Rob Douglas returns to Jannus Live: 'It's nice to feel useful'
When Jannus Live reopened in March after a five-month hiatus, many local music fans wondered whether new owners could keep the old Jannus spirit alive.
For some, their doubts boiled down to one question: Will Rob Douglas be involved?
Douglas, who had booked concerts at Jannus Landing for more than 25 years, resigned from the troubled venue in August. Revered by musicians and music fans alike for his nose for putting on a great show, his departure symbolized the downfall of a beloved music venue. For some, no Rob Douglas meant no Jannus, period.
But with new owner Jeff Knight taking the reins this spring, Douglas — who had been booking concerts independently — decided to rejoin Jannus Live as the venue’s production manager, serving as a liaison between artists and the venue. His presence has already been felt with shows by Rusted Root and John Hiatt— two artists who also played Jannus Landing back in Douglas’ day.
“What I want to do is get the place as user-friendly as it used to be,” Douglas said recently. “The opportunity exists now to create another generation’s worth of memories down there. It’s a very special place for a lot of folks, and I think it’s going to continue to be.”
With the John Hiatt show at Jannus on Friday, we chatted with Douglas about rebuilding and rebranding the Jannus name.
Some of the recent and upcoming shows at Jannus Landing are artists who have been at Jannus Landing before. Is that a strategy, to try to win over people who may have been skeptical about the venue?
I don’t know that it’s necessarily part of a strategy. It just so happens that these things were available to us. Because we had had experience with them before, we had a sense of how people would respond. I think if people come out to see acts that they’ve seen there before, it’s going to be a great opportunity to see the positive changes that have been made to the venue. It’s a happy coincidence.
So far, what has your experience been like working with this new crew?
I had always dreamed of seeing Jannus Landing with some better creature comforts, not only for the fans, but also for the artists. Even in its heyday, it was always a matter of scrimping and struggling and having to watch every penny — which I’m still inclined to do. But to walk in there now and see what is essentially state-of-the-art equipment, and what is a state-of-the-art facility, is very gratifying. That’s obviously the biggest thing — a willingness on the new ownership’s part to spend some money for a greater experience for all involved. That’s just huge.
With these free shows, like Rusted Root, it’s just a matter of getting people in the door, right?
Of course. We’ve been off the radar for about nine months. And with the Rusted Root show, I believe Jeff genuinely wanted to do something nice for folks, and this opportunity presented itself, and he went for it. As a result, a lot of folks are going to be able to enjoy some great music for free, and get a handle on what the place looks like now, and what it feels like. I see it as being a very positive thing.
For some music-heads and musicians around town, your involvement was critical for the credibility of the venue. What reaction have you gotten from people about coming back in an official role?
Well, this conversation is probably the closest thing I will have participated in that’s remotely like an announcement. I tend to just slide in quietly and do what I do. (laughs) I’m not real interested in being out there shouting from the rooftops. But let’s put it this way: People have been very supportive of me. People have been very kind to me. People have been very encouraging to me. If all of that contributed to my being invited back, I’m grateful for all of it. It’s nice to feel useful.
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*. Photo (2003): Daniel Wallace.