Last week, all-ages music venue Topaz announced via their website, templeofcairo.com, that come Saturday, April 19, they're closing their doors. The reason is simple: The couple who books, hosts, and does whatever it takes to put on a show is with child, due in early May. But in the span of two years and a few months, Joel and Krysta Leshefka, have introduced a model that has altered the way many Tucson music venues operate. The good news is that they're not leaving the art of cultivating creativity behind, just switching their focus to areas of music and art that co-exist with raising a child.
Joel initially came to Tucson from Seattle in the winter of 2012, ostensibly for an elongated visit. In Washington, he had already established two retail stores, Cairo and Prism. Prism sells vintage and designer clothing and accessories, but it was Cairo that established the template for Topaz, combining visual art, music, and fashion as one singular attraction; it's the opposite of a bar using musicians to promote alcohol sales. It was also an experience Joel couldn't find upon arrival in Tucson.
"I was kind of perplexed that it didn't seem like there was a real focus on booking and talking about local acts," he says. "A lot of the clubs' websites wouldn't really mention the local bands that were playing." Conversely, he adds, "If you went to a local show a lot of times it seemed like people would come out to see the local band and then they might leave before the national band even got on stage. One of the reasons Topaz has existed is that we want to make more of a connection to what's happening here in Tucson, and bands and artists we like in other cities and scenes. I think that's already happened on some micro-level.
"That's the kind of thing that doesn't always happen in a bar or club experience, where you might not be there to see the show. For me, what's cool about Topaz is that it's almost like my living room. There's no green room. There is no other reason to be there other than to hear the bands. It's really nice and the focus is on the music."
Topaz' first show took place in January 2012, with a borrowed sound system for local musician Brittany Katter (now of Katterwaul) to perform for her birthday. The venue's last show on April 19 will be, as luck would have it, Katterwaul's album release party.
But in the venue's infancy, Joel thought he'd "be here for three or four months. I fell in love with the city, met and fell in love with Krysta, and lots of things in life happened," he says. "I was going back and forth between Seattle and Tucson until about four months ago, when we found out we were pregnant. We bought a house and settled in.
"We were transitioning partially (out of hosting concerts at Topaz) when Krysta wasn't able to come to shows, especially the louder shows. It's too intense; she gets physically ill when it gets too loud. We were trying to figure out a way to still do it but one of the difficult things is that we don't generate revenue from the shows. The money goes to the bands, so we can't pay someone to do what Krysta did at the shows. It also seemed like it was gonna be way too much for me. I didn't think I'd be able to put in the proper energy."
Topaz has already established an in-house record label. To date, Topaz Records has issued two compilations of Tucson acts and the debut album from local rock band Prom Body. Joel says that he sees the label as a way stay involved in music culture and adds, "My energy is 100 percent behind the next Prom Body release right now. That's a big thing for us; we're releasing it on vinyl and it's a financial and psychological undertaking.
"I'm excited about working with bands on that level and I think there's really some potential to have more releases here. The idea of having a record of what's going on right now—and also giving bands a reason to be hyped, and keep playing and recording. There's a potential that other people would be interested in that and want to hear it.
"We're also looking at doing one-off events. I don't know that we'll have shows at Topaz again, but we're interested in doing larger events, music festivals.
"Topaz is evolving but we don't know exactly how. And that's how we approach life. I had no idea I'd be in Tucson doing Topaz three years ago. I never guessed that this is how my life would've evolved but I'm stoked how it did. We're just gonna let it unfold."