Thu. Feb 9th, 2023

Gary Oelze, who helped rework the Birchmere Music Corridor in Alexandria, Va. — as soon as a quiet neighborhood venue for people and bluegrass musicians — into a serious cease for world-renowned acts together with soul and nation performers, died Jan. 23 at his house in Alexandria. He was 80.

The trigger was congestive coronary heart failure, stated his spouse, Susan Oelze. Mr. Oelze (pronounced OL-zee) additionally had two strokes final yr however continued working till early December.

Lately, Mr. Oelze’s 500-seat efficiency house has featured a variety of nationwide and worldwide acts from bluegrass star Ricky Skaggs to modern soul singers Raheem DeVaughn and Lalah Hathaway and Senegalese singer Youssou N’Dour. The father or mother firm additionally sometimes books acts into bigger halls.

The venue has lengthy been a D.C.-area house for nation performers, together with Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard and Ray Value, and two of Mr. Oelze’s private favorites, Mickey Newbury and Rosanne Money. In 1993, President Invoice Clinton and Vice President Al Gore took their spouses on a White Home double-date to listen to Jerry Jeff Walker on the membership.

Ray Charles gave one in every of his final public performances on the membership in 2003. And there have been usually surprises on the membership, reminiscent of Invoice Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys commandeering the stage for an impromptu 45-minute set. Or the shifting however unannounced look by an ailing Pete Seeger on a tribute to Woody Guthrie by native people performers.

Mr. Oelze started with bluegrass teams. Although enormously fashionable within the D.C. space, the fashion had been largely relegated to neighborhood taverns, many with out even a raised stage. In contrast, the Birchmere introduced the largely acoustic style with good sight traces and a sound system that was continually upgraded.

Extra importantly, Mr. Oelze made the musicians really feel snug by posting “Quiet Please” indicators on all of the tables. That was an thought he appropriated from the Cellar Door, a Georgetown membership. He enforced it, too — as soon as throwing out 12 folks on an evening when he had solely 24 patrons.

“Proper on the time we went to full-time music in 1974, I stated we’re going to do it proper,” Mr. Oelze instructed The Washington Put up. “However you couldn’t do a ‘listening membership’ with bluegrass music, as a result of a variety of bluegrass followers don’t wish to go someplace and behave.”

The venue’s first success got here in 1974 when Mr. Oelze employed the Seldom Scene away from the Crimson Fox, a dive bar in Bethesda, Md., with pool tables. “They made me a reliable membership, began giving me nationwide recognition,” he instructed The Put up of the band. “Out-of-town folks would come to see them, particularly out-of-town pickers.”

The Seldom Scene performed the membership on Thursdays for the following twenty years. As proponents of “newgrass,” they broadened the bluegrass repertoire with picks from modern people singer-songwriters. Touring performers reminiscent of Linda Ronstadt would usually sit in with the group, and the Birchmere’s status soared.

In 1982, the New York Instances known as it “the realm’s premier bluegrass membership,” populated “not by blue-collar employees solely, however by members of Congress and their aides, Washington attorneys and journalists, Authorities officers and vacationers from as far-off as Japan.”

Mr. Oelze and his membership additionally nurtured contemporary expertise. Future bluegrass luminary Alison Krauss carried out there whereas nonetheless in her teenagers. He gave singer-songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter, who first appeared on the membership as a gap act, a down fee on a brand new guitar and later handed her demo tapes onto CBS Data executives in Nashville. That act of generosity, she stated, resulted in her first document contract.

Gary Hagan Oelze was born in Owensboro, Ky., on Aug. 24, 1942. His father owned a grocery retailer and later ran a roofing enterprise. Mr. Oelze took up guitar in his teenagers and carried out with native musicians at sq. dances.

After a youthful hitch within the Air Power, Mr. Oelze got here to Washington and managed a drugstore earlier than opening the primary Birchmere location — in Arlington’s Shirlington neighborhood — within the early Nineteen Sixties with co-owner Invoice Hooper. Initially, they went into reside music as a strategy to increase the restaurant’s nighttime enterprise. The membership relocated to Alexandria in 1981, a yr after Hooper died.

Mr. Oelze’s marriages to Imogene Williams, Linda Lee Smith and Georgia Mechlin led to divorce. Survivors included his spouse of 10 years, the previous Susan Pilchard; three youngsters from his first marriage, Carrie Oelze of Boca Raton, Fla., Cheryl Oelze of Centreville, Va., and Vick Oelze of Sanford, N.C.; a stepdaughter, Kelly Pilchard of New York Metropolis; three brothers; 4 grandchildren; and 6 great-grandchildren.

Within the late Nineteen Eighties, Mr. Oelze began working with Michael Jaworek, then of Chesapeake Concert events, to diversify the membership’s bookings. By 1997, Jaworek joined the Birchmere employees as a full-time expertise purchaser whereas it expanded to a bigger venue two blocks down the road.

“He has all the time been a pointy businessman when it comes to doing what must be finished,” Jaworek stated. “As he appreciated to say, ‘You possibly can’t play with scared cash.’ And in our risky enterprise, that’s all the time the case.”

The brand new location had two rooms, a supper membership and a dance corridor with a seated bar.

Mr. Oelze adorned it with a number of emblems of the membership’s previous: a statue of deceased doorman William Edwin “Pudge” Tarbett within the dance corridor and a mural of the dobro performed by the Seldom Scene’s Mike Auldridge on the outer wall. Each have been designed by Clarence Schumaker, who additionally illustrated the membership’s detailed month-to-month calendars. Signed images from performers lined the partitions of the hallway.

Prior to now twenty years, the membership has additionally branched out into stand-up comedy and made inroads with the LGBT group by presenting comedian Suzanne Westenhoefer and filmmaker John Waters, whose annual vacation monologues discover the “erotic prospects of Christmas.”

By Admin

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