The line stretched out the door and snaked through the Fountain Square neighborhood.
People waited patiently to enter into the newly remodeled HI-FI, hoping to catch a performance by Indianapolis roots-rock legend Otis Gibbs in the expanded space’s opening night.
After two months of being closed, one of the city’s most popular concert venues was ready to party.
The bigger, bolder, badder HI-FI has re-emerged onto the Indianapolis entertainment scene. What was formerly a cozy venue for rising local musicians and touring national artists on the verge of stardom has been transformed.
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The stage has been doubled, more than 2,000 square feet of space has been added for the audience, and features such as an artist green room, designated production area and reserved seating have made the venue more performer- and patron-friendly.
By expanding, the HI-FI helps fill what had been a void in the available venues throughout the city.
“We’re still out there fighting. We want these shows to come to Indy. We’re trying to create a better experience or offer than another stop, because they don’t stop in every city,” said Josh Baker, owner of the HI-FI. “Now you have this room that, it was cool before, but it had a different vibe. This feels more like an enhanced concert experience.”
Baker has been involved with and organized performances throughout Indianapolis. The area features a variety of performance-specific venues to accommodate bands of different sizes and popularity, from massive spaces such as Bankers Life Fieldhouse to bars that can only fit a few dozen people.
Indianapolis has become a much more attractive stop for promoters and bands as they plan their tours. Acts at different stages of their careers can find a venue that will fit their needs.
“We’re just trying to complement things that are already happening. The scene itself is good; it’s always growing and ebbing and flowing. We look at this from a concert standpoint of the options that live-music fans have in the market. A lot of that is dictated by the size of the rooms, which dictates what kind of acts that room will attract.”
The HI-FI opened in 2014, providing a performance venue that could accommodate national acts in the Murphy Arts Building, a block-long historic structure that had been repurposed into artists’ studios and other eclectic businesses.
The space was a step up from a previous venue in the building, the do317 Lounge. Organizers wanted to keep the spirit of the lounge but provide more space and features, such as a permanent bar, to better serve audiences.
“We never set out to be bar owners; that was never our goal. I hope from a fan standpoint, it shows that we’re concerts first, and we built everything to be a great concert experience,” Baker said. “It’s an interesting mix between a cool neighborhood hang and a world-class-sounding room.”
Since it opened, the room has averaged about 160 shows per year. Notable past performers include rising artists Elle King, Ryan Bingham and Knox Hamilton. At the same time, Baker had noticed a gap in concert space that was making it difficult to book slightly larger bands.
“There was this natural evolution of all of these venue sizes in town, and that gap between a 250-person venue and a 700-to-800-person venue was a pretty big span of tickets,” he said. “Getting something right in the middle allows us to provide a room where artists can grow into on their way up.”
That thinking sparked serious investigation into expanding the HI-FI. Expansion became a reality in 2016, when in discussions with the Murphy Arts Building landlords revealed that the space directly next to the venue was coming available. Formerly occupied by the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art, it added 2,000 square feet to the HI-FI, with capacity growing from 195 people to about 400.
Contractors were lined up for the work of redefining the two rooms, including knocking out the wall in between them and developing the backstage area.
Organizers built in a gap in the performance schedule, opening up a window of about two months to do all of the work. Starting on Dec. 5, contractors, volunteers and friends and family scrambled to do everything necessary in time for the mid-January reopening.
Everything was done in 47 days.
“It was super aggressive. I still can’t believe it got done,” Baker said. “We had an awesome team of people here, volunteers, fans who come to shows jumped in to help, bands whose day jobs were painting or drywall, they all helped.”
Staff spoke to artists who had frequented the space, asking what was important from their perspective to have. Features such as a digital stage clock, space for them to relax before the show and a private wet bar were all suggestions that worked into the final designs.
Despite feeling much larger, the HI-FI will maintain some of the touches that made it distinctive. The snare-drum and cymbal light fixtures created by artist Brian Allee still hang above the bar. The distinctive patterned backdrop behind the stage is the same, only bigger.
“It gives us a nice vibe. We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel here, but when you’re going through a transition like this, being able to have little upgrades aesthetically make it nice to look at, too,” Baker said.
The HI-FI opened to the public with the Gibbs show, a sellout that filled the new venue with fans. The venue’s slate has already grown robust with a mix of indie rock, hip-hop and roots music from acts such as Mickey Avalon, Elizabeth Cook, TAUK and Margo Price.
“As the HI-FI kept growing and attracting bigger acts and we’re doing more business, we were always wondering what’s next for us. It had always been in our mind to have our sights set on a mid-size venue like this,” Baker said. “We’re super-proud to see it done. Whether I’m doing a big festival or a thing at Garfield Park or this renovation, there’s this high you get when you’re in it and you forget about what’s happening; you just focus on get it done.”
Where: 1043 Virginia Ave. Suite 4, Indianapolis
- Today;Myzica, 8 p.m., $12
- Friday;Bleedingkeys, 9 p.m., $10
- Saturday;Icon Live: Tribute to J. Dilla & Dr. Dre, 9 p.m., $12 advance, $15 at the door
- Monday;Busty & The Bass, 8 p.m., $10
- Tuesday;The Marcus King Band, 9 p.m., $12 advance, $14 at the door
- Feb. 16;K.FLAY, 8 p.m., $13 advance, $15 at the door
- Feb. 17;Jay Brookinz Battle League, 10 p.m., $5
- Feb. 18;Opposites Attract w/ moxxie, The Stampede String Band, 9 p.m., $10 advance, $12 at the door
- Feb. 24;An Evening with Chamber Music, 8:30 p.m., $10
- Feb. 25;Old Shoe & The Schwag featuring Allie Kral, 10 p.m., $15
- March 2;Flaco, 9 p.m., $10
- March 4;2nd Annual Random Band Challenge, 8 p.m., $10
- March 5;Mickey Avalon, 8:30 p.m., $20
- March 6;The Wild Reeds, 9 p.m., $10 advance, $12 at the door
- March 7;The Growlers, 9 p.m., $20 advance, $25 at door
- March 13;Eisley, 8 p.m., $15 advance, $17 at door
- March 15;Elizabeth Cook, 9 p.m., $12
- March 16;Agent Orange, 7 p.m., $22 advance, $24 at the door
- March 17;The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band CD release party, 9 p.m., $18 advance, $20 at the door
- April 5;Margo Price, 8 p.m., $17 advance, $20 at the door