A home for wayward taxidermy, that's how owner Callie Young describes the décor of The Horned Hand, a music venue/bar/vintage shop/art gallery nestled on a dirt portion of Lava Street a stone's throw from downtown Bend. She and husband Wesley Ladd have built a reputation on the Horned Hand's alternative decoration—walls covered in dead animals and refried sweat, peanut shells on the concrete floor and a memorable "Nobody For President 2012" sign hanging proudly behind the stage. Really, though, that décor is not simply a satanical version of Martha Stewart's interior decorating; it is a manifestation of the owners' mission to build a gritty, unconventional music venue where local and traveling bands take to the hand-built stage three nights or more a week.
But unfortunately for the venue's passionate supporters and touring musicians, The Horned Hand will close its doors on June 29, just under two years after its debut show featuring highway Americana band the White Buffalo.
Although Ladd admitted that strife associated with the noise ordinance has contributed to his decision to close the business, he has known for some time that the Hand wouldn't be forever. After two drama-filled years of owning the controversial hangout, he and Young are taking a step back to spend time with their 1-year-old daughter and to focus their energy on Ladd's newest project, Nectar of the Gods Meadery, a company that cooks up honey-based booze.
The departure leaves a wide gap in Bend's music scene.
Since its opening in 2010, The Horned Hand has become a destination for a wide range of touring musicians, notably expanding Bend's music scene past its typical bluegrass and jam band standards. Call it Bend's CBGBs.
The venue supported regional musicians by letting them cut their teeth as openers for nationally touring acts, and for touring acts, the abrasive draw of the Hand—cheap beer, a small hand-built stage adorned with recycled car parts, crassly projected movies on the concrete walls and a guaranteed 100 percent of the door earnings—pulled musicians to our remote mountain town. For the past two years, The Horned Hand increasingly has made Bend a magnet, a rock and roll destination rather than an over-the-mountain pass detour.
"[Wes and I] both came from towns where there was kind of a gritty place to see music," explained Young as she unloaded PBRs from cardboard pallets on a scorching hot Thursday afternoon, preparing for that night's show. "The bands were really good and the shows were cheap. It didn't feel like a venue; it was a little more laid-back. We were never satisfied with Bend's music scene; it always seemed lacking."
Certainly, Bend's music scene won't go silent without The Horned Hand, especially now at the start of summer, when outdoor concerts pop up like weeds around town, but the departure of the DIY venue leaves a hole in the music community, especially for lesser known, but still quality bands that can't quite fill the Les Schwab Amphitheater or don't want the sit-down formality of The Tower. Places like Astro Lounge, Silver Moon Brewing and other small bar venues are still kicking with weekly shows, but the loss of the Hand means one less option for these obscure but talented touring acts.
"We hope someone steps up to carry the torch," said Ladd. "But I wouldn't wish this place on anybody."
In its run, The Horned Hand hosted hundreds of shows—and it hasn't all been rainbows and unicorns (or in their case, fur pelts and mounted antlers). It has had its share of strife—in particular, conflicts with the city over zoning regulations, building capacity issues, as well as regular noise complaints from neighbors and a knock-down-drag-out court battle over a noise violation ticket.
It's loud and it smells like old beer
My first time at the Horned Hand was in July 2011 on a sizzling hot summer night. Tornado Rider was playing—and they were as raucous as their name suggests. I had just graduated from the University of Oregon and moved back to Bend, a decision that I was deeply regretting because for the life of me, I couldn't find comfortable place to see music in town, a disappointment after Eugene's bustling, sweaty basement-show scene. I didn't want to dance barefoot to Michael Franti; I wanted cavalier rock and roll.
As Tornado Rider proceeded to shred, the lead singer, in a pajama onesie and a Peter Pan hat, jumped on the bar, dancing and raking a cello. Yes, I knew I had found the epicenter of musical counterculture in Bend. I felt completely at home with the one-part urban, one-part redneck vibe, a place where hipsters meet ranchers, and together they meet rock and roll.
Tornado Rider was the second official show that summer, and already Bend's relationship with the venue was strained between love and hate. Even before the doors had opened for the summer, zoning and capacity issues were plaguing the Horned Hand.
"As silly as it sounds now," said Ladd, "we wanted to have a vintage clothing store with art where you could have a beer and sometimes do music."
That off-the-cuff "sometimes do music" quickly turned into bands four nights a week, at which point the city capped the capacity of The Horned Hand at 49 because of zoning regulations (the building was designated a mercantile shop—not a bar or venue). The capacity ruling led to one of the most memorable shows The Horned Hand ever hosted: A fire marshal-sanctioned concert in which local heroes Larry and His Flask played inside with about 30 other adoring fans; a few hundred others gathered outside around the open garage door.
Ultimately, the city bumped the capacity back up. But then The Horned Hand's problems shifted from city-based to neighbor-based, as noise complaints became a nightly problem; literally, during the winter of 2012, police were called nightly on The Horned Hand for noise complaints.
Young and Ladd tried to accommodate.
"We lost the patio and lost the garage door," said Young,."Pakit donated a lot of insulated walls so we lined the whole backstage with those and we added the garage door soundproofing. We did everything we could to keep the neighbors happy."
"I got told to shut the f*** up"
A running joke at the Horned Hand is that it is a badge of honor to have been told to "shut it" by the bearded, tattooed Viking-esque owner, Ladd. A hulking bear of a man, Ladd has been known to shout the phrase at the smokers congregated outside the bar, in a paradoxical effort to quiet patrons. The phrase has been shouted so many times that it was made into a bumper sticker reading, "I got told to shut the f*** up at The Horned Hand."
While Ladd did his fair share of telling, during the Hand's run it wasn't out of the ordinary for the business owner to get tossed from other establishments around town for late-night disorderly conduct.
"I'm a pretty out there dude," admitted Ladd, "I would encourage anyone to maintain a business and fight as hard as we have and keep a pleasant disposition all the time."
The Horned Hand was the cause of dozens of noise complaints in its two years, culminating in a ticket issued on Aug. 29, 2012. That ticket faced The Horned Hand with a $750 fine for allegedly violating the city's controversial noise ordinance.
The Horned Hand became the poster child for the ordinance, a recurring rift between homeowners and the musical community. Especially after the Century Center, a venue also dogged by noise complaints from its westside neighborhood, announced that its last show would take place Dec. 31, 2012; that decision made The Horned Hand the primary battlefront in the dispute over the noise ordinance. (In December 2012, Municipal Court Judge Brian Hemphill dismissed the ticket based on lack of clarity in the noise ordinance, a decision which, in part, motivated the city council to review and amend the ordinance earlier this year.)
"The number of calls for those two establishments were really high," said Bend Police Lt. Chris Carney. "But noise complaints are nothing new." He added, "If anything came out of [the ticket dismissal], it is clarification in the city ordinance."
The new version of the law was approved in May by the council, and includes three new provisions: redefinition of clarity; reduction of the fine for a first offense from $750 to $250; and a requirement that the violation is quantified by a decibel meter before a fine is issued.
These changes have been promoted by a vocal music community championed by Ladd.
"I think the biggest part of what they've accomplished might not be obvious," said Kim Schouw, owner of the Sound Garden, a small venue on First Street. "They've been very involved with the noise ordinance and representing the community. Wesley went in there and made it a priority, and gave them some healthy direction to do what they needed to do."
City Councilor Jodie Barram agreed that the struggles faced by The Horned Hand have helped to clarify the ordinance.
"The Horned Hand ticket was the first real test of the noise ordinance. When the judge dismissed it, his reasoning gave City Council the direction it needed to clear up some language," Barram said in an email to the Source. "I give a lot of credit to Wesley Ladd, Dave Miller [owner of the Century Center], our neighborhood associations, and others who helped work balancing a vibrant music scene with neighborhood livability. The City of Bend now has a much better ordinance because of it."
Yet, despite what feels like a win for music venues—a new ordinance that attempts to be fair to both residents and businesses—The Horned Hand still will close its doors on June 29.
"It gave us a peace of mind to know that at least we would be treated fairly, but we're still in a difficult location," said Young. "No matter what the noise ordinance is, we're still going to be stressed out. It's a hard place to control because you can't fault people for getting drunk and having a good time, but then they're going to be loud."
You'll miss me when I'm gone
Despite all the controversies, it's undeniable that The Horned Hand has helped to foster a burgeoning indie music scene in Bend. The Hand filled the hole of the missing venue, a small, homey place where down-and-dirty touring acts could play, no guarantee, but with a lot of support from Ladd, Young and a gang of loyal Horned Hand patrons.
"This isn't lucrative. We don't do it for the money. When we opened, we had $15 in our bank account," said Ladd. "We do it because we love music. It's worth it when a band says 'This is our favorite place we've ever played.' The Horned Hand has a huge family across the whole U.S."
Don't expect The Horned Hand name to fall off the map completely. Ladd and Young are now booking shows as Horned Hand Productions, although they plan to do them less frequently, and no longer have a guaranteed venue. Aug. 3 marks the opening of the Nectar of the Gods Meadery tasting room. The opening will feature a slew of bands who consistently returned to play The Horned Hand, including Hopeless Jack and the Handsome Devil and Carrie Nation and the Speakeasy. In July, Horned Hand Productions will begin a relationship with the Sound Garden, a 100-capacity venue near Second Street Theater, owner Schouw confirmed. These shows will help pick up the slack during the Hand's fadeaway for bands that now love playing Bend because of the defunct venue.
"We're taking some time off," Ladd said. "But there might be a Horned Hand in the future. As long as people throw their support behind what we're doing, there will still be a healthy, vibrant music scene in Bend."