Bye to Buster’s: Lexington mid-size music venue closes abruptly

Bye to Buster’s: Lexington mid-size music venue closes abruptly

from the 10 Years performance at Buster’s August 2, 2014. Photo by Walter Cornett.

Lexington music lovers got a lump of coal in their stockings on December 4, when Buster’s abruptly announced that it had closed “indefinitely” after more than five years in business. Proprietor Clark Case cited the mid-size music venue’s financial struggles as the reason for the closing.

The news first broke on Reddit after several bands and musicians discussed their canceled bookings via social media.

The “new” Buster’s got off to a great start when it opened in the Old Tarr Distillery location at 899 Manchester Street  in September 2009, a re-conceptualization of the former Buster’s on Main, which had fallen to the proposed CentrePointe wrecking ball, alongside the Dame. It was a labor of love for two Lexington lawyers, Clark Case, and then wife Jessica Case. They bought the remains of Buster’s on Main, and relocated it to the nascent Distillery District, borrowing heavily to fit up the warehouse space. Early programming included Silversun Pickups, The Wailers, Mission of Burma, Lexington’s popular Last Waltz tribute show, and many of the shows for the (now defunct) Boomslang.

In arguing for Lexington’s Distillery District to remain on Lexington’s bonded projects list, Case told Lexington’s Urban County Council in 2009:

“Having been open less than three months, we have already sold more than 10,000 tickets to events (that doesn’t count the free shows and charity events hosted on the 7 days a week Buster’s has been open since September 4. More than 20,000 people have already come for entertainment, charity events, fundraisers, and other civic functions to the Lexington Distillery District. And that’s only accounting for one enterprise that’s been open for three months in a blighted area with little or no infrastructure.”

In the first year, the Newtown Pike extension opened, right outside their door, and business seemed to be good. By Buster’s first birthday, 40,000 people had made it through the doors for shows like Blues Traveler, Matisyahu, of Montreal, and Will.i.Am. The Black Lips played in 2011. Drive By Truckers was a standout in April of that year. Psychedelic Furs played this past spring.

Lexington has a thriving scene of independent music venues (Al’s Bar, Green Lantern, Cosmic Charlie’s, Natasha’s, and Willie’s) and several options for sitdown concerts that includes small venues like the Lyric Theatre, Kentucky Theatre, Lexington Opera House, and UK’s Singletary Center, along with occasional concerts in the acoustically miserable Memorial Coliseum or the massive Rupp Arena. But only Buster’s temporarily fulfilled the dream of a mid-size venue (what Bogart’s and later Southgate House once were to Cinci, what Headliners has been to Louisville).

Case posted on the Buster’s website:

“Finances have been tight and tricky ever since Buster’s opened more than five years ago, and they finally caught up with us at a bad time and I was unable to renew the liquor license, so Buster’s is closed indefinitely.  It’s been a great five years with hundreds of amazing bands and events playing to hundreds of thousands of awesome fans and patrons from Lexington and far beyond. I am personally sorry to everyone this affects, especially that it was so sudden.  Buster’s and I love Lexington and all of our supporters and all the acts that have played here. I can only hope and pray that somehow, some way, some midsize music venue will continue here in the Lexington Distillery District for our community and our music scene.”