Toxic Toast Theatre: The all-ages music venue Long Beach doesn’t know it has

You wouldn’t know it, standing outside the nondescript, unnamed building on 755 Pine Ave., but inside its painted white brick exterior stands the biggest and most remarkably polished all-ages live music venue Long Beach currently has to offer.

Many might be familiar with Toxic Toast Records, a punk-centric record store stationed on the corner of Pine Ave. and 8th St. Since its opening five years ago, the record store has gained a loyal following for its eclectic variety of punk, horror, pre-Y2K rock and heavy metal vinyl. And, of course, for the warm greetings of one friendly, tail-wagging Labrador named Toast—the owner’s pet and store’s namesake. Fewer, though, are aware that standing adjacent to the store is the only consistent, exclusive all-ages music venue in the city: Toxic Toast Theatre.

Owner Andy George, a self-identified vegan, queer, straight-edge punk, knew from the beginning that he wanted his record store to have a live music venue attached to it. When the opportunity presented itself, George and a silent partner bought the once vacant and dilapidated adjacent space and invested three painstaking years, and more than half a million dollars, renovating the space, which required new flooring, piping as well as repairs to fire hazards and venting issues and installing a professional-grade light and sound system.

First impression: it’s clean, spacious and, well, beautiful. Burgundy painted walls contrast floor-to-ceiling beams painted black, complementing the exposed brick walls lining the tail-end of the space (the only original remnant of the 1920’s built building). The clicking pitter-patter of Toast’s nails resounds against the recycled oak wood flooring.

“I created the venue that I wanted to have when I was in a band,” George, 38, said. “This is a kind of place where I would want to have a show.”

A look inside Toxic Toast Records' theater; its owners aim to unify the local music community

A look inside Toxic Toast Records' theater. Toxic Toast booking agent Jacob Williamson and owner Andy George aim to unify the local live music community using their theatre as a beacon.Video by Cheantay Jensen.

Posted by the Hi-lo on Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Aside from his desire to create a venue he’d always idealized, George wanted to create a space that could nurture and develop the communities that helped foster joy and belonging in his life. Enlisting the help of Jacob Williams, a show promoter who gained experience booking all-ages venues in the Denver punk community, the duo aim to support the local punk music scene and, hopefully, Long Beach’s greater live-music community.

“There’s no unified music scene in Long Beach. Everything is bar shows. And the bar shows are afterthoughts,” George said. “The bar shows are put on by the bars so that people will stay and drink, so then people can’t hear each other talk and they drink more. The bar shows are there for the bar to sell more alcohol, but no one is going because they’re like, ‘Oh I gotta see the local Long Beach punk band.’ It’s not like that. It doesn’t exist here.”

His answer? An all-ages, LGBTQ friendly music venue that doesn’t, and will never, serve alcohol.

Save for Fingerprints Music, which occasionally hosts all-ages shows inside their store, and the institution that is DiPiazza’s, there are virtually no other places in the city that consistently allow people under the drinking age to gather and listen to live bands. It’s a predicament that starves underage locals of live music, forcing them to travel to Los Angeles or Orange County to catch shows (if they even bother), and effectively hampers any sort of music scene from developing in the city.

Back in his hometown in Denver, Williams described a bustling, vibrant young punk music scene which he attributes to the dozens of all-ages venues in the city.

“I don’t think I’ve been to a single show, except for the smaller ones in Los Angeles or Southern California, where the audience has not been predominantly older male punks,” the 22-year-old said. “It’s really just kind of culture shock seeing the state out here. I feel like it’s not sustainable if the younger kids aren’t into it because then nobody is starting new bands, nobody is doing new things. It’s just the same couple hundred people going to shows.”

A glimpse inside Toxic Toast Records that sits adjacent to the theatre. Here, customers sift through an eclectic selection of punk, rock, and heavy metal vinyl. A back corridor connects the store and theatre so concert-goers can look at the store’s merchandise. Photo by Cheantay Jensen.

George shares William’s sentiment, although his perspective draws back to a decade of his life living and playing in his ska band—The Wiggums—in Phoenix during his late teens and mid-twenties. The local punk scene was small, he says, but there.

Fledgling bands garner a following by playing opening slots with headlining bands that can pull a consistent draw. Musicians by-and-large create those connections with other musicians by hanging out at their shows. When a city, like Long Beach, only offers 21-plus bar venues, underage kids are stunted in their efforts to play legit venues or create connections with fellow musicians and fans. But it’s not just the musicians, what an all-ages venue offers is the opportunity to train a new generation to appreciate live music, which keeps those venues and clubs open.

“There’s a lot of people, especially if they are going to shows in their 30s, who are bringing their kids,” George said. “We meet people who are bringing in their 8, 10 and 12-year-olds.”

Both George and Williams want Toxic Toast Theatre to be a venue where people go to shows for the sake of going, to appreciate the music. But without a strong music scene to bolster ticket sales, which range from $10 to $25 and are usually less than $20, and with no alcohol sales to propel profits (they don’t take a percentage of the performing band’s merch sales, either) they have to be choosy with their events, booking headlining bands they know can bring in a draw of at least 50 people. As of now, their shows average out to about twice a month.

“We’re just trying to break even at this point,” George said. “Meaning the band gets paid and the staff get paid and rent is covered. There’s no profit, but we’re still paying the bands and the bands are happy with their cut.”

While they don’t want to be pigeonholed as a purely punk-rock venue, the majority of their shows do orient in those genres and subgenres. Some of their most popular, sold-out shows include folk-punk bands, Days N’ Daze and Andrew Jackson Jihad which filled out the 350 capacity.

“That’s our bread and butter,” Williams said.

The theatre features professional-grade light and sound equipment in a spacious 350 capacity room–nearly three times the size of Alex’s bar. Tickets prices to the venue are almost always under $20. Photo by Cheantay Jensen.

However, hardcore, metalcore, indie-pop and hip-hop groups have all been privy to an audience at the theatre. Upcoming shows for the month of August and September will feature punk, harcore/metalcore and hip-hop headlining acts, including Shock Therapy and Capital Wasteland on August 3rd; The Last Ten Seconds of Life and No Zodiac, August 30th; and Mega Ran, SkyBlew and Fancy Pants on September 12.

For George, Toxic Toast Theatre is first-and-foremost a business. While he wants to cultivate a stronger live music community, he also looks to use his venue as an assembly space that can cater to the community in different capacities. Special events he’s catered include a vegan fair, yoga classes, and movie screenings wherein rows of movie-theatre seats are wheeled into the space for fellow cult movie fanatics. Occasionally he hosts meetings for Our Revolution, a progressive political organization based in Long Beach, and on August 1st he’ll be hosting the District 1 candidate panel. Both Williams and George talk of e-sports events in the works too.

“We are trying to create a community space,” George adds, “and yeah it’s more focused on punk, but that’s not all we are trying to do. We’re trying to involve all of the community.”

Toxic Toast Theatre is located at 755 Pine Ave. For more information on shows or to purchase tickets, click here.

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Cheantay Jensen is reporter and award-winning videographer who covers entertainment, art, food and culture for the Hi-lo section of the Long Beach Post. And sometimes breaking news, you know, just to keep things interesting.