The Legacy of IOTA Club Lives on Through New Video Project

IOTA ChairSelena Benally; Photo Credit Dan Magnolia

After nearly 25 years of live music and shows, Clarendon’s IOTA Club permanently shut its doors in September. The decision was not an easy one, but owners Jane Negrey Inge and Stephen Negrey made the call when their new landlord decided to make renovations that would involve a costly temporary relocation and higher monthly rent.

Part of IOTA’s charm was its support of local artists. The bulk of its concert slate was dedicated to emerging acts in town, with Wednesdays reserved for its popular open mic night and poetry slams on the second Sunday of each month. It was one of the few places left in town that made a conscious effort to book local acts on a regular basis, which made its closure all the more disheartening.

The venue may be gone, but not forgotten, according to musician Rachel Levitin.

“I went to IOTA a lot. I performed there and it was a safe space for me,” Levitin said. “I always felt safe there, and I always felt comfortable there. I felt like I needed to do something to keep it alive.”

In October, Levitin attended a yard sale hosted by IOTA Club and purchased a chair for $5. “It had been sitting in my apartment for a couple of weeks,” she noted. “Then one night, I said, ‘Whoa, I know what I can do with that chair!’ and I decided to do a video yearbook kind of thing.”

The chair is the centerpiece of her new oral history project, aptly titled The IOTA Chair. It acts as a confessional of sorts, where local artists divulge their most memorable anecdotes on the club and how it shaped their artistry. The IOTA Chair also offers a fresh perspective on the venue that concertgoers rarely got to see.

“What attracted me to IOTA was that you had to grasp attention from the audience, it wasn’t given to you,” musician Lindsay Collette mentioned in a recent IOTA Chair episode. “People didn’t automatically want to watch you pour your heart out onstage. It’s something you had to earn.”

With a few episodes finished, Levitin is pushing forward with new videos and ideas for growing the project. “I’d love to get as far through the list of people who have played there as possible,” she said. Her first goal, though, is to find a way to improve production and create videos with better lighting and audio quality. For now, Levitin has been posting new episodes through The IOTA Chair Facebook page.

Levitin is also looking into ways for The IOTA Chair to exist offline, carrying on IOTA’s work of bringing together the local music scene. “I’d love to eventually make this a live show. Take the chair to whatever venue and have artists do a round,” said Levitin. “If we can’t go to IOTA, we can bring IOTA somewhere else.”