Featured Stories

East County may get new music venue

by: Carole Archer, Two employees at the Gresham Holiday Inn, Charles Miller of Fairview, left, and Mani Vannan from Chenni in southern India, hope to get the “Briarwood” off the ground by March.

Oftentimes, the best ideas don't show their face till after midnight.

No one knows that better than 28-year-old Mani Vannan, originally from Chenni in southern India, and 52-year-old Charles Miller of Fairview. While chatting together late one night during their graveyard shift at the Gresham Holiday Inn on Northeast Hogan Drive, the two got to talking about East County's need for more live music venues.

And the thought occurred to them - why not just create their own?

Miller, who works as the Holiday Inn's night auditor, or as he calls it, the hotel's 'babysitter,' had tossed around the idea for a couple years. But it was mostly a pipedream and he never went anywhere with the concept. It wasn't until he met Vannan, a self-proclaimed 'born businessman' and graduate of the Swiss School of Tourism and Hospitality, doing management training at the hotel, that Miller 'pulled the idea out of mothballs' and realized the two could actually make the dream a reality.

'We've spent hours talking with each other about this,' Miller says. 'Now we're like brothers.'

After meeting with Curtis Fontana, hotel manager, Miller and Vannan developed a game plan for opening their new performance venue, set to be called the 'Briarwood Concert Series.' So far, they've set up a tentative arrangement to host the Briarwood concerts in the hotel's Multnomah Room, a space that can handle around 200 to 250 people. It's a multi-purpose room used for a variety of events, so they'd have to 'build up and tear down the venue like it was never there,' after each show.

Because both Miller and Vannan are hotel employees, Fontana has offered to effectively let them use the space for free, as long as the hotel's catering services would provide food and drinks and take the profits from their sales. The Briarwood would charge concertgoers a modest cover, around $10, for each show - money Miller says would go toward paying the artists, and possibly leave a tiny smidgeon for himself and Vannan.

Miller would like to see the Briarwood host an eclectic mix of musical acts, anything from acoustic, rock, indie, pop and jazz fusion. He's set up a Myspace page at www.myspace.com/briarwoodconcertseries, to try and garner interest from area musicians who might be interested in playing the space.

'The Myspace generation is exactly the kind of energy we want to pick up,' Miller says.

He's also trying to take input from community members about what they'd like to see in a new East County music venue.

'What we've really enjoyed is the personal interactions we've had from people interested in the idea,' Miller says. 'There's a real lack of permanent venues in East County for live music. People are saying they want more places to perform and play here.'

Miller is shooting for the club to open sometime in February or March and ideally host two shows a week, once things get going.

But for now - all he wants is the chance to do one show.

'Just give us one show, a big inaugural event, and we'll show everyone what we can do with this thing,' Miller says. 'All we have to do is two things: show that Briarwood makes money, and that it enhances the hotel without creating a disturbance for regular events or disrupting regular traffic flow.'

Vannan who also runs a transcription consulting service, a wedding planning Web site in India, and does international recruitment - sees big potential in using the Briarwood as a testing ground for exposing musicians from the Pacific Northwest to the Asian market. Knowing that American artists can be wildly popular overseas, he envisions taking Briarwood performers to places like India and using his contacts to set up international tours, or even record deals. With the 'common link of English between the two cultures,' Miller sees the arrangement potentially taking off in exciting directions.

Vannan himself is also no stranger to the live music scene. Already, in India, he's helped organize concerts for high-profile acts like Deep Purple, Ryan Adams and the Scorpions.

'If I can run a show in India for 40,000 people, I can run a show in a Holiday Inn in America, or anywhere,' Vannan says.

There's still a lot more logistics for Vannan, Miller and the hotel to iron out. In the meantime, they are continuing to scout out more acts and maybe even form a partnership with a local radio station. They're also bouncing around other hotspots in Portland, trying to observe what makes venues work well and soak in what it would take to give the Briarwood the kind of atmosphere and vibe they're going after.

'Most of all, I want East County hoppin', and I'm prepared to do what it takes,' Miller says.