Walking into The Phoenix Theater in Petaluma is like stepping into a new, artistic rock-infused world. A skateboard half-pipe ramp frames the stage area and the walls are covered in graffiti, from simplistic tags to intricate artistic visions that resemble an “Alice in Wonderland”-like world. The raw feel of the authentic rock venue is incredibly tangible, but there is a certain feeling of comfort and history that seem to be engraved in the walls of The Phoenix.
The Phoenix Theater was originally named the Hill Opera House when opened in 1905. The building burned down in the early 1900s and was reopened in 1935 as a movie theater.
After suffering from more fire damage in 1957, the building was restored and renamed by the Tocchini family. The Tocchini family hired Tom Gaffey, the current manager of The Phoenix, when he was young. Gaffey acquired his manager title in the 1980s. Still showing movies and live music shows late at night, Gaffey renamed the building The Phoenix, aligning The Phoenix’s history with the beautiful mythical creature that rises up from its ashes.
During the ‘80s and ‘90s, The Phoenix played host to many rock band greats. The Ramones, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Metallica, Primus, Green Day and many others performed on this legendary stage in Petaluma. Sublime played their last show ever at The Phoenix, with original lead singer Bradley Nowell.
There is even a memorial backstage with performers’ personal tags that have played on the stage after Bradley had passed away. AFI wrote a song about The Phoenix entitled “The Days of The Phoenix.” Lead singer Davey Havok has commented on The Phoenix’s influence on the band in multiple interviews, but the lyrics say it all: “Nothing could touch us then, no one could change us then, everybody was dancing.”
Currently The Phoenix is thriving in the music business, with Gaffey as the general manager and Jim Agius as the talent buyer. Gaffey and Agius work closely with local bands and names in the music industry and attempt to help them reach their full potential. The duo produce a podcast show called “Onstage with Jim and Tom,” in which they give their input on the bands and individuals they work with and support.
In one specific episode they spoke about the local band Toast Machine and their thoughts on working with them.
“The fact that after working this place and working with me that they still want to do it, I find that incredible tenacity. I’m really so super proud of them,” said Gaffey. “And these sound guys are great, you know I learned very early on in this industry that there’s no ‘we can’t fix it.’ It must be fixed. And these guys have fixed it every night.”
The STAR had the opportunity to speak with senior and lead singer of The French Girls, a local rock band that recently played a show at The Phoenix. Charlie Foltz shared his thoughts about performing on such a legendary stage.
“The Phoenix Theater, in my opinion, is the heartbeat of the North Bay music scene,” Foltz said. “For the bands, you couldn’t ask for a better place to hang out and get to know each other while waiting for your set. I could seriously hang out in that place everyday and am truly thankful to be allowed to get loud at what I consider to be a vital landmark of rock n’ roll history in Northern California.”
By day, The Phoenix serves as a safe haven for teenage after-school hangouts. There are numerous programs put on during the day, like free music and art classes, job mentoring programs and an affordable teen health clinic.
By night, the doors open for all ages and the stage is occupied by both local and well-known bands of all genres. Today at The Phoenix, professional skater and MTV star Bam Margera is coming to the Phoenix with his comedy-infused hip hop group F***face Unstoppable. On Friday, Andre Nickatina and Smoov-E are set to perform for The Phoenix’s Halloween show.