SAN JOSE -- It's been more than a decade since the biggest Bay Area city saw a venerable downtown rock club go dark for good, a loss that musicians say sent aspiring stars scrambling to brighter stages north and south.
"San Jose has long been overlooked for Santa Cruz, San Francisco and Oakland," said Dave Nevin, 32, who has been affiliated with the San Jose music milieu since forming his first metal band in 1997. "It's not even a B market anymore."
After watching his once-bustling scene languish for years and finding himself suffering through "soul-sucking jobs that were breaking my heart and spirit," Nevin decided to take a chance and break with his corporate gig. He returned to his roots as a musician. Now, four years later, he's planted a seed with his San Jose Rock Shop that many hope will help foster the rebirth of live loud music downtown.
It's hasn't been easy. Nevin needed some key ingredients, including a place that all ages can go to hear their favorites play, and rehearsal space where bands can crank up the volume. A supportive repair and retail shop where musicians can hang out and feel like part of a community didn't hurt, either.
Like a one-man band trying to fill as many breaks as he can, Nevin started in 2009 with a music repair shop and kept adding to the enterprise. He then set up rehearsal space behind the store, which originally opened in Palo Alto before moving to San Jose a year and a half later. Then came a larger facility -- office space converted into music studios nestled within earshot of Interstate 880 and Highway 101. The final pieces fell into place with the retail shop and attached 100-capacity club, which will celebrate its year anniversary next month.
"Dave has vertically integrated his concept," said Scott Knies, executive director of the San Jose Downtown Association. "He's got the repair and retail, the practice space, and then you graduate to the stage and performance space. It's different from nightclubs and some of the other venues that we have in downtown, which allows it to be an incubator for musicians."
Knies is an avid supporter of what's going on at the Rock Shop, as is Lee Wilcox, the City of San Jose's downtown manager.
"Dave's place does two things," Wilcox said. "It gives aspiring artists the opportunity to practice and play shows; and allows younger-than-21 folks to see live music, and get vested in and used to live music in downtown San Jose."
After a run of being dominated by large nightclubs, Wilcox and Knies said, downtown has experienced a revival in live music downtown in the past two years. While local listings show plenty of opportunities to hear jazz, blues and acoustic sets at various all-ages cafes and bistros, metal, punk or rockabilly happenings usually carry a 21-and-up tag.
That's a void left by the closure of the Cactus Club on June 30, 2002 -- the day the music died, according to many local musicians who play songs more deafening than what's acceptable at a family-friendly lounge.
Unlike the bars that host live rock for the 21-and-over set, the Cactus opened its doors to teens as well, and youth is a key ingredient to foster a feeling that something vivacious is going on, according to fans of the decrepit but loved-to-death dive.
"National bands would come through and high school age kids could come out and check out the bands that they were into," said Alexander Phillips, a guitarist for local heavy metal outfit "Beerijuana" who goes by "Dr. Crazyfingers." "Local guys could open up for national bands, sometimes their heroes. It kept it vibrant, bands could be seen in a more professional setting rather than an underground party that gets broken up."
Phillips, a lifelong San Jose resident, said the city hasn't had a successful all-ages rock venue since.
"For either a lack of ambience or because it's dangerous, it hasn't really worked out," he said. "Dave's trying to recapture the vibe."
But he added that while Nevin caters mostly to rock bands -- "which is sorely missing down here" -- he's not hung up on any particular genre.
"You can have a heavy metal guy, a punk rock guy, a hip-hop guy all reach out to Dave, to get a practice room or set up a show," Phillips said. "He's a real resource and an entrepreneur."
Booker Donovan Kelley said those styles of music and the accompanying volume come with the territory.
"We're the Rock Shop," he said. "That's what we're about, rock music. Loud music."
The club requires a $5 membership fee, does not serve alcohol and shows generally starts shows at 7 p.m. and end by 9 p.m. Kelley said their goal is to put on at least two shows a week.
Nevin is modest about his success so far, calling it a "happy accident." He said his various endeavors all ended up working together.
"If I pull any one of them aside, I don't think I could pay any bill," he said. "All parts are important to the whole making it. That's why I'm able to do this."
Contact Eric Kurhi at 408-920-5852. Follow him at Twitter.com/erickurhi.
The downtown repair and retail facility as well as the concert venue is in Sperry Station, 30 N. Third St. in downtown San Jose. Show attendance requires annual club membership, which is a $5 fee, $2 renewal. For more information about the store, venue and upcoming acts or rehearsal spaces, visit http://sjrockshop.com.