The evening's most promising option won't involve a shocking stage show, though. It's a treat free of tricks, and it's tinted blue rather than orange and black. The Front Porch Blues tour, spotlighting ace guitarists Duke Robillard, Corey Harris and Deborah Coleman, virtuoso pianist Henry Butler and legendary harp howler Charlie Musselwhite, stops at the Gem Theater. Workers at the jazz-district venue have been telling curious callers that costumes aren't required, but they've stopped short of discouraging such attire, especially given that there will be some overlap with pianist Everette DeVan's Halloween-themed gig across the street at the Blue Room.
Secretly, though, 18th and Vine employees must hope concertgoers leave their masks at home -- they don't need anything else to scare away suburbanites.
Near the Gem, 18th Street is quiet at night, even desolate. There are few neighboring businesses, fewer passing cars and absolutely no coincidental foot traffic in the evening hours. But there aren't any illicit transactions, spooky slow-driving sedans or leering loiterers, either. The Gem and the Blue Room stand out as glowing, warm pockets of humanity in a ghost-town setting, making the venues feel timeless and inviting. Unfortunately, up-all-nighters feel more comfortable visiting venues that seem like links in a chain, such as the string of haunts in Westport.
Rumors fly about plans to line 18th Street with live music havens, down-home food and other long-overdue appointments. Governor Bob Holden, Mayor Kay Barnes and other local luminaries addressed such prospects October 28 at an anticlimatic ribbon-cutton ceremony celebrating apartments that had been open for months and a restaurant, the Peach Tree, that won't start serving until mid-November. Standing in an under-construction open space optimistically identified as the future home of an Asian restaurant, saxophonist Alaadeen played the sweet strains of "Kansas City." A wonderful jazz musician standing in a half-finished room playing to folks with their backs turned -- it was an uncomfortable image that summarized the neighborhood's recent past.
Jazz District Redevelopment Corporation Executive Director Al Fleming opened the press conference by proclaiming, "This is just the beginning, not the end," which was certainly reassuring given that 18th and Vine's promised commercial offerings have yet to become a reality. Fleming set spring 2003 as the target date for the Red Vine, a six-night-a-week jazz club; Black Coffee, a coffee-house/spoken-word forum; and Strange Frut, a restaurant/smoothie bar.
Even if all of these stops turn the jazz district into a thriving entertainment district, the district's neighbors would have few complaints. That's a markedly different climate from the one around Westport, where some longtime homeowners resent the vibrant social scene and its late-night clamor. Until these venues actually appear, though, many jazz fans will continue to patronize only venues such as Plaza III and the New Point Grille.
The Gem could lure visitors to 18th and Vine who might return regularly once they discover their fears were ill-founded. Much as Kemper Arena concerts attract crowdds to the West Bottoms, Gem shows could prove irresistible to big-name hunters.
For a good scare, go almost anywhere else on Halloween. The Gem wants its visitors to feel safe and secure, then get their adrenaline rush from sizzling shuffles and scorching solos. With such a large-scale event taking place at the same time as the Blue Room's bash, parking lots might be filled -- but barren curbs should provide the solution. As American Jazz Museum spokesperson Allison Gallaway says, "that's the best kind of problem to have."