate House called 24 East Third Street home. Over the course of those decades, the 19th century mansion became a landmark on the national music scene, playing host to Rock and Roll Hall of Famers and rising stars alike. Arcade Fire, The Black Keys, Modest Mouse, The Killers, and The White Stripes all performed at Southgate on their early tours, and a given weeks’ schedule might include bluegrass, black metal, and indie rock spread across the venue’s four performance spaces. Perhaps most importantly, Southgate House provided an enthusiastic, welcoming incubator for the local music scene, and young area acts were often tacked onto national bills.
Five years ago, a legal battle erupted between Raleigh and his sister Armina Lee over control of the house; Lee won, and at the end of November, it was announced that the Southgate House would be closing its doors. The final weeks saw The Tillers record a live album and local heroes Seedy Seeds perform a career-spanning set to a sold-out crowd, before The Dopamines shut the everything down with a whole-house New Year’s Eve bash.
Raleigh was left looking for a new location, and settled on the church only four blocks away. Ten short months after the closing of the old building, the Southgate House Revival opened with the 2012 Cincypunk Fest. The renovated building’s primary performance space is the high-ceilinged Sanctuary, which has a similar capacity to the old House’s Ballroom (600). The church’s pipe organ towers above the bar on the south end of the room, and at the north end, a beautiful arches rise above the stage. It’s a striking, dramatic space for music, commented upon and loved by artists and audience alike. In 2013, The Breeders used the room as a rehearsal space, and then kicked off their Last Splash XX reunion tour with a surprise show. The room has also played host to the likes of Built to Spill, Billy Bragg, Drive-By Truckers, and countless other favorites who frequented the old space.
Outside of the Sanctuary is the intimate Lounge, painted with the Revival’s logo. The Lounge is the main bar area, and hosts free shows most nights of the week, the room has pool tables off to the north end, and the monthly Artist-in-Residence takes the stage every Wednesday night. Pro tip: to avoid service fees, just head into the Lounge and buy advance tickets in cash right at the bar.
Upstairs holds the building’s hidden gem: The Revival Room. Much smaller than the Sanctuary, the Revival Room is intimate and inviting, lit by the warm neon glow in the window. The low, narrow stage puts you right on top of the action, and the room is barely 30 feet deep from front to back. For all of the great music I’ve caught downstairs, some of the most magical moments have been up in the Revival Room.
The Southgate House is a Revival not only in name: both the institution and the building have come through adversity to arrive at their current glory. It emerged from a year of dark uncertainty as a versatile, vibrant space that continues the legacy of its legendary predecessor. It remains a cornerstone of the Cincinnati music scene and without a doubt one of the best places in town to see a show.
Cincinnati is brimming over with amazing places to see live music. Every pocket within our city has a number of places to check out your next favorite band. Within the month of April, CincyMusic.com will be featuring Neighborhood Venues in Cincinnati. These venues include; a past brothel, the home of the amazing open mic night (and a darn good pretzel), an old school jazz joint, a west side gem, the venue that was once underwater, where to go to worship music, and the go-to spot in OTR for breaking bands.
Stay tuned to CincyMusic.com for our Features on your favorite neighborhood venues this month!