Before the Casbah’s month-of-January reunion shows becomes a hazy memory, owner Tim Mays, manager Ben Johnson, and doorman Ben Heynes offer stories about the Casbah’s 20-year legacy — a few tales of near disasters, spoiled musicians, and the night when an unknown opening act nearly tore the roof off the place for an audience of six.
Tim Mays: “Right when we moved into the new location in January ’94, there was an ASR [Action Sport Retail] show that was booked by one of those Orange County clothing companies. We just moved into this new place, so we were open to anything — we’d just tripled our capacity.
“So on the bill was Korn, Uncle Joe’s Big Ol’ Driver, Lit, and a couple of other bands. At the time, Korn was pretty much unknown outside Orange County. Halfway through the night, the crowd is looking really ugly. We didn’t have extra security.… We just decided to stop letting people in, while in the meantime there are all these people showing up with invites to get in the show.
“Eric Conger was working at the door, and he’s hardly a physical threat, and Phil Oliverson is working the side door, and he’s a pretty big guy. So, we’re not letting people in, and people are congregating outside, climbing over the apartment building trying to get in or rushing the door, but we’re okay, everything’s cool.
“A little while later Ice-T shows up, and Eric doesn’t recognize him. He has no idea who he is and turns him away. Somebody comes up to me and says, ‘They wouldn’t let Ice-T come in!’ So I run down the street and grab him. He’s probably got two people with him, but all these people outside all of a sudden became his entourage. We get him in, and everything is cool, but a little while later somebody steals a bottle of booze from behind the bar, and a friend sees him and points him out.
“I go to confront him. He denies it and wants to start a fight, so there’s this mini showdown in the middle of the dance floor with me and my friends and that guy and his friends.
“Everything cools down eventually and is fine. Then Korn goes on, and the crowd goes completely nuts. There’s about 100 people there, and at one point somebody opens the side door and people try to rush in. Phil is trying to push people back out. He gets them outside, but he ends up outside with them and gets locked out. He’s stuck out there with these people and trying to fight them off and ends up getting sliced with a box cutter in the lower part of his back. We get him inside and pull the plug on the band.
“We find the promoter and tell him, ‘This is nuts! You gotta stop!’ We cut the PA, but the band keeps playing for another song, but we finally got everyone out of there. I don’t think Phil went to the hospital until the next morning. He ended up getting a couple of stitches. After that we vowed: No more ASR-related events.”
Ben Johnson: “One of the guys from the Crash Worship has this marching band called the Extra Action Marching Band, and when they played — and I don’t know why or how — but the whole f***ng sewage and plumbing started coming up through the works and flooding the whole front room. We were working at the bar and throwing down cardboard over cardboard on the floor so people wouldn’t be standing in it. We had to take beer out of boxes just so we could have more cardboard to throw on the ground. We had it stacked about six inches high, and the sewage was still seeping through it. And nobody left! The band kept playing, and no one left, and there was a piss and shit smell everywhere. It was so far and away the gnarliest thing that has ever happened there. It was totally disgusting. It was the only show where that could happen and people wouldn’t leave — it was literally a cesspool.”
Ben Johnson: “One thing that has been super rad, and it’s happened a couple of times — when Nebula was at the height of their popularity, they used to bring in the most slamming openers. This one time — I think the third or fourth time they played there — they brought in Mastodon, and Mastodon has to play at 9:30 p.m., and nobody knew who they were. It was really slow — I think there were only five people in the club, and I was bar backing and got to go up to the front of the stage and stand five feet from those guys and watch them completely fucking annihilate the stage. It’s always cool when you get to see those bands that are way ahead of the curve before anybody really knows who they are.”
Ben Heynes: “There’s been times when we were understaffed, and there were a bunch of dudes there that just wanted to fight. Cinco de Mayo with Manic Hispanic — about eight years ago — that was not fun. Some Lucy’s Fur Coat shows were insane ten years ago. We do our best. We don’t punch. We just want them out. I think that’s part of the reason that people who are really combative are willing to walk away at some point — because we haven’t been hitting them. There isn’t that ‘I have to get them back for hitting me’ kind of thing. We just do what we can, and I have taken some good punches before. I’ve had to sit on people waiting for the cops to come a couple of times. I just wrap them up and lay on top of them.”