Location: 291 W 8th Ave Eugene, OR 97401
Phone: (541) 687-2746
WOW Hall, formerly a Woodmen of the World lodge, is an all-ages nonprofit venue. Specifically, it is a “Community Center for the Performing Arts,” as the picture of the venue’s brochure (left) indicates. WOW Hall lives up to this by hosting not only concerts, but dance classes, music camps, art shows, and free events. Their commitment to the community of Eugene is built into their mission statement. WOW Hall is dedicated to:
“Providing cultural arts and educational opportunities for all ages and income levels, Preserving and operating the historic Woodmen of the World Hall as a multipurpose community arts center, and Maintaining a supportive environment for local artists and their creative efforts.” This video goes into some depth about WOW’s volunteer program.
The venue indeed runs on the passion of volunteers. As the video says, WOW Hall has over 400 active volunteers. I attended an hour-long volunteer orientation at the venue on November 14th, and put my new skills to use at as Box Office Assistant (aka wrist stamper) at a concert on November 20th. Lost Lander, Laura Gibson, and Typhoon played. The capacity of WOW is 299 occupants (plus another 60 in the basement bar), and on the night that I attended, I would estimate approximately 200 attendees. I observed that the guest list was enormous as I stamped wrists. There were the requisite guests of the evening’s performing acts as well as press guests, but most of the comps were volunteer or staff. At WOW Hall, volunteers get into the whole night for free if they complete a three-hour “show shift” that evening. Additionally, volunteers who have logged a certain number of hours from previous administrative-type shifts get into shows for free. I would estimate that the paying public might have only constituted 75% or so of attendees on this night. I would surmise that volunteer attendees feel more engaged or invested in the shows they attend than the average attendee, because they have a deeper commitment to, and understanding of, what it takes to put on a show at the venue. Even I felt a small sense of pride watching the band play when my shift was over, knowing I’d helped make the night happen. Another unique offering of the venue is their publication WOW Hall Notes. Many volunteers contribute to the newspaper (which is available in physical and electronic formats), writing up their favorite bands in anticipation of upcoming performances or learning about new ones. This newspaper is also effective as a marketing tool for the wider public, as the newspaper is distributed around town at U of O, coffee shops, record stores, and other locations.
Most of the concert-goers on night I attended were in their 20s, though there was some range in age. Rainbow-colored stage lights and a disco ball added a fun, rock and roll feel to the show space, which has a rich, historical feel. The art deco-style building was built in 1932 (mostly by volunteers) and retains its original sprung wooden dance floor. I caught most of the set of the last band of the evening, the 11-person Typhoon. Typhoon is from Portland, and evidently has a dedicated following here in Eugene. The crowd was very enthusiastic, whistling and cheering throughout Typhoon’s set. Lead singer Kyle Morton interacted with the audience frequently, asking the crowd if they were going home for Thanksgiving, asking for audience requests, and the ultimate participatory band-audience practice—initiating handclaps. My volunteering comrade reported one key interaction after I left. The place was quiet for a moment. A girl in the audience yelled out, “I feel so inspired!” Morton said, “Inspired to do what?” Then the girl yelled “DANCE!” There was indeed a lot of dancing going on this night, and the crowd was electric.