By Ryan Christopher Coleman
Two years ago on Valentine’s Day a new venue opened in Pasadena—capacious, with an exciting calendar on the books, and staffed with a clutch of some of the southland’s most capable culinaries. The Rose has been a hit with Pasadena’s live music and foodie sets since folk legend Judy Collins headlined its grand debut.
The Rose’s parent company, Sterling Venue Ventures, has enjoyed similar success since opening its flagship venue, The Canyon Club in Agoura Hills. The Canyon Club opened in 2000; 18 years on, Sterling Ventures has expanded to five locations, most recently the 1,100 seat Canyon in Santa Clarita. A sixth venue (fifth carrying the Canyon moniker) is underway in the Inland Empire town of Montclair.
What’s the secret to Sterling’s success? I caught up with the man behind the curtain himself, Lance Sterling, to anatomize exactly what it is about his string of high-dining and legacy rock fusion clubs that is breathing fresh air into the Southland’s nightlife landscape.
“We’re not an entertainment company,” he tells me at the top, and repeats throughout our conversation, methodically. Sterling was pursuing a degree in engineering when his passion for live entertainment and venue entrepreneurship began to form. He joined the team behind House of Blues (entrepreneur turned guru-chaser Isaac Tigrett and actor Dan Aykroyd) early on, becoming integral to the chain’s rapid expansion.
“The original vision got lost, or bought out,” Sterling explains, noting the structural shifts beginning to take place in the late ’90s. House of Blues ballooned at manic speed, acquiring Universal Concerts from luxury giant Seagram’s in 1999, and by 2006 sold to Live Nation.
“Being born in Woodstock…” he muses, turning a total insider’s view of the nation’s rapidly shifting live music and dining industry—the explosion of festival culture, the restructuring of music production and distribution around digital technology, the increasing ubiquity of radius clauses—but he shifts. “My concept is not to be a nightclub. We are a hybrid between a restaurant, a banquet hall, and a theater.”
Sterling’s model puts a premium on the audience experience. “Can you imagine going to a House of Blues where the occupancy is 3000?” he asks. “No,” I tell him. “I don’t want to.”
“Exactly,” he says. “You want to see Pat Benatar, say. You can see her at [a] Live Nation show at the Santa Barbara Bowl and pay $500, and never see her again for a year.” Sterling is talking about radius clauses, a very old, but increasingly insidious fixture in booking, wherein entertainment producers require contracts that prohibit artists from returning to play within a certain time frame and geographic range after playing the producers’ event.
Venues like The Rose leverage the cost that companies like Live Nation and AEG burden consumers with onto food and beverage. “What you’re paying at the door—your money is actually going to the band.” Sterling attracts high demand acts like Berlin, Air Supply, and The Ronettes by actually eliminating the radius clause altogether, offering in its place a regional circuit from Beverly Hills, to the Inland Empire, to the Rose City.
Due to the growing interest in The Rose’s Pasadena Ballroom—an extravagant, 1,450 capacity space with “a million dollar sound system and a million dollar lighting system”—the venue is expanding their special events services: weddings, corporate events, engagement parties, and more. Hewing to the grand Pasadena tradition of corporate mistrust and local re-investment, it’s no surprise The Rose has found popular footing.
-Lance Sterling. – Courtesy photo / Sterling Venue Ventures LLC.
-Interior of The Rose. – Courtesy photo / Sterling Venue Ventures LLC.