The Stage Crew

In Santa Monica, the lodge hall of Sunset No. 369 doubles as a venue for up-and-coming performers.

By Antone Pierucci

What do you get when you cross a musical performance, stand-up comedy, and Freemasonry? No, that isn’t the setup for some Masonic side-splitter. It’s the reality the last Friday of every month in in Santa Monica, where those ingredients have joined up to create a very new kind of lodge get-together.

What started a year and a half ago as a jam session among members of Sunset № 369 has since grown into a monthly open mic night at the lodge. Routines include poetry readings, comedy sets, and plenty of music—by lodge members as well as aspiring performers from around town. In fact several members of the lodge, including junior warden Tom Gelo, who doubles as the event host, are musicians. Past master David Neal, for instance, is a studio guitarist who has performed with the likes of Stevie Wonder, Van Morrison, and Michael Bublé. 

Gelo says that the lodge’s open mic night is fast becoming a neighborhood staple. “Our first night, we got about 15 people,” he says. “Now our audience is usually at least twice that.”

The setup is pretty simple, with the lodge dining room repurposed as a makeshift stage. The group serves popcorn and the events are BYOB. It’s not exactly the Hollywood Bowl, but the artists who’ve flocked to the monthly events seem to like it. Each session is a mix of a true open mic and a gig for certain invited acts. Travis Frank, a member of Culver City-Foshay № 467 and rock musician who’s headlined at the venerable West Hollywood joints the Peppermint Club and Viper Room, is among the regular performers. As emcee, Gelo gives a brief rundown about Freemasonry and the history of the lodge prior to the show. “The idea is to introduce them to the fraternity without making it feel like a sales pitch,” Gelo says.

The performances have proven popular with artists, with a steady stream of talent showing up each month. “We tell artists that this is a great place to try out new material, and we tell the public that this is their chance to hear breakout artists,” Gelo says.

Moving forward, Gelo hopes to expand the concept to other lodges in the area. “Already we have people from nearby lodges talking about doing something similar,” he says. Although each of the performances is free to attend, he hopes to host a ticketed event later in the year as a fundraiser for Masonic charities. Says Gelo: “We’ve been able to provide something for the public while supporting local artists and exposing people to what Freemasonry is all about. To me, that’s a win-win.”

Musician Jessica Elizabeth Davenport, who performs as Strictly Elizabeth, takes the stage at Sunset Lodge in May

Photography credit:
Tom Gelo

More from this issue: