WATERLOO — Some people start businesses to get rich. Some inherit them. And some start them because they’ve got an undying passion for their product.
That product for longtime friends and bandmates Rob Dunn and Cody Winther is live music. They watch it, play it and have shared it with the Cedar Valley for the past 18 years. They launched the Reverb on Main Street in Cedar Falls in 2001 and expanded to Spicoli’s Grill and the Reverb Rock Garden in 2008 in Waterloo.
They’ve made a lot of changes during their tenure as a statewide attraction for local, regional and national acts, and now they will undergo one more. They’re selling the business.
But the show will go on. Fellow music lover and good friend Christina Hageman will take ownership July 1.
“It’s more of an adoption than a purchase,” Hageman said. “The ownership is really irrelevant because the focus stays on original live music. Period.”
Hageman said she will make a few enhancements to the technology of the venue, including new equipment and website, but the “old-school” vibe will remain.
“I’m still going to be at the sound board. You’ll still see Rob behind the bar,” Winther said. “We have every intention of being her right-hand men. It’s kind of a unique situation.”
Hageman has been behind the scenes for several years at Spicoli’s, running the website and marketing through Facebook. After July 1, Dunn and Winther will continue to mentor Hageman in her new role.
Music is life for Hageman. Since her teen years, her favorite pastime has been attending live music.
“Some girls buy shoes and jewelry, and I don’t. I buy concert tickets,” she said. “And that’s been the case my entire life. I have 23 black T-shirts and two pairs of tennis shoes. But I have a stack of ticket stubs through the roof.”
For Dunn and Winther, the move is bittersweet.
“We got to be part of this whole culture and live music scene for almost 20 years,” Winther said. “For 18 years, our weekends are at the bar, and now this is our second family, so that’s the hard part about it.”
The two have spent countless hours and time into running a restaurant, bar and live music venue.
“You take one hat on and one hat off constantly,” Dunn said.
On a daily basis they wear titles of janitor, repairman, bartender, cook, soundman, door guy and occasionally counselor. But adapting is key to this business, they said.
“While it’s stressful, it’s part of the energy. People feed off the constant energy of the place,” Winther said.
You can even catch them performing on stage.
The two have been in a band together since their days at Villisca High School in Southwest Iowa. Dunn plays the drums and Winther sings and plays guitar for 8FoundDead, named after the infamous ax murders in their home town.
Their stage has bellowed music from salsa to jazz to heavy metal.
The venue’s uniqueness is seen in every corner. Personalized ceiling tiles decorated by friends and customers line the ceilings. A cluster of several dozen car keys and sunglasses left behind hang near the bar. Signed autographs from famous musicians and posters for upcoming shows cover the walls.
Over the years, they’ve met some big names in music from Joan Jett to Wayne Static to Corey Feldman and catered to the artists’ eccentric tastes.
They’ve had dinner with Spider of Powerman 5000, become longstanding friends with the lead singer of Local H, Scott Lucas, who has had a few stints behind the bar serving drinks to customers, and counseled a famous lead singer off of his bus when he was scared to perform in a small town.
Meeting and sharing a drink with Steven Adler of Guns and Roses was perhaps their most unforgettable experience.
“That night he was here was one of the most magical shows I’ve ever seen here,” Dunn said. “That guy lit the drum kit up. It was unbelievable. It caught everyone off guard.”
They’ve fulfilled requests from underwear to tofu turkey for touring bands.
“The best thing about a club like this: You’re either going to catch them on their way up or you’re going to catch them on their way down. Catch them on the way up — they’re excited, they’re eager, they’re fun. Catch them on the way down — it gets a little risky.”
“You’d better get a baby sitter,” Dunn joked.
Spicoli’s has made national news with the untimely death of Stone Temple Pilots frontman Scott Weiland, who died just days before he was to play in Waterloo, and the random shout-out from Stephen Colbert promoting a recent show for Flaw.
But as the rock club’s success grew, so did their families. Both are married with children. And now they will have more time to devote to their most important roles — as dads and husbands.