Since I worked there for four years, I am always pleasantly surprised when someone asks me about The Moon Bar, the dearly departed West Berry Street venue that’s since been turned into one of about 900 pizza places near TCU. I’m always happy to explain what happened when owner Chris Maunder attempted to move the business to the Ridglea Theater complex, summing up the ordeal by saying something like, “I think he got boned by zoning issues.” Of course, I’m sure that answer barely scratches the surface, but it’s usually sufficient for whoever is asking. But then there’s usually a follow-up question: “What’s Maunder doing now?”
For a while, I didn’t really know, other than that he’d taken some kind of sales position with Legacy Housing Ltd. and that it seemed to keep him pretty busy. Usually the person I’m talking to says something like, “Oh, cool, good for him,” which is occasionally followed by “It’s probably nice not to work in a bar anymore.”
The last remark always strikes me as a little odd, because I seem to have that conversation the most when I’m at work, which, as it turns out, is at a bar, but whatever. Having known Maunder for over a decade, however, I know what he’s passionate about, and it’s not housing developments.
I caught up with him a week ago and asked him what he was, in fact, doing now. The answer: He’s back in the live music game, having recently taken the general manager position at Queen City Music Hall.
Located in the lower half of the Lone Star Live entertainment complex downtown, Queen City opened up at the end of June with a bill featuring Burning Hotels, Dallas’ Ishi, New York’s Black Taxi, and local faves Animal Spirit. Blackbox exclusively booked the venue at the time, though by the end of July, someone in the ownership circle decided to open booking to multiple parties. I played there in mid-July and had a pretty good experience, but I wondered at the time if Fort Worth could support another high-capacity venue. Queen City holds 700, with room for another 100 in the so-called Jäger Lounge, a space behind the stage that seems suited for private parties or promo opportunities. Given that there’s already Lola’s (around 350) and the Live Oak (around 400) not to mention the Ridglea Theater (1,000-plus), all of which are capable of hosting touring acts that draw several hundred fans, does Fort Worth need Queen City?
Maunder has always thought big, even when he ran a small club, and he envisions Queen City Music Hall as more than a place to catch regional or national acts that are bigger than Lola’s but smaller than the Granada. “We want to use it to raise awareness about everything going on in the city,” he said. “I think it can be the best multi-purpose room in town for the arts — for music, for film, for fashion. Let’s get creative.”
Moreover, Maunder sees the venue as a means of convincing the powers that be to promote Fort Worth’s music scene as a viable part of tourism. “It’s always been pushed through Billy Bob’s,” he said, “but with what’s going on with the renovations downtown and the boom on the Near Southside and the Trinity Uptown development, it’s like the city is trying to rebrand itself in a way. Let’s change that image, show the rest of the country that we’re more than a city with a giant honkytonk bar.”
He also believes that people have been going about the idea of a large-scale concert space the wrong way; the idea that Fort Worth should have its own version of the Granada isn’t necessarily the best way to market a big club. “We’re not trying to be a downtown version of the Granada Theater, but I think we can fill the hole left when Caravan of Dreams closed down,” he said.
Drawing people downtown to see original, underground bands has been a trial of late, and Maunder does acknowledge the challenge of working around the radius clauses imposed by Dallas’ biggest venues. He’s still excited by the possibilities. “I’m as confident about this place as I’ve ever been with any other music endeavor I’ve been a part of,” he said.
No matter what, it’s cool to see him back in the live music biz. –– Steve Steward
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