Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

When Little Brother's closed last summer, Columbus lost one of its few venues for rock shows that are too small for the Newport Music Hall but too big for a dive bar. One promoter hopes a century-old school building-turned-artists' haven can help fill that void.

Milo Arts has hosted various events throughout its two-decade run as an artists' live-work space, most recently the eclectic Milo Elektric series and the Columbus music mixer known as Rock Potluck.

Promoter Ben Hamilton hopes to use Milo like never before by bringing marquee underground acts to the building's 600-capacity gymnasium. The experiment begins next Thursday with a concert by indie-rock luminaries the Silver Jews.

"Milo is what I would call a destination venue," Hamilton explained. "Every show that happens there will be an event."

For concertgoers, that means a chance to see indie favorites such as Stars, Pinback and Damien Jurado in an unusual setting. For Milo owner Rick Mann, who was unavailable for comment, it means renewed interest in a facility that 18 months ago was struggling to stay open. And for Hamilton, it means a vast undertaking for every concert he books there.

Much of the rigmarole revolves around liquor. Every show will have a full-service bar operated by a nonprofit organization that will take a portion of the proceeds. For each event, Hamilton must obtain a temporary liquor permit and line up a different nonprofit organization, plus set up and tear down the bar.

"I'm trying to use NPOs that are already down with the scene," Hamilton said. Some groups he has confirmed to participate include the Columbus Music Co-op, FreeGeek Columbus and Third Hand Bicycle Co-op.

Hamilton, who booked Little Brother's from 2004 to 2007, has become one of this town's most prominent independent concert promoters. His company, BenCo Presents, has kept a steady stream of mostly indie-rock acts on Columbus stages, among them post-rock ensemble Do Make Say Think, pop-rocker John Vanderslice and gloomy experimental folkie Six Organs of Admittance.

BenCo has booked shows at places like Skully's, Rumba Cafe, Ravari Room and Cafe Bourbon Street, and Hamilton will continue to use those venues. But many of the rooms are too small to host the kinds of shows that would sell out Little Brother's.

The Basement has also helped carry the torch for Little Brother's, but PromoWest's Arena District club is off-limits to Hamilton, and its 300-capacity room is too small to be a proper replacement for Little Brother's anyway. One sizable option, Skully's, isn't always available for the dates Hamilton needs. So he found a place of his own.

"I was looking for a room that was unique and also that I could be exclusive to," Hamilton said. "With the already built-in arts community that is established at Milo, it seemed like a natural place to go. It's a great room. It already has a stage. There's lots of parking."

The parking will be fenced-off and attended, factors Hamilton hopes will quell any fears about Milo's location near the intersection of Third and Cleveland avenues in the rough Milo-Grogan district.

"When Little Brother's opened up, [the Short North] wasn't a very good neighborhood," Hamilton said, "and frankly, Little Brother's made places like Skully's possible, and Surly Girl and Bodega and all of that."

Hamilton hopes a steady stream of marquee shows will help to gentrify Milo-Grogan in the same way. And in the meantime, Milo's unfamiliar location shouldn't keep concertgoers away, he said, particularly a crowd that's used to seeing shows in unusual venues. After all, it's only a mile away from High Street.

"I think it will work out all right," Hamilton said, laughing. "We'll know very soon."

On the Lookout

BenCo Presents begins its Milo Arts concert series with Silver Jews. Formerly reclusive poet-turned-rocker David Berman commands one of music's most devoted cult fan bases. His interviews are as pithy and insightful as his lyrics, so we couldn't pass up a chance to trade e-mails with the guy. Click to for the full transcript.