The Resounding Return of Bodega’s Alley | Feature Story

Consider Bodega’s owner Ryan Detlefsen a live music fanatic. After first seeing Widespread Panic in 1999, the 19-year-old would follow the legendary road-warriors around the Western Hemisphere, racking up more than 140 shows in multiple countries and — by his estimate — less than 10 ten times in Nebraska

“Most people have a savings account,” Detlefsen says. “I have a drawer full of ticket stubs at home.”

His passion for the same experience lived locally at Bodega’s Alley. In the late-’90’s, the jam band scene was full of people like Detlefsen, fans devoted to a genre that found its Lincoln home at the O Street bar. He was there almost every weekend, darting from work to see The Balance, the Jerry Pranksters or whatever other local jam band happened to be playing that night.

We chatted one bright Tuesday afternoon before Bodega’s Lincoln Exposed debut, during which the venue was a constant conversation topic. All weekend, fans and musicians alike raved about its new sound-system, lights and Detlefsen’s hospitality.

Such praise comes from a fan-base perhaps unfamiliar with live music at Bodega’s. The venue’s extended leave from the larger Lincoln scene meant its reintroduction to the festival crowd hit harder. The sounds of Mesonjixx, Jack Hotel and Domestica poured crystal clear from house speakers that Wednesday night, the emphatic trumpeting of Bodega’s return.

photo by James Dean

Nestled between 14th St and Centennial Mall on the main downtown drag, Bodega’s modest exterior understates a venue poised to help fill the void left by closing’s at Knickerbockers, Duggan’s and Mix. The dimly lit room stretches far back from its window-display stage, which passersby can easily observe any performance from the street. Past the row of large wooden booths lining its east wall lies the partitioned-off game room. Its back door leads to a quaint patio space with another small stage.

Detlefsen rattles off a list of ongoing improvements, which include raising the stage and ripping out those booths. While they provide a landing spot for the regular bar patron in between shots and pool games, they also block valuable standing room, necessary for Bodega’s renewed focus on music.

He’s currently easing into a regular show schedule, looking for four to five shows per month while keeping open nights and DJ sets around for the regular crowd. Alcohol sales drive everything, and his 15-plus years of bar management experience — including 13 at neighboring Cliff’s lounge — informs his strategy.

“It’s a bar first,” Detlefsen says. “But some of our busiest nights have been for live music. It’s a lot of work but we’re getting better at it.”

photo by Gabriella Parsons

Rad Kadillac Productions co-owner Justin Kadlec also frequented Bodega’s during its heyday. Kadlec was promoting and booking at the Rococo during that time, and has since booked numerous EDM and jam bands under his own vehicular moniker for almost a decade. He notes the venue’s current trajectory as a hearkening back to its glory days.

“If it wasn’t local, it was always more on the jam side of things,” Kadlec says. “They’ve always kinda had that vibe.”

But by 2013, the live-music emphasis had waned to the point of absence, giving way to collegiate bar crawls and karaoke nights. When the club went up for sale that year, a group of silent partners helped Detlefsen acquire it.

“It’s been my second home since I was 21.” says Detlefsen, now 35. “When it came up for sale, I jumped at it.”

Detlefsen has devoted a large chunk of time into reintegrating music into the venue’s schedule. He says the second he got his keys, he began reading up on the finer points of running a venue and watching how-to YouTube clips, anything and everything to create and enhance a quality live music experience.

“I always went to shows but I never really cared about the technical aspects [before hosting them],” Detlefsen says. “But when you go places and you see it done poorly, it’s really annoying.”

He recently turned to sound engineer Brenton Neville for help installing the new sound setup. In addition to running his own portable system known as Vessel Live, Neville has worked in venues of all shapes and sizes, from tiny clubs to giant outdoor Nebraska Folk & Roots Festival.

“[Ryan]’s kind of an audiophile the way I am,” Neville says. “I used to bring a soundsystem in here to help him out, and he’s slowly buying little pieces here and there and really beefing this place up.”

photo by Andrew Stellmon

Moreover, its tradition (and Detlefsen’s sensibilities) make it a logical home for EDM and jam bands, which DJ and concert booker Spencer Munson says has been missing in recent years.

“There are a couple of holes in Lincoln’s music scene,” Munson says. “All the dance clubs … are Top 40. [And] there hasn’t been a great jam scene in Lincoln for awhile.”

Kadlec notes Bodega’s has already made positive contributions to the scene, bringing in national acts in Detlefsen’s wheelhouse — Denver’s Ignatius Reilly and Boulder, Co., band Na’an Stop to name a few — while dipping its toes into other genres. With room to grow, the venue and its owner are on the right track, Kadlec says.

“It’s really cool that [Detlefsen is] going back to the original idea of Bodega’s,” Kadlec says. “He’s open minded enough and cool enough to work with that [he’ll do] anything that’s going to get people moving and grooving.”

With ownership duties aplenty, Detlefsen laments his inability to join his old road buddies for long weekends at Red Rocks Amphitheater or Atlanta’s Philips Arena. In the same breath, he expresses excitement at the chance to recreate the live music experience from his youth. What better place than in his own second home.

This Saturday, Bodega’s hosts Linear Symmetry, Filibusta, JMNM and DJ KG. RSVP here. Check out Bodega’s full upcoming schedule here. For booking inquiries, contact Ryan at bodegasalley@hotmail.com.

Andrew Stellmon is Hear Nebraska's managing editor. Reach him with news tips and story ideas at news@hearnebraska.org.