MaRanda Kiser was in ninth grade when she heard about the Fallout Shelter, one of the several popular live spots that were open during the ’90s in downtown Raleigh. “The Fallout Shelter was where everybody played,” Kiser remembers. “I couldn’t get in when I was that age. All my friends were older and got to go.”
Now 37, Kiser is tending bar in the place that once housed the Shelter. These days, it’s known as Flex, a basement bar/venue that now attracts the city’s LGBT community. (It’s right next to other LGBT-friendly spots like Legends.) However, for the past couple of months, Kiser has been working to bring the glory days of the Shelter back to the place – once a week, anyway.
Wednesday nights are “Wednesdays Local Live” nights at Flex, with Kiser bringing in local bands and artists to rock out onstage. “This venue was definitely made for bands to play in,” she says. “The sound is amazing. We have a beautiful stage.”
This isn’t the first time Kiser has tried to get live music for the spot. She booked bands for six months when she first started working at Flex three years ago. “Some of those shows were very poorly attended,” she says, laughing.
There were some eventful nights during that first foray into live music, like when the singer of a band arrived to notify her that his bandmates wouldn’t be able to make it. “So, the lead singer just showed up and he was like, ‘The rest of the band was in the same car and they got arrested on the way to the show,’ ” she remembers. “He was, like, really, really upset. We just made the best of it. We had ‘drive-by karaoke,’ which is what we called it. We broke out the karaoke machine and texted a bunch of people and we were like, ‘Well, the band got arrested!’ ”
Over the past several weeks, “Local Live” has brought in an eclectic mix of regional performers: electric one-man band The Corey Stuart Experience, singer/cellist Maigan Kennedy, vocalist Mary Clay and her techno-goth whatzit Mary’s Misfit Toys, just to name a few.
While Kiser has managed to get several acts to hit the Flex stage, some performers have been apprehensive about doing sets for such a, shall we say, alternative bar. “We always make the joke that, I guess, our reputation preceded us,” she says. “And, sometimes I’ll get part of a band – like, the lead singer and one guitarist, and they’ll go, ‘Yeah, the rest of the guys couldn’t do it.’ ”
Hearing about how some bands aren’t willing to play Flex makes Brenna Leath, frontwoman for the rock outfit The Hell No (a band that has recently played Flex), quite livid. “Flex calls itself a gay/straight/whatever bar,” says Leath. “I don’t know anyone who doesn’t fit into at least one of those categories. It’s stating the obvious to say that not playing or going to a show because the venue is known as an LGBT-friendly place is petty and ignorant. It’s sad that we still have to state the obvious in this day and age.”
Although a few performers may get uncomfortable about performing at Flex, that hasn’t stopped the audience from showing up and being entertained. One recent Wednesday night had a nice intermingling of people, from the club’s regular LGBT clientele to those veterans of the local music scene who got a bit nostalgic during the performances.
“Hearing live rock music in that venue brings back some awesome memories,” says Raleigh artist/graphic designer Shawn “Dink” Densmore, a Shelter regular from way back. “As long as they do some strategic social media marketing and book the right bands, I think I’ll be going back to hear live music often.”
Kiser is still chugging along in booking more live music for Flex (the next show will feature an acoustic set from singer/guitarist Roger Mauldin), along with reminding everyone – from LGBT club-hoppers to night owls looking for a cheap beer to musicians who just want to play for somebody – that Flex’s doors are always open for them.
“We are primarily an LGBT bar, and we definitely have a duty to our LGBT community,” she says. “But we also have a really great stage and a really great sound system.… It’s not only one place. It’s not only one thing. It’s for everybody.”
What: “Wednesdays Local Live”
When: 10 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Flex, 2 S. West St., Raleigh
Info: 919-832-8855 or flex-club.com