When Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland decided to put on a show in those classic MGM musicals, they simply found an old barn and fixed it up. But in modern-day Los Angeles, where many venues have closed due to the recession, how does a teenage girl manage to start her own nightclub and turn it into one of Hollywood's coolest hangouts?
“When we first opened, we had absolutely no idea what we were doing,” says Kota Wade, who was just 19 last year when she converted her band's rehearsal room into an all-ages, no-alcohol club called AmplyFi. Located on Melrose Avenue within spitting distance of Paramount Studios, the room is filled with lava lamps, gold records and a large vintage poster of Jane Fonda. Its lineup consists largely of indie rock bands; celebrities like Don Was, Runaways singer Cherie Curie and Go-Go's guitarist Charlotte Caffey have been known to take in shows.
Wade's crew consists of two people, her mother and her father, who relocated the family from Albuquerque to Orange County when Wade was 12. “My dad does the sound and my mom sells tickets,” explains Wade, now 20, and she does the booking herself.
Seated on a couch near the AmplyFi stage, the singer-pianist is decked out like a glam rocker, with lavender-tinted hair, white platform boots and silver earrings in the shape of musical notes. She doesn't have much in the way of a social life, she claims: “I'm pretty boring when it comes to partying.”
Indeed, in conversation she comes across as something of a nerdy workaholic.
Still, Wade has long sought the public eye. She was a promising figure skater as a preteen but declined an invitation to a national skating competition so she could attend music camp to work on her songwriting skills. “Ever since I was little, I wanted to be a princess, rock-star ballerina with a Grammy,” she says.
Wade blossomed further as a musician at the Hollywood Pop Academy, and at 16 won an award from the songwriting website American Idol Underground for her electronica song “Mistake.”
Although she wasn't successful in three auditions for the site's namesake TV show, American Idol, her music career thus far is promising. After a stint in Orange County pop-punk band Bombshell, she released a pair of mainstream-pop solo CDs, and currently fronts a heavier and darker rock band, Bad Wolf, with boyfriend Tommy Oleksyn.
Most of Wade's time these days, however, goes into running AmplyFi, which recently celebrated its one-year anniversary. One of the few all-ages clubs in L.A., AmplyFi is doing well enough that its ambitious founder already is planning to open other locations, perhaps even one with a liquor license. That is, once she turns 21.