Music promoter will open own venue in Shiprock

Mike Easterling

FARMINGTON — Anthony Lee has been promoting live music shows since his days as a 16-year-old student at Shiprock High School. Now 23, he’s a show business veteran with his own production company, even if many people don’t treat him that way.

Music promoter Anthony Lee of War Party Productions stands outside his new venue, Asterix, on Dec. 24 in Shiprock.

“It was really hard to get anybody to listen to me because I’m so young,” Lee said last week, describing his long-held dream to open his own venue, where he could not only promote shows of his own, but play host to events promoted by other people. “But Shiprock needs entrepreneurs. As a people, we fight ourselves from growing. A lot of it has to do with the younger generation not agreeing with the older generation and two different mindsets.”

Despite the doubters, Lee will see his dream reach fruition in early January when he opens Asterix, a multipurpose venue located at 101 Ayani’Neez Blvd. in Shiprock. The space will be used for concerts, storytelling events, birthday parties, art exhibitions, children’s events or almost anything else people want to use it for, Lee said, adding he hopes to open a coffee bar soon and offer free wi-fi service so local students have a place to hang out after school and do homework.

“I want it to be a place where anybody can do anything,” he said. “Not everything I do is going to involve money — there’s going to be a lot of free stuff, as well. I also wanted something that was going to be easy to market.”

Lee is due to take possession of the space on Monday, Jan. 1 and will be presenting a grand opening celebration on Saturday, Jan. 7. That event will feature live music and several vendors.

Lee is already well known to local live music fans from the shows he has promoted through his company, War Party Productions. He got into the business during his sophomore year at Shiprock High School, when he had trouble finding places where his band, End This Year, could play.

Anthony Lee, who has been promoting concerts since his high school days, says he has wanted to operate his own live music venue for several years.

So he decided to take matters into his own hands. Since then, he’s been promoting concerts by national touring acts, mostly in the metal and punk genres, at a variety of local venues, including the Identity Inc. Community Center in downtown Farmington.

But his goal was to do something in his hometown of Shiprock, even though he had relocated to Cortez, Colo., after graduating high school in 2011. Earlier this year, Lee learned of an empty warehouse on Ayani’Neez Boulevard in Shiprock, and he started promoting shows in that space. The situation wasn’t ideal, he said, noting that the room had neither a restroom nor heating, and it wasn’t unusual for it to be colder inside than it was outside.

Nevertheless, Lee liked the location well enough to inquire with the landlord about an adjacent vacant space that was heated. When the landlord agreed to put in a restroom, Lee was sold, and signed a lease to take it over on Dec. 12.

It didn’t take him long to settle on a name — Asterix — that reflects what he hopes the venue becomes, which is a gathering spot where local young people can be exposed to music, art, ideas and, of course, each other.

“It’s kind of turned into something bigger than I anticipated,” he said.

The Bakersfield, Calif., band Serpent's Tongue will take the stage at Asterix in Shiprock in February.

For now, Lee has booked a pair of metal/punk shows — So This is Suffering, a Los Angeles-based foursome; and Serpent’s Tongue, a Bakersfield-Calif.-based quintet, on Feb. 20. Another promoter will be staging an indie rock/punk show the last Thursday of every month at the venue, he said.

One of the main things Lee hopes to accomplish at Asterix is providing a steady lineup of children’s events. As a father himself, he knows how important it is for families to have activities they can do together, and when Lee recently moved back to Shiprock from Cortez, he was disappointed to find there was little of that kind of thing available in his hometown.

Eventually, he said, he’d like to have events of all kinds scheduled at the venue on a daily basis.

The surroundings at Asterix will be spartan, for now. Lee has a crew of volunteers who will help him run the place and stage concerts, but there is no stage or lighting at this point, though he hopes to receive donations soon that will enable him to install both. There is also no seating, but Lee is hoping to receive donated furnishings, as well.

The setup may be modest, but that doesn’t mean Lee hasn’t gone all in on his new venture. He recently lost his job in Cortez and is still working on finishing his degree in web design and development from Full Sail University, a Winter Park, Fla., institution that offers on-campus and online degree programs.

Anthony Lee says he has been gratified by the support his new venue, Asterix, has drawn so far, but he still hopes for donations of furniture and equipment.

“So it’s a big leap of faith for me,” Lee acknowledged. “But I agreed to do it anyway. I worked so hard to get it, and I’ve got faith it will work.”

That doesn’t mean he doesn’t sometimes wonder what he’s gotten himself into.

“There are a lot of things that could go wrong,” Lee said. “But I never really thought this would be a thing. I started promoting (shows) because nobody else would … We worked so hard to get where we are today. We started out playing in sheds. Now we have our own building, we’ve got a P.A. system, and I’m booking a lot of guys from New York and California.”

Lee said he’s been gratified by the response the project has gotten so far. But he knows what really matters is whether local music fans support the venue in the long run.

“Now there’s going to be something to do (in Shiprock),” he said. “I don’t know if everybody's going to know how to react to that. People here are used to keeping themselves entertained. I’m hoping it will spark (other entrepreneurs) to do something, as well.”

Ticket prices for his concerts will depend almost entirely on what kind of crowds the venue attracts, Lee said.

Anthony Lee will hold a grand opening celebration for Asterix on Saturday, Jan. 7 with live music and vendors.

“I’d like to keep it as cheap as possible,” he said, envisioning admission charges of $3 to $5, but he added that would only be possible if the events are well supported. “I would rather have a lot of people watch a band than just a few.”

As for the shows other promoters book, Lee has a standard agreement under which there will be a 50/50 split of the door proceeds. That will allow aspiring young promoters to book concerts without having to put down a sizable deposit or agree to a guaranteed amount to rent a room, he said.

The ability to help other promoters is part of his motivation for opening Asterix, Lee said. But his biggest reason for opening his own venue is purely personal.

“It’s awesome because I don’t have to ask for permission,” he said. “I can just try anything I want.”

To speak to Lee about staging an event at the venue, call 505-436-9186.

Mike Easterling is the A&E editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.