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Beloved music venue Trunk Space is leaving Grace Lutheran Church in downtown Phoenix

The Trunk Space is a beloved local venue in the Phoenix music scene. Not because it’s big or grand or bringing in the most famous acts. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

The Trunk Space is the kind of place that a lot of bands — including some big ones today — had their first shows. It’s a place where there is a real sense of community; where bands can experiment and learn and get better; and where no one makes any money. In fact, it’s a nonprofit today.

And now, on its 20th anniversary, it’s saying goodbye to its home of the last eight years: Grace Lutheran Church in downtown Phoenix. The Trunk Space moved there after leaving its original space — a tiny spot on Grand Avenue. Now, its leaders say it will move again and continue to adapt and grow.

Robbie Pfeffer is on the Board of the Trunk Space, but you might know him better as the mullet-sporting frontman of the raucous Phoenix band Playboy Manbaby. The Show spoke with him about the move and the impact that Trunk Space has had on the local music community.

Conversation highlights

PFEFFER: So Trunk Space is leaving its current venue because it kind of no longer feels like home. It feels like we have grown out of it and that we need a more permanent home. But the thing is, this isn't the first time Trunk Space has moved. That's the feeling that we had at the end of the 1506 Grand Avenue location. So it feels like the right time, is really the actual answer.

When Trunk Space moved almost a decade ago, there were fears then that it would not reopen. But the plan is to find a new location to reopen. it's not leaving for good, right?

PFEFFER: Right. Absolutely. That is definitely the plan and the hope. And you know, the first thing that we obviously need to do is the logistics of actually physically getting out of the space and wrapping up the shows that we have.

But then really the conversation starts, where are we gonna end up next? And the Trunk Space is a place that is really run by the community, for the community. And if we're going to find a perfect home for the Trunk Space, we're going to need the help of that community.

Tell us a little bit about the history of this place. Twenty years is a long time for a venue of this size to keep going in the in the Valley. And it's been because of people in the local music scene, really kind of willing it to happen, almost.

PFEFFER: Oh, absolutely. I mean, we are definitely a nonprofit in the most literal sense of the word. If there were not volunteers who were willing to show up and run, sound and run door and make sure the bathroom has toilet paper. I mean, none of this happens without volunteers. It's very much a labor of love. You know, we're never going to be a publicly traded company. We're probably never gonna make a dollar.

But we think that what we do is important and we think that what we do is something that is necessary — in part because now this being the second generation of people running the Trunk Space, we grew up in this environment. We know how much it can shape who you end up as an adult. So that's why we're doing it.

So let's talk about that and how important this venue has been in shaping the local music scene and so many people who have come through it — including you. It seems everybody in the Phoenix music scene has a Trunk Space story, has played a Trunk Space show. So you're also the lead singer and songwriter of one of the bigger acts to come out of Phoenix in recent years, Playboy Manbaby. How has Trunk Space played a role in your career?

PFEFFER: Specifically in relation to Playboy Manbaby, Trunk Space has been huge because Trunk Space was one of the venues that let us steer our own ship. The shows that we were getting booked on and the things that we were playing, we weren't super happy with. So we wanted to be able to book shows that we did ourselves with our friends, where we didn't have to sell tickets and didn't have to, you know what I mean? Like open up for a band that we'd never heard of and play in a bar that none of our friends could get into and all of that sort of thing. So Trunk Space was always the place that encouraged you to push it even further. There are other places that no longer exist that definitely did that as well. And then I also ran other venues before I was a part of the Trunk Space. And the reason I mentioned that is because none of those things exist anymore. The true miracle of Trunk Space is that it's still here.

Like, you know, the the fragility of art-specific venues, it's all encompassing. Like most venues close within a few years. The spaces that people find value in and, you know, build their artistic voice in, get shut down. That's the expectation. So the fact that the trunk space has been around for 20 years is really the exception that proves the rule.

What do you think it is about trunk space that has made that the case? Why is it the exception?

PFEFFER: I'm sure there are 100 different times when Trunk Space was eight seconds from closing. You know, part of it is just the luck of the draw. You know, just that there happened to be the right person who's willing to put in the right amount of effort at the right time. And I really think that it's just the passion of the people in this community that have kept it going. Any time someone got burnt out or something came up, there was always someone willing to step up and make sure that the Trunk space continued — and that's rare.

Who would we be surprised to learn started out — or nearly started out — at Trunk Space?

PFEFFER: Let's see. I know that I know that Matt and Kim, one of their first tours they did at the Trunk Space. In Phoenix, very specifically, you can talk about AJJ coming out of trunk space. Like I think one of their very first shows was at Trunk Space. Now this is a band that's on festivals and very much a relevant current band that started with the ethos of Trunk Space. Because Trunk space isn't just like a room to play in. It's also a way that you think about art and how art should be made within a subculture. A lot of very important bands came out of the Trunk Space — like Dog Breath and Diners and Treasure Mammal. You know, a lot of stuff that is important to a lot of people came out of Trunk Space.

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Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.