Mike Roth always knew that he wanted to keep his family’s business, Herman’s Hideaway, alive. His grandfather Herman Roth had opened it in the early ’60s and had run it as a bar for two decades before his son Allan Roth came aboard in 1982 and started bringing in live music.
After graduating from Colorado State University in 2001 (two years after Herman passed away), Mike began his stint at Herman’s, which celebrates its 55th anniversary this weekend with a show tonight, Friday, March 16, by the Railbenders, who have played at the venue many times over the years, and tomorrow with Misfits guitarist Doyle.
At his dad's side, Mike learned the ropes about how to run a venue while also bartending.
“Back then we just had twelve to fourteen headliners that we just basically rotated,” Roth says. “It was always those headliners. They were great bands. These were bands that mastered their craft and had been doing it for years...and 200 people would show up and see them every time.”
When Allan was diagnosed with colon cancer for the first time in the mid-2000s, Mike stepped in to run Herman’s.
“I think one thing my dad was always able to do, and what I try to learn and emulate, was just connect with people,” Mike says. “It wasn’t necessarily just asking a bunch of questions and getting answers. It was literally listening to what they had to say and then responding to them with answers that are relevant.
“I think people found out there was actually someone on the other end of the phone or the other end of the conversation who was listening to them and really was invested in them. The better they do, the better we do. It couldn’t be any more of a symbiotic relationship.”
When connecting with a band, Roth says, it’s about talking to them in a way that’s not insulting.
“I imagine that they get talked down to in a way that is demoralizing, so when they talk to us, I want to just let them know, 'Hey, this is how you do it, how you can be successful,'” Roth says. “We don’t pay to play. We don’t make the bands sell tickets. That’s actually a huge hump, once the bands realize that’s not the way we do it. We do ask the bands to give out tickets, and these tickets get people in the door for half price. Once they realize all they have to do is let their crowd know, 'Hey, let them know you’re connected to us and you get in for half price.'”
Over the past 36 years, Herman’s has been a spot for incubating local talent, with bands like Big Head Todd & the Monsters, the Flobots and the Fray all playing there before they moved up to bigger venues.
“We just want to be that stage that helps the bands get to whatever the next level is,” Roth says.
While Herman’s has its share of acts that sell the place out, Roth says they put a lot of time and effort into bands who don’t have a big draw, like the twenty to thirty bands they bring in a week.
“That’s really where our effort goes,” Roth says. “That’s what we want to have happen, have the scene kind of grow up around us. We’re obviously doing it for the right reasons.”
Herman’s talent buyer Chris Thomas says the team is still sticking with a weekday routine of bringing in new bands or acts that they haven’t worked with yet. He’s constantly looking at other shows. “I think the competitive talent buyers in town look at each other’s shows,” he says.
Thomas adds that they’re very focused on being transparent and doing the bands right and making sure touring bands are happy.
The vibe at the space is "open-minded, all-inclusive,” Thomas says. “We have all kinds of different shows. The variety that we offer due to our open-mindedness to deal with different kinds of people sets us apart.”
On any given week, Herman’s calendar is full of acts who span genres, including rock, country, hip-hop, metal and reggae. In more recent years, Herman’s has brought in more nationally known talent thanks in part to outside promoters like Wolfpack Productions and Bands 4 Bands Entertainment. Some of the bigger acts playing in the near future include Drowning Pool, Texas Hippie Coalition, Book of Love, Puddle of Mudd and Soulfly.
“There are different markets,” Thomas says. “A lot of bands are coming through in different tours. Resurgences of bands that are like, 'Hey, we had a good thing going. Why aren’t we still on the road?’ Maybe they’re not big enough or selling enough units to be playing the Pepsi Center or the Fillmore, and they’re just kind of at the mid-level stage in their career, which is fine. It’s an upswing and a downswing. It just depends on how relevant you are and what kind of music you’re making.”
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Roth points out that with a lot of local venues that were once independent being taken over by larger companies, it’s made the Herman’s team's lives easier, “because these independent promoters don’t have other venues necessarily to bring these shows to anymore.”
Roth notes that his family owns the Herman’s property and probably wouldn’t still be around if they had to pay rent every month.
“We could probably make more money renting the place out,” Roth says. “But it’s really something that I don’t want to give up on, and that I love and my family loves. We wouldn’t be here without the local music scene, and there’s nothing else in the world I could imagine spending my time on.”
Herman's 55th Anniversary Weekend, 7 p.m. Friday, March 16, with the Railbenders, Hillbilly Hellcats and Ryan Chrys & the Rough Cuts, $15-$198; 7 p.m Saturday, March 17, with Doyle, MF Ruckus, Lotus Gait, Necropanther and Radio Scarlet, $10-$100.