Druha Trava, a Czechoslovakian band some classify as bluegrass, was scheduled to play at the Junction Theater in Ogden Sept. 27. They will not play that venue. The show has been rescheduled for the Wildcat Theater on the Weber State University campus.
Why was the show moved? I’ll save the tragedy for last. But remember one thing: The 2002 Olympics will arrive and Druha Trava will no doubt go back to the Czech Republic and report on the events surrounding their visit to Utah in 2000. Put on a nice face for the world, people!
When I began preparing for this article, Druha Trava was the central issue. Due to unknown road hazards, the ensemble was unable to complete a scheduled phone interview. I won’t hold it against them. I could be bitter and write that they wasted a lot of my time, but things happen on the road. God bless them, have a good trip and when you arrive in Utah, please forgive us.
Robert Krestan and Lubos Malina formed Druha Trava in 1991. Krestan sings and writes most of the original songs, while Malina plays the banjo. Lubos Novotny plays dobro/saxophone, Martin Ledvina plays guitar, and Jiri Meisner plays bass. The group first appeared at the International Bluegrass Music Association’s tradeshow in 1993, and was signed to Compass Records in 1998. Two discs are available in America. The sixth release and debut American recording is Czechmate. The esteemed Peter Rowan joined the group for their most recent release, New Freedom Bell.
Their music is not traditional bluegrass, although it is mostly acoustic. One highlight from Czechmate is a rendition of Chick Corea’s “Spain.” Each and every Druha Trava musician is an accomplished master of his chosen instrument, and they’ve all won several awards in their native land. Any opportunity to experience such world-class talent should bring excitement to the community they’re planning to visit. But that’s not the case in this instance.
Steve Davis is the stage manager at the Junction Theater. He used to live at the theater, and he hopes to again in the near future. He was kind enough and courageous enough to give me the details of what allegedly occurred. “Teddy [Ted Shupe] is just an entrepreneur. He got a hold of the church and the first thing he did was turn the upstairs into a couple of apartments so that he could rent it out. Then he worked on the downstairs theater and that has been open two years,” Davis said.
“He opened up the downstairs with the intention of making an acoustic music venue, an intimate acoustic music venue. We’re located in a residential zone. The guy who owned the theater before us, Brent Jefferson, wanted to open up a performing arts school … so we have a conditional-use permit that’s been grandfathered in. The conditional-use permit basically says we can do performances three nights a week—Thursday, Friday and Saturday between 7 and 10 o’clock. That wasn’t very strongly enforced,” he concludes.
Because Ted Shupe loves bluegrass, folk music, jazz and even classical, he wanted the theater to stay up and running as an acoustic music venue, despite the complications.
“It became clear very quickly that Ogden’s not a big enough market to support a venue like that. … One night he opened up to a local high school garage band, packed the place and realized that not only was there a market for it, there was a real community need for it. This quickly became the bread-and-butter of the whole place,” Davis says. Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, the Junction featured local punk rockers, local hip-hop artists and local metal artists, as well as acts from Salt Lake City and, every once in a while, larger touring acts. “It got pretty big rather quickly,” Davis continues. “The cops have even been here, just to check things out, and never found any problems. Never had any issues or anything.”
In January, the Junction Theater held talent contests on Monday and Tuesday nights. It was a battle of the bands-type event—an obvious violation of its permit, but also a hugely popular event among local bands. Still no problems.
“It never seemed to bother anybody,” Davis says. “There was never a single complaint, until this summer in the very beginning of August. I guess somebody complained. The Ogden City police came in here and Ted really likes to compare them to the Gestapo, the way that they kind of just marched in here.” The featured band that evening was a Chicago group called Big D—the kids really love them, Davis says. “Six policemen or city-type of people came through here and shut the place down, said we can’t use it at all, put one of those big red cards up and put everybody who was living here—five people at the time—out on the street.”
There is the tragedy. Five people became homeless because of evil rock & roll, or in this case, evil ska. According to the officials, Davis said, the conditional-use permit did not cover rock & roll. Rock is not a performing art; yet, in order to host national touring acts of the acoustic variety, the Junction Theater had to have rock shows to generate funds. As it turned out, the venue was closed for violating the conditional-use permit, and because the apartments didn’t meet fire codes. The Junction is working with the neighborhood—because neighbor complaints caused the crackdown—as well as with the city to bring the venue into compliance with all codes.
But all the issues are not yet resolved, so Druha Trava is not playing at the Junction Theater. Please support the concert at its new location, Weber State University, and send Druha Trava back to the Czech Republic with a positive view of Utah.
Druha Trava will play the Wildcat Theater on the Weber State University campus, Sept. 27, 8 p.m. Tickets are $9. Ryan Shupe & the RubberBand will open. Information: 801-627-3988.