Owner Cathy Dethmers is selling the beloved Madison venue to the concert promotions company.
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Frank Productions, a Madison-based concert promoter with a local and national footprint, announced in a press release Friday afternoon that it will buy the High Noon Saloon from its well-liked founder and owner, Cathy Dethmers.
“This week we came to an agreement so this afternoon I told my staff, who were the first people to know,” Dethmers says. Dethmers wants the current staff to continue to be a part of the venue, and made the decision to sell for personal reasons.
“I was actually approached by someone else this fall who was interested in buying and that’s the first time I had really considered it,” Dethmers says. “Once I started thinking about it, I realized how hard the struggle has been for me to run the venue the way I think it should be run and take care of my two young boys and spend time with my family.”
The takeover will become official in May, Charlie Goldstone, Frank’s president of concerts, said Friday.
Dethmers, a musician herself and a longtime presence in Madison’s music community as a venue owner and booker, opened the 400-capacity High Noon in 2004. She previously owned a smaller downtown club, the legendary O’Cayz Corral, which burned down in 2001. Over the years the High Noon has booked a healthy mix of local artists and touring acts, many booked by Frank and other outside promoters. For my money, the sound, space, and friendly staff make it by far the best club-type venue in town. And in my time living in Madison I’ve never heard a bad word or a gripe about Dethmers, which is… rare for folks who own venues and/or put on concerts. She has a reputation for dealing fairly with people and boosting the local music community while also being a smart business owner.
Dethmers still plans to be involved in music in Madison, but hasn’t worked out the details of that just yet. “I’ll never walk away from it,” she says. “I hope to play more music. I’d like to still be part of the local scene in helping to make shows happen or maybe put on an event here and there, but honestly I haven’t given it a ton of thought.”
The news comes just weeks after Frank Productions announced that it will build a new 2,500-capacity venue, The Sylvee, just a block away on East Washington Avenue. The Sylee wouldn’t have competed with the High Noon in any case, because they’re of such different sizes, but it’s worth noting that the venue and concert scene in Madison seems to be getting more consolidated under a few promotion companies. The behemoth Live Nation manages, but does not own, the Orpheum Theatre on State Street. (Frank Productions began planning to build its own venue after it lost the opportunity to book shows at the similarly sized Orpheum.) Majestic Live, which owns and books the Majestic Theatre, also books at other local venues, owns two venues in Columbia, Missouri and co-produces the annual Summer Set festival in western Wisconsin. The Majestic also got involved in booking shows at The Frequency a few years ago and funded some sound upgrades to the venue, while leaving it independently owned. Frank Productions and Majestic Live also have seemed in recent years to compete more and more for bookings at clubs like the High Noon, which may explain why they’ve been working together to put on a lot of co-presented shows lately.
The High Noon, while part of that commercial live-music ecosystem for sure, has always had another foot firmly in a more community-driven approach. Goldstone says he’d like Frank to keep a similar balance. “It’s important to us that the High Noon is a welcoming and user friendly space for local artists as well as touring acts,” he says. “Everybody loves the High Noon the way it is so our challenge is to continue what Cathy started.”
Here’s hoping that the new owners can live up to that promise, and that Madison show-goers will hold them to it. This is a special place.