Every couple of months, something strange happens at the Casbah. Rockabilly boys strut their stuff on the dance floor next to blonde chicks in tube tops and mini-skirts. Surfer dudes hit on pale, black-haired girls wearing band pins and torn fishnets. And disco-yes, disco music-pumps through the place at wall-shaking volume.
This is no Invasion of the Body Snatchers scenario, nor is the X-Files theme about to queue up. All signs point to Jivewire, the Casbah's every-now-and-again, hell-of-a-lot-of-fun dance party.
On a typical night, Casbah owner Tim Mays books bands. Punk bands, indie bands, country bands, jazz bands and electronica bands have all taken the stage there. It's where lucky and dedicated patrons sometimes see the next “it” band before the mainstream catches on. (The Strokes and White Stripes both played there before becoming “it.”) To spell it out-the Casbah's a live music dive-as far removed from a “dance club” as one could imagine.
So where does this disco-dancing thing fit in?
Mays started the event about six years ago with Jeff Motch, Ken Watson and One Nation Under a Groove old-school DJ Bart Blackstone. The first Jivewires were held at El Cajon Boulevard's Live Wire bar, but when the dance floor began to groan under the weight of the enormous crowd the event attracted, they moved Jivewire over to Kettner Boulevard.
According to Mays-who spins records under the name DJ T Money-hosting a night for people to get their dance on is nothing new for him.
“We used to do club nights at the Pink Panther and the old Casbah,” he says. “They were always packed and so much fun.”
In referring to Jivewire, “packed” is an understatement. As soon as the doors open around 8:30 p.m., people start to trickle in. By 10, the scene starts to really pick up. By 11, the place is jammed-legally, about 250 people put the Casbah at fire code limits-and a line has formed outside.
Although many of club's regulars show up, there's an equal number who migrate from their usual downtown and beach-area clubs. Jivewire is equal-opportunity fun. The mixed crowd gets along wonderfully, thanks to the absence of all those scene-protective vibes Casbah locals give off at live shows.
Michael Zimmerman, who regularly DJs under the name Mutant with his good friend Mario Orduno, attributes Jivewire's success to the easygoing atmosphere. “Everyone is up for a good time,” he says. “People really let their guard down. There's less attitude.”
Mays has no solid explanation for the crowd that shows up. He doesn't do much in the way of promotion. He schedules the show on holiday weekends or when bands cancel at the last minute. “Must be word of mouth,” he speculates with a chuckle. “The thing that really amazes me is that people will wait in line for an hour!”
Possibly it's because there's no cover charge. Downtown clubs charge upwards of $15 and often play the same familiar, danceable disco tunes that Jivewire DJs spin. Plus, fun local bands often kick off the event with a quick set, making the entertainment-to-dollar ratio that much sweeter.
Altruism isn't Mays' only motivating factor when it comes to Jivewire. It's free “because it doesn't cost much to put on,” and it's a huge money-maker in terms of booze sales. All those hot, dancing bodies need drinks, and Mays brings on extra staff to handle the flurry of orders. “It's a tough night, but everyone makes really good money.”
All in all, it's a great night for everybody, from the most jaded scenester smoking on the patio all night to the many drunken boys and girls-rockabilly, punk, surfer, whatever-shaking their stuff on the dance floor.