Given its scattershot history of shut-downs and reopenings, it wasn’t that much of a surprise when Eli’s Mile High Club again shuttered its doors on May 1, without so much as a Dear John letter. Ex-owner Sam Marshall caused little collateral damage when he jumped ship, and most people in Oakland were unfazed. Most, that is, except for local rock booking agent Amanda Hines, whose one-year-old Lava Nights showcase had already been shuttled from its former home base, the Uptown Nightclub, when that venue changed ownership in November. She had drawn a good-sized crowd with recent East Bay Grease and Moore Brothers bookings at Eli’s, and was banking on the next sixteen shows — all booked “in good faith” — to really grow her business.
That day, Hines sent out an e-mail to the 800 people in her Rolodex. “If you are involved (i.e., band, agent) please do not panic and move this,” she wrote, in the tone of someone accustomed to getting pushed around, and then coming back for more. “I believe I can get these settled into new spots.”
It takes a certain type of person to go-it-alone in the East Bay club scene, where there’s always a risk of getting stiffed by a band or club owner, and one bad night can easily bring financial ruin (rock promoters call it “losing your ass,” and Hines said she’s only done it once). But Hines appears to have the right combination of pluck and steadfastness; plus she knows how to navigate between the business and rock worlds. A longtime metalhead who ran away from home at sixteen and currently lives on her own in West Oakland — where she runs a dog-walking business on the side — Hines is nothing if not unflappable.
At age 33, Hines finally looks conventional — well, sorta. She wears blue jeans, glasses, and T-shirts that usually conceal the Morgan shield and dragon wings tattooed across her chest. She hasn’t seen her natural hair color in years — her scrapbooks are full of photographs in which she has it shorn, bleached, or mohawked — but at least its now a shade of Clairol red that actually exists in nature. She speaks with a folksy twang that betrays her Texas roots. She grew up in a classic small-town environment. Her mother worked for a country & western radio station, and her father made parts for guns. She ran away to Cancún at age 16, came back after three months later after getting robbed, and decided to leave for good shortly thereafter. At seventeen, she formed her first garage band — an all-girl metal outfit called Nuns for Prostitution — and moved to the 21st Street Co-Op in Austin, where she organized her first rock shows. As it turned out, she was naturally cut out for the job: Quick, gritty, and able to talk her way into (or out of) just about anything. If she couldn’t be a rock star herself, she could definitely be the man behind the curtain.
Technically, Lava Nights had its first-ever show at Uptown Nightclub in June 2006, roughly a decade after Hines settled in the Bay Area to study audio engineering at the California Recording Institute in San Jose. (She moved to Oakland in 2001 and wound up working in the tour department at Cinder Block, a full-service merchandising and licensing company.). But it didn’t officially get going until 2007, when Hines started putting on regular metal showcases at the Uptown and nearby soul food restaurant Maxwell’s Lounge. (She switched back to Eli’s in November, but still books some of the bigger draws at Maxwell’s.) The business, which runs from a single desktop computer in Hines’ one-bedroom apartment, picked up pretty quickly. She has a systematic way of doing things, after all. Hines runs her enterprise mostly via online promotions (i.e., MySpace bulletins and regular newsletters), though she also pounds the pavement one day a week, flyering record stores, tattoo shops, and equipment hubs like Leo’s Audio and the Starving Musician. She is, in other words, a one-woman street team, manager, booking agent, and PR flack.
Within two weeks of the Eli’s closure, Hines had saved nine out of sixteen shows: Her Grayceon and Embers bill will happen May 24 at Roosters Roadhouse in Alameda, and the Klloyd show (featuring Kirk from Buzzov*en) will go down May 31 at Temescal Arts Center. She is still looking to place two shows that were originally slated for June. Still, she seems pretty sanguine at this point, having proven, once more, that she can get shit-canned and bounce right back. At 10 p.m. on a recent Monday she sat at her computer drinking Diet Dr. Pepper and fussing at her two cats. A survival knife hung on the wall (“I dig weapons,” said Hines, speculating that she might have inherited her dad’s fixation with gun parts and artillery). Her computer’s screensaver appeared to be Jesus holding a lamb, though closer inspection revealed it was actually the bassist Lemy from Motörhead. Hines pulled out a photo album with pictures of her old San Jose band, Nag. An epigraph stuck on the album cover characterized Nag as “A band as morning fresh as your mother’s douche.”
At this point, Hines’ ambitions for Lava Nights are mostly within reach. She wants a home-base club. She wants to become an entertainment broker for events and parties. She wants to be a booking agent for a sizable roster of bands, and organize national tours. She wants to interview Blowfly for her forthcoming Internet radio show (on Scott Kelly’s site, CombatMusicRadio.com). She wants more Oakland club owners to actually take a chance on rock bands, and in that respect, she’s doing a good job so far: Maxwell’s had pretty much characterized itself as an R&B club from the jump, but Hines has turned it into a place for metalheads.
Hines said the Lava moniker actually precipitated from a conversation she had at age 17, when she was just starting out with Nuns for Prostitution. “I asked a guy in a band what he thought of when he was playing music. And he said, ‘laaavaaaa’ – all hardcore, like that. I just stuck with it. I don’t know why that burned in my brain,” she said. Over time, it went from being a long-running inside joke to a radio handle (people used to call Hines “lava lips” for being a fast-talking promoter), and now it seems like an apt epithet. Hines isn’t slow-moving or heavy, but she’s definitely a scorcher.