As a young man in San Diego in the late ‘50s and contemplating his future, Bob Stane knew two things: he loved folk music and he hated getting up in the morning. After visiting the Unicorn Cafe in L.A. and imbibing that scene, he returned to San Diego and, killing two birds with one stone, he opened the Upper Cellar with a $500 loan and started a coffee house programming folk music. He found he was a natural at the PR and marketing required to bring people in, and a couple of years later he found himself in Pasadena, where he turned an offer to manage the newly-opened Ice House into a co-ownership deal.
With many local colleges providing the ideal audience demographic, the Ice House began programming the folk music Stane loved, along with a comedian who did a 20-minute set before the headlining musical act, a formula that proved hugely popular. Rather than a music venue, the Ice House is now well known for nurturing the careers of such famous comedians as Jay Leno, Steve Martin, Robin Williams, Jerry Seinfeld and Billy Crystal, among a host of others. Stane left in the Ice House in the early ‘70s, and the still-popular venue was bought by new owners in 1978. But he was not done with folk music.
Still seeing providing quality music as very much his life’s work, Stane opened the Coffee Gallery Backstage on upper Lake in Altadena in 1998. Now over 20 years in, you can listen to the finest folk and Americana played anywhere in an intimate 60-seat space, nearly every night of the week. Stane still presides, not only covering the door in his role as “genial host,” but handling all sound and lighting duties as well. Even after 50 years in the business, his appreciation for the music he presents is undiminished. While he doesn’t speak about retiring, Stane does allow that “when [he’s] gone, the venue likely won’t continue.” It’s not that he doubts the dedication of the audience for the kind of music he promotes, but he’s less than confident there is anybody in the wings with the resolve and experience necessary to manage and maintain a venue like the Coffee Gallery Backstage.
The Coffee Gallery Backstage
2029 N. Lake Ave.
Altadena, CA 91001