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Making Music and Memories

By Brock Hires

Okanogan Living

Living in a world of music, where tunes and melodies blend with the heartbeat of a community, there are people who build special places for those sounds.

Larry Phillips is one of these visionaries, driven by a deep passion for music that goes beyond being just a listener. With his unwavering commitment to the artistic soul of his community, he has made a lasting impact by launching After Hours, a music venue that offers performers of all skill levels the opportunity to perform on stage, connect with others, and offer a unique entertainment experience.

“I grew up in a family of eight,” he recalled. “I have six sisters and a brother. All my sisters sang, and they all played the piano. So, we grew up as a very musical family. In the ‘80s, my oldest sister and my younger sister and myself, we started a gospel band.

“We traveled around Idaho, Washington, Oregon,” he said. “That lasted for six years or so, until everybody started having their own lives. Then I led worship at different churches.”

Phillips said he had always wanted to perform solo, but “never had the courage to do it.” But that changed after watching a friend perform and soon Phillips booked a performance at the Dawg House, a popular Okanogan eatery.

Nervous, with some technical difficulties, Phillips put on a performance and the “People just pulled me through. That's what really got me going.”

Playing classic rock and country music, Phillips said “I'm really enjoying it. I stay really busy with it.”

Vision behind After Hours

The stage is set, the lights dim, and the anticipation in the air is palpable as After Hours becomes a canvas for the vivid expressions of countless artists.

“I play live music in the area and I listen to the conversations of other people hanging out after the gigs,” Phillips said. “The complainants (were) it’s eight o'clock with nothing to do and then you got to go home, everything shuts down. I thought, well, we need to do something about that.”

Looking at potential locations for a community entertainment venue, Phillips found the building, 647 S. Second Avenue, Okanogan.

“I’d been looking for something for two years,” he recalled. “And then I saw some signs on this building.

“Last May I was just walking around, and Nick Timm said, ‘Hey, can I help you?’ And I told him what my vision was. He immediately latched on to it and said, ‘Let's make it work.’ Nick Timm is a huge part of it.”

“I tell everybody, the easy part was making it (After Hours) what it is right now,” Phillips said. “But the hard part, and that's the responsibility of the community, is to keep it going. And they're taking ownership. People are coming in here and they're watching out for it and everybody loves it. We average probably 35-40 people on Friday nights for ‘Larryoke’” (a pun for karaoke).

Karaoke runs from 7-9 p.m. followed by a jam session from 9-closing on Fridays.

“Sometimes were done at midnight; sometimes were done at three in the morning,” he laughed. “It’s a community thing.”

Along with karaoke and jam sessions, After Hours is also home to a dance party the fourth Saturday of each month and an EDM (electronic dance music) event hosted by John Blake on the second Saturday monthly.

The first dance party, held last month, was a success, according to Phillips with an estimated 60 people in attendance.

Phillips said he hopes to see the dance parties grow to eventually include a wider variety of musical stylings and themed events.

“I want to have Nashville nights. I want to have reggae nights,” he said. “I want to have rock and roll and blues nights.”

Community effort

Since opening After Hours, Phillips said word on the street about the venue has been a little slow, but the community response has been overwhelming.

“I had some guests that came in from Austin, Texas, and another one from Portland,” he recalled. “They were just blown away…they've never seen anything like this before; You’ve got to experience it.”

“I never dreamed of doing something like this. It has never been in my mind,” he said. “I'm all about the community. I love the community. I love this area - the people here are amazing. The talent here is intimidatingly good.”

After Hours operates as a private, volunteer venue, meaning every dollar dropped in a tip jar goes to keeping the facility operational.

“I’m trying to keep it a community thing and get the community behind it,” he said. “Even if they don't want to come and participate, they can still support it.”

A variety of merchandise sporting the After Hours logo (which Phillips and James Craddock created) are also available along with a loyalty program for avid supporters of the arts.

“If anybody wants to contribute, financially, they can just reach out to me on Facebook and message me. And we can make that happen. I just really want to emphasize that this is a community venue and it's run by the community.”

Along with being a place for musicians to gather, jam and mingle with each other, the venue can also be used for music video productions, album release parties, private gatherings and more.

Last month, After Hours was home to a music video filming location for Kirk Gildroy’s composition, “Da’s Song,” which was written in memory of Billy Brown of Discovery TV’s “Alaskan Bush People.” Phillips said the possibilities for After Hours are nearly endless.

Nurturing future generations

Phillips' dream is to leave a lifelong imprint through After Hours, fostering a space where the youth can carry on the legacy and continue making music a vibrant part of their community.

One aspect of After Hours that Phillips especially enjoys is watching the next generation of performers take the stage.

“Malachi Robbins he’s 15. He’s a real talent,” he recalled. “I've kind of taken him under my wings and now he opens for me; And that's what this place is about. Promoting people, promoting people's dreams and visions. Just making things happen.”

Phillips has teamed up with Gildroy and Michael Duarte to help with production work and hopes to offer a variety of youth program soon.

“Kirk and Michael be part of that where they're going to start giving guitar lessons, bass lessons, sound technician lessons” he said. “You know, whatever the youth are wanting. And my dream for that is to have a night where they can come together and have their own little party and dance; That's the whole thing that we're doing with the youth. When we're gone, they'll take it over. I want this place to have a lifelong thumbprint here.”

“I want the youth to be a part of it, be excited about it and know that when it's their turn, they can just step in and take it over.”

Future events

Phillips said he has several ideas he’s working for the future, including a St. Patrick’s Day celebration in collaboration with the Okanogna Chamber of Commerce. The event will be Sunday, March 17, with vendors throughout the day and live music from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

For a current events or more information, see After Hours Okanogan on Facebook. ♦



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