For about a decade beginning in the mid-1990s, Santa Barbara was home to an all-ages, drug-free music venue called The Living Room. Its past performers range from major label stars Jimmy Eat World and The Mars Volta, to hard-core punk legends Strife and Snapcase, to hometown heroes Nerf Herder and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, as well as countless smaller, local bands.
What made The Living Room stand out from its competitors was a steadfast devotion to its “open door, no strings attached” ethos: involvement in the venue’s sound and lighting, concessions, security, cleanup and entertainment alike were all volunteer-driven and handled by interested parties of all ages and backgrounds. Whomever wanted to be a part of The Living Room was essentially allowed to contribute however much he or she desired. Above all, The Living Room was dedicated to maintaining consistently nondiscriminatory, drug-free and, above all, safe space for teens.
The Living Room’s longest-lasting Old Town Goleta location is now home to Fairview Business Center, a commercial business park at 420 S. Fairview Ave. that was built on the site of the original building.
Its history — one still in the making — dates back to 1991, in which local family man Larry Mills felt his teenage kids were in need of something exciting to do with their weekend nights. Mills began organizing dances at the Goleta United Boys & Girls Club from 1991 to 1992 to serve this need, but these dances would generally see no more than 50 youth in attendance.
During one of these dances, however, Mills was approached by two teenagers interested in booking one of their favorite punk bands at the Goleta Valley Community Center, where they had been informed they needed an adult sponsor to set up this show. Seeing a chance to provide his children’s peers with an event they were explicitly interested in, Mills was more than happy to help. Upward of 300 kids attended this first show.
Mills soon established an independent venue by way of the Jubilee Christian Church on Hollister Avenue and held regular dances and live music events there for the next few years. In 1995, Mills was offered the Fairview space The Living Room would come to inhabit for the balance of its tenure, minus a brief and temporary relocation to Los Carneros Road across from the Santa Barbara Airport.
The Living Room offered consistently safe entertainment every Friday and Saturday night during this period, but ultimately met its end upon the building’s eventual transition into the business park that stands today.
Two years ago, Mills was approached by Living Room club veteran Allan Viscarra, both a frequent attendee and occasional volunteer and performer, asking how he could help bring The Living Room back into existence. Mills told Viscarra, simply, that all they needed was a building. Since then, Viscarra has been looking for just that — a building — although, in the process, he began to learn that affordability, zoning laws, safety concerns and capacity allowances would complicate this seemingly simple search.
Viscarra said he began attending Living Room events in 1994, when he was only 11 years old. He had heard of the club originally from his high school-age sister, news of the club typically spreading by word of mouth, and was hooked immediately. The club offered classes aimed at teaching teenagers sound and lightning, which Viscarra would sometimes attend, and in his later years of involvement with the club, won a Battle of the Bands contest.
He said he also recalls meeting some of his best friends at the club, many of whom attended other schools and whom he wouldn’t have been able to meet in other circumstances. What Viscarra remembers most fondly, though, is the club’s inclusive and friendly atmosphere, which he claims to have been unlike that of any other music venue, alcohol being a focal point of the typical show space.
Viscarra plans to see to it that The Living Room is brought back, although the acquisition of a building, a challenge The Living Room is still faced with, is only one step of many. This past year, the New Noise Music Foundation, a local nonprofit organization, has granted sponsorship to The Living Room’s revitalization. This grants The Living Room nonprofit organizational benefits beneficial to the club’s future longevity.
Most important, Viscarra notes, alongside acquiring a building, is that the community is aware of the project. Viscarra said he wants the involvement of parents, politicians and teens alike, envisioning The Living Room as a true community effort.