Venue notes: Headliners, Madison WI

Bar with live music on University Ave next to the Church Key, on the edge of the University of Wisconsin campus. Correspondent Joe Kassel, writing in June 2013, provides a detailed history and clears up some confusion about the club's precise location:

      The Church Key [626 University Ave] has been at the same location in Madison since the '50s or '60s when they converted a funeral home, which was the former Lutheran Memorial Chapel (Built 1914-15), into the now venue/bar & grill. Hence the name Church Key. It was a very popular music venue but with a small stage and minimal seating. They wanted to expand and in about 1978 they opened Headliners in a new structure adjacent to the original structure on its east side.

[...]The new Headliners building became Bullwinkle's Pub and has now been split into Segredo which still does music (though not on the scale of Headliners) and Johnny O's Sports Bar.

Headliners was 624 I think (where Segredo is now) or 622 (where Johnny O's is now). I think it was 624 because that was the original entrance to Headliners. It is on the left in the [picture].

The Church Key is still open as a bar & grill and Headliners opened in 1977 or 1978 if my memory serves me. I'm not sure when Headliners closed, but it is now two establishments, Segredo (which still has musical entertainment although not on the level of the headlining acts that Headliners had) and Johnny O's sports bar.

And yes the entire appendage that you can see in your picture was Headliners, but no the interior was not "L" shaped. As I stated, the entrance was on the left of your picture and was to check IDs only. Two of the windows (I think two) that you see to the left of the entrance, the windows that get progressively shorter as you move to the street, were the ticket windows for the shows. After you entered the club (where Segredo is), you could go to the left where there was a crossover to the Church Key and if you went to the right it was the outer bar for Headliners (where Johnny O's is). No ticket or cover charge was required for this bar and it was open during regular bar hours so that patrons could drink during load-in, set-up and rehearse, and for when there were no shows scheduled. Further into that bar were the entrance doors which led into the music venue directly opposite the stage. This is where they would collect tickets and stamp hands for the shows. Patrons could also use the outer bar or the Church Key bar for drinks during the shows and intermissions. It was quite efficient.

This made up the outer bar area as I stated, and made up the street side of the venue. The farthest wall of the building (from the street) was where the loading dock, dressing room area, storage area and stage were located. The interior of the music venue was built in a traditional theater type layout.

It was quite large for a local bar with total occupancy of about 1200 I think. (Maybe more, but I don't think less.) There was a balcony that had its own oval bar in the center and steeply tiered cocktail seating all the way around. The mix position was at the balcony rail below the bar and just below the first row of tables in the balcony. On the main level there again was cocktail seating in raised areas surrounding a square or rectangular dance floor which was located at the downstage edge. As I remember, on the main level there were two bars in the rear of the house and of course there were waitresses throughout. The stage was rather roomy for a bar type venue in the '70s. Dressing rooms were located backstage on stage right.

I went there for concerts often, but only mixed one show there for a local band that was opening for The Boyz from Illinois. That was in 1978 I think. It was just a local show but we still packed the house! (Headliners was always packed!) I can't remember the exact sound system configuration, but it was, I believe, a JBL multi-box system (4550s, 4560s, 4681s, etc.) with, as I remember, a 24 channel console which was large for its time and outboard 1/3 octave EQs. Monitors were mixed from the front of house position as well. The venue did have its own lighting system consisting of just PAR cans on lighting pipes. I'm not sure how the lights and pipes were controlled but they did have a large "A" frame ladder on site for lighting focus. Nobody had man-lifts at that time.

It was state of the art for the late '70s but I know that Husker DŁ played here in 1987 so I'm sure that there were some changes made in the interim.



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