About the highs and lows of running Habesha and how to support small venues
2 1/2 years ago, Brandon Nikola, an underground house show promoter and musician, heard of an opportunity to run the bar and events at Habesha Lounge.
“I needed a spot for a show because we were having too many and our neighbors were gonna kill us”, Nikola said. Nikola became Habesha itself, the sole employee, producing hundreds of shows while acting as the bartender, booker, sound tech and janitor. A year and a half ago Anthony Lusk came on board as well, a role Brandon describes as “door guy/sound tech/savior”.
As other smaller underground venues in the SE and around the city started closing: Langano Lounge, Blue Monk, Slabtown and recently Alhambra, to name a few, Habesha’s small space took up the slack with a fury. On any given Friday night, you could catch some of the hippest bands in Portland playing to a very packed and sweaty room. Mascaras, Grammies, Old Light, Minden, Talkative, Ah God, Souvenir Driver, Grandparents, Johanna Warren, Consumer, Hollow Sidewalks, Havania Whaal, Sister Mamie Foreskin amongst hundreds of others.
The emotion of the room, which was named as one of the top bars in Portland by WW this spring, was always one of safety. You could see Holland Andrew’s Like a Villain to a packed room and hear a pin drop or dance with abandon to frantic light displays with Talkative and Ah God. Through it all, Brandon was always there, with a hug and a PBR, the dollar brushed aside.
I sat down with Brandon the Sunday after Habesha closed for an emotional interview to talk about his years at the venue, it’s highs and lows, favorite shows, what can be done to keep our small venues open and the incident the final night of Kareoke that closed the venue early.
Featuring music by some of Brandon’s favorite bands and voicemails from listeners telling their favorite Habesha memory.
Recorded and mixed at Open Roads Studios by Jeni Wren Stottrup
produced by Jeni Wren Stottrup
sponsored by Vortex Music Magazine
Photo by Todd Walberg
Underscore, in order:
“Work Better” by Consumer
“Follow” by Joanna Newsom
“What’s More Than Appropriate” by Minden
“Whiskey Shakes” by And And And
“Pink and Black” by Old Light
“RBK” by Grammies
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