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March 15, 2012
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New live music venue Wooly’s to open in the East Village

By Michael Swanger

Sam Summers onstage at Wooly’s in the East Village.

For six years, Sam Summers, owner of First Fleet Concerts, has been promoting concerts from Omaha, to Des Moines, to Iowa City and back. Now he has one to call his own as he prepares to open Wooly’s this week in Des Moines’ East Village.

“I’d been thinking about doing this for a while but was waiting for the right time to do it. Then this opportunity came along,” said Summers, 28, of West Des Moines.

Wooly’s, 504 East Locust St., is located in a building owned by Kirk Blunck. The site is the former home of a Woolworth’s department store (hence Wooly’s name), a church and the short-lived 504 Club. Summers said the wooden flooring, plaster walls and other original architectural features will remain the same, though some renovations are being made.

“It’s already pretty sweet,” he said, “but we’re going to make some changes because we’re going to be doing a lot of production with lights, sound and amenities for the bands.”

Summers decided to open the mid-sized concert venue that features a seating capacity of 683 people, a large stage, a full-service bar and a lobby with a box office with help from two of his friends in the music business, Rafe Mateer and Josh Ivey. Mateer, 36, is part-owner of the Blue Moose Tap House in Iowa City, a venue where Summers has been booking shows for a few years, and has 10 years of experience in bar management and ownership. Ivey, 27, is the manager of the Blue Moose who Summers credits for transforming the nightclub from a typical college bar to a respected concert venue with two stages where artists like Mates of State and New Found Glory have performed.

“They both know what they are doing, and they wanted to do something in Des Moines. They’ve been looking at places to open a club here for about a year-and-a-half,” Summers said. “I really like these guys, and we each excel in different areas of the business. It allows me to continue to focus on booking shows here and in other venues and markets.”

Summers, who launched First Fleet Concerts in 2006 after graduating from Iowa State University, has booked concerts in nearly every live music venue in Greater Des Moines from the Vaudeville Mews to Wells Fargo Arena and will continue to do so, noting “every venue has a purpose.” He is expanding his operations to include bookings in Minnesota and Illinois and wants Wooly’s to be like the Slowdown in Omaha or the First Avenue Club in Minneapolis.

“Wooly’s will allow me to bring more cool indie shows here that I hadn’t been able to do in the past like The White Panda or the Punch Brother. They’re awesome, and they play to capacity crowds,” he said. “Or if The Black Keys wanted to play a small venue, they could come here.”

Summers said he plans to focus on booking indie-rock and singer-songwriter-rock acts into Wooly’s, but he is not opposed to booking other genres of music.

“I’m sure there will be some country and other things to offer. I want the shows to be sold out,” he said. “We’re pretty excited about the whole thing.” CV


Wooly’s at a glance

Address: 504 East Locust St., Des Moines


Phone: 244-0550

Parking: Street and Capitol Complex Lot

(E. 7th & E. Locust)

Tickets: Ticketfly


Concert calendar

March 22 - Lez Zeppelin, $12

March 23 - Chewi’s Birthday Party with The Snacks, free

March 24 - The Envy Corps, $8

April 3 - My Darkest Days, $15

April 5 - Dev, $20

April 12 - Leon Russell, $35

April 13 - Jars of Clay, $25

April 18 - Frankenstein Brothers, $18

April 19 - Eric Hutchinson, $15

April 27 - Switchfoot, $22

April 28 - The Maine, $18

April 30 - Green River Ordinance, $12

May 12 - Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s, $12

May 14 - Christina Perri, $22

May 16 - Grouplove, $15

May 29 - Roger Clyne & The Peacemakers, $20

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