In 1996 15 year old Stephen Rodgers was working an after school job in order to maintain his residency in an old warehouse owned by the mafia. His inspiration for working in order to pay the mafia their monthly rent checks: his passion for music.
Rodgers and his high school buddies used the mafia owned warehouse as an illegal music venue where their friend’s bands would perform. “We had two shows every weekend and it sort of paid the bills, but nobody really had a job except for me, and so I was paying the mafia off in cash every month; it was pretty sketchy,” Rodgers said with smiling large light eyes and long dark hair. Rodgers illegal music venue was eventually shut down by the police, but this would certainly not be Rodgers last attempt to deliver music to the public.
Rodgers passion for music would eventually land him a moderately successful career as a musician, an extremely successful open mic night, The Space, a legal music venue in Hamden, CT, and he claims someday he would also like to have his own farm, and he would like to build “an amazingly huge model railroad, which is my own world that only I can control,” Rodgers said laughing.
Rodgers and his brother Ron started “The Mighty Purple,” a band that according to Rodgers plays “emotionally driven indie pop rock with strong melodies and harmonies.” The band consists of Rodgers on guitar, the bass player “Tommy Lee,” keyboard player Max, and drummer Paul Guerra. The Mighty Purple has released seven albums and has previously signed a contract with the independent label Wildpitch Records.
Even though the band was getting more pay and publicity while signed with the label, Rodgers claims that he prefers working independently rather than with a record label backing him and his band. Rodgers claims that without a record label the band does not have to play a big venue, which helps the band get to know their fans on a more personal level. “I would much rather go play for 40 people and not make $1000 dollars, but have those 40 people have a good time in a smaller place; without a label we have more intimate relationships with the fans rather then these really big shows with bands we don’t fit with,” Rodgers said.
When Rodgers returned from the band’s tour he moved into a small warehouse space in Hamden CT, where he began hosting an invite only open mic night every Monday. As the years passed, Rodger’s open mic night gained enough popularity that musicians would drive from Boston and New York to participate. Some established musicians such as Steve Kellogg, of Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers, and Ann Heaton, who has been credited in the Boston Globe as “easily [one] of the area’s most notable female singer-songwriters,” frequented Rodgers’ open mic sessions before their careers took off. “It grew so big that there were 100 people cramming into this tiny space every week. People were driving from New York, Boston, and Rhode Island to come play two songs and hang out and meet other people; some really great people came out of that open mic night,” Rodgers said.
After two illegal music venues and a signed record contract, Rodgers who refers to himself as “definitely over 21,” decided to try and do what he had attempted so many times before; give music back to the people. But this time he was going to fill that craving not by opening an illegal venue, or hosting an open mic night in a tiny warehouse, he was going to open a legal music venue that was different from all the others; and The Space was born.
The Space, which has currently been in business for 18 months, is truly a music venue like no other. Rodgers wanted to open a place where all ages’ bands and fans could come and experience new genres of music, without having to worry about age restrictions and liquor laws; for that reason The Space does not serve alcohol at all, but they do serve 150 different types of tea as a replacement. The venue doesn’t provide food either, but during last Tuesdays open mic night Rodgers and his comrades bought and pizza and sold slices to customers for a dollar.
“I opened this place because I really felt that their needed to be a platform for young artists around here to play for all age crowds with no liquor, because other than Toads there is no place for underage crowds to go see shows,” Rodgers said.
The Space doesn’t strictly focus on one type of music. Different types of music are played ranging from salsa to rock. “I just felt like the need was so great in New Haven to have a place that was all ages, and would focus on multi-cultural events and not just rock and roll, punk rock, and hippie music,” Rodgers said.
The inside of the venue is truly distinctive, colored lights line the back of the stage, and also hang from the ceiling. The whole place, including Rodgers office is covered with vintage figurines and statues, of what looks like superheros from the 70’s and 80’s. There is also a large suit of armor hanging on the wall. The seating area is lined with various comfortable vintage couches and chairs, all of different style and pattern. Christmas lights are also strung over the seating area, which makes it a very intimate, friendly venue, even though it is slightly cluttered.
Although Rodgers’ band and music venue aren’t exactly raking in the millions, he is still content with his work. He says he will continue running The Space and making Mighty Purple albums, because according to him it isn’t about the money. “Success is connecting with people on a real level everyday, and if that’s through music then it’s awesome. It just depends on if your hearts really there,” Rodgers said. “I am going to keep making Mighty Purple albums, even if we only sell a few hundred of each record that’s fine, its doesn’t matter how much I make, I just like putting them out,” Rodgers said. Rodgers has certainly come a long way from a lost 15 year old living in an abandoned warehouse, and he seems extremely content with his new music venue, especially about the fact that he doesn’t need to pay his rent checks to the mafia.