PORT ANGELES — Pretty soon, downtown will have the blues.
But no, this is not another story about vacant storefronts and wintertime.
It is about a guy who moved here from Port Townsend with a determinedly upbeat attitude — and a lot of contacts in the world of rhythm and blues.
Mark Cole, former owner of the Upstage Theatre and Restaurant of downtown Port Townsend, is busy booking blues acts at Studio Bob, the art gallery-event space in Port Angeles, the city where he’s now a homeowner.
First up is Coco Montoya, the blues-rock-soul guitar slinger, Albert Collins protege and former member of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers.
Soon after gigs at San Francisco’s Biscuits & Blues club and Seattle’s Triple Door, Montoya will come to Studio Bob on Saturday, Feb. 6.
The artist is one of many who played the Upstage during its heyday of hosting blues, rock and jazz acts from around the world.
But the venue closed in June 2013 following Cole’s dispute with landlord Dave Peterson over building repairs, and Cole booked some concerts at other Port Townsend halls. Then he decided to start anew in the neighboring county.
“I could have moved anywhere. But I really like Port Angeles. There’s a lot of cool stuff going on,” said Cole, 64.
Besides the downtown scene, he observes, there’s Olympic National Park and the ferry to and from Victoria. And the lack of traffic is major.
“It takes no time to get anywhere. I absolutely love it,” said Cole, who, before moving to the North Olympic Peninsula, spent years working in the wine industry in Los Angeles County.
Having hosted live music for a decade and a half at the Upstage, Cole means to add to Port Angeles’ cool stuff. He continues to use the Upstage name for his events, and to follow Montoya, he has singers Janiva Magness and Curtis Salgado, Chet Atkins protege Richard Smith and bluesman Jimmy Thackery on his list for Studio Bob.
“The fact is, people are coming through. They’re contacting me,” Cole said of the artists.
The same goes for Dan Maguire, executive director of the Juan de Fuca Foundation for the Arts.
Maguire brought “living room concerts” — ranging from bluegrass to rock’n’roll — to Studio Bob throughout last year. He plans to keep it up, with bluesmen David Jacobs-Strain and Bob Beach booked there the night of April 15.
Studio Bob owner Bob Stokes is likewise looking forward to a new era.
He opened his space, upstairs at 118 1/2 E. Front St., about 10 years ago, and has since hosted innumerable art exhibitions, drawing and painting parties, concerts, fundraisers and variety shows.
Stokes and his partner Cindy Elstrom also run The Loom, a lounge adjacent to the concert stage-dance floor-gallery. But they hope to turn it over to a new owner, and concentrate on the art space.
“We don’t want to be bartenders,” Stokes said.
“We’re hoping somebody will step up to the plate” and take on The Loom, which is the venue for, among other events, Drink and Draw art parties every Thursday at 7 p.m.
Stokes has found another downtown businessman to take over part of his upstairs space.
After 15 years on Laurel Street, Ernst-Ulrich Schafer has just moved Ernst Fine Art Photography into the northern portion, formerly called the Art Up Front gallery. His portrait studio and photo gallery now has a commanding view of downtown.
Schafer will host an open house there at 3 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 6 — the afternoon preceding Coco Montoya’s arrival.
At the same time, Stokes emphasizes that he will continue presenting art shows, replete with opening parties on the second Saturday of every month.
“I started Studio Bob to promote art in the community,” said Stokes, 67. For years, into and out of the Great Recession, he and fellow artists including Sarah Tucker and Jeanette Painter have hosted performances and exhibitions.
“I am not letting go of that,” Stokes said, adding that it has gotten easier to book the second-Saturday art shows. There was a time when he had to cast around for them; now, he said, artists from around the region call him.
Studio Bob also continues to be a go-to venue for fundraisers such as the Northwest Raptor and Wildlife Center of Sequim’s “100 Feet to Freedom” benefit March 19. Event proceeds will go toward moving a 100-foot eagle enclosure from Yakima to Port Townsend, where both the Raptor Center and Discovery Bay Wild Bird Rescue will use it for eagle rehabilitation.
It’ll be a classic Studio Bob party with bands — Pufnstuff, Bread and Gravy, the Crocs and Rogues’ End — and live painting by local artists.
Art and music enliven the whole community, Stokes, Maguire and Cole agree. Yet as Cole began to put down roots here — he purchased his Port Angeles house last summer — he found a dichotomy.
When asked what Port Townsenders said about his move, Cole replied: “The worst put-downs on Port Angeles come from Port Angeles people.” Which doesn’t match his experience so far.
“You have a symphony, you have auditoriums. You’ve got really great things here.”