Local music venue Main at South Side, widely known as MASS, closed its doors for the last time during the weekend.
For roughly five and a half years, the small venue served as a stepping stone for many local acts building their audiences and was a reliable stop for road bands passing through Fort Worth.
“The No. 1 killer of this was obviously COVID,” Ryan Higgs, managing partner of the venue, said. “Live music was closed first and opened last. And even when we opened last, we opened at 25%.”
Music lovers hoped that MASS’ ability to reopen after lockdown meant that it had weathered the worst of the storm, but the venue couldn’t outlast the long tail of the pandemic.
The venue, located at 1002 South Main Street, offered some live-streamed events during the shutdown. Although Higgs said he was proud of that content and the live-stream’s ability to draw in money for artists, it wasn’t a revenue boost for the venue itself, which relies on liquor sales for its bottom line.
After excitement for streaming tapered off and venues were able to reopen, the limits on capacity were still hard to bear. In their small venue, having two full bands, someone at the door, staff at the bar and a sound engineer left deep cuts on the number of tickets they were able to offer and stay within the quota.
“Well, in the live venue setting, you need to fill it. It’s like a Friday night at a restaurant — it needs to be full,” Higgs said. “At 25 (%) and even when we got to 50 (%), it just wasn’t enough. Not to mention all the time we were waiting.”
Throughout that time and into this September, the venue periodically struggled with the logistics of cancellations when talent contracted COVID. Because of the nature of the illness, there would only be a few days’ notice, which left venue owners with a tough decision: Do they try to scramble to book, promote and sell tickets for another act, or do they cut their losses entirely, knowing they might not be able to sell enough tickets to cover costs of opening their doors, and stay closed for that night.
Plus, neighboring businesses that they hoped would draw more foot traffic toward their quieter section of South Main Street, between Rosedale Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, were severely delayed or never materialized, Higgs said.
“In five and a half years, we could never get a happy hour going,” he said. “If we would have done $200-$300 a day on happy hour or just people hanging out … we would still be open, no doubt.”
Higgs believes that every venue in Fort Worth has an important role, and was leery of overstating MASS’ place in the community — despite his own love of the venue and his fondness for the staff. But dozens of local musicians and music lovers responded to the Report to share their stories.
Randy Brown, who estimates he booked 50-60 shows at MASS, said that the size of the venue and its willingness to take chances on new acts served an important role in Fort Worth’s music scene.
“It’s about a 200-person capacity (room). It’s a really great starter to mid-sized club for bands to kind of cut their teeth,” Brown said. “You give a lot of bands their first show(s). Main at South Side had that chance to try to nurture and grow artists into headliners and beyond, to go on from there to play bigger rooms. It’s a huge service to Fort Worth having that size (of) room, and with that sound. The sound in there was fantastic.”
Amanda Hand, of local outfit Big Heaven, always enjoyed performing at the venue herself, and has fond memories of getting to see her then 7-year-old daughter perform at MASS during a Girls Rock Fort Worth showcase.
“Bringing the girls to a real venue with a real stage … and their parents and all their friends and family were just like a sea of audience,” Hand said. “They got up there and they would play their songs and then there was no fear. There was some real power from that. It was just so cool to watch.”
For Matthew Broyles, a fellow local musician, answering what made MASS special was simple.
“Frankly, it’s the people, you know? You can build a building. You can put in a great sound system. You can have a great bar. But if you don’t have people who really care about the music and who care about what’s happening in the place, it just doesn’t feel like home,” he said. “I feel like MASS has always been one of those places that got the spirit right.”
Broyles is not alone in his compliments of the team at MASS. Several musicians were especially grateful to Higgs as well as talent buyer Alan Brown and sound engineer Mark Randall.
Some of MASS’ team, who so many credited with making the venue a success, started feeling burnout, found new projects or both as the group simultaneously tried to reimagine what the space could be or how it could be more financially stable.
That reality, coupled with the financial picture made the choice hard, but clear.
“We just decided against just holding onto the room, just to hold on to it,” Higgs said. “It wouldn’t have been MASS anymore.”
Marcheta Fornoff covers the arts for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.