Comfort, hospitality, and atmosphere were the first words that came to mind when I visited the Vista Room music and event venue in Decatur. With décor characterized by low lighting from the huge circular chandeliers, plush booths, and rustic wood, the room sets a scene that feels relaxed yet sophisticated. I met with Mike Rizzi, who co-owns The Vista Room with Sean Keenan to learn the inside scoop on the musical oasis in the Oak Grove neighborhood of Decatur.
The creation of The Vista Room has been a labor of love. It opened in fall 2016, and provides a space uniquely devoted to the enjoyment and comfort of both musicians and fans. Since its opening, it has gained renown among Georgia musicians and was a favorite spot of Col. Bruce Hampton’s, avant-garde musician and beloved patriarch of the jam band scene called “The Pope of The Vista Room” by Rizzi. It was at The Vista Room that I first learned of Col. Bruce when Keenan gave me a DVD of “Basically Frightened: The Musical Madness of Colonel Bruce Hampton,” a 2012 documentary on how the Colonel, born Gustav Valentine Berglund III in Knoxville Tennessee, came to be known as an almost mystical figure in Atlanta music circles. On May 1st, Hampton passed away suddenly after a collapse while playing a concert celebrating his 70th birthday at The Fox Theatre. If any place in Atlanta could still retain the Colonel’s spirit, it would be The Vista Room. The night I visited, I saw The Madrid Express, one of the many bands Col. Bruce founded and played with at the venue on Thursday nights. The band has continued to play without their leader, and their shows are now titled “Keeping the Spirit of Col. Bruce Alive.”
Owned by Sean Keenan and Mike Rizzi, the history of The Vista Room cannot be told without mentioning Napoleon’s Grill, located next door. I stopped there to eat savory fish tacos and a beer on the garden-like patio. In addition to Napoleon’s, Keenan owns Front Page News and Tijuana Garage in Little Five Points. All of the establishments feature unique quirky décor and locally sourced food. Keenan’s wife Nancy, a real estate agent with an eye for interiors, played a significant hand in planning the aesthetics. Keenan and Rizzi met at Napoleon’s when Rizzi played drums for bands performing at the restaurant at the time. The two bonded immediately.
Napoleon’s patio, sign, and interior:
Rizzi plays drums for bands such as the Mike Veal Band and John Driskell Hopkins of the Zac Brown Band among others. With thirty years of experience as a touring musician, Rizzi understands what musicians need from venues, and he and Keenan put their philosophy of caring for both musicians and fans into the making of The Vista Room. Rizzi gave me a tour of the green room, affixed with plush seating, oriental rugs, a flat-screen T.V., and a homey feel as well as areas where musicians can shower, do laundry, get dressed, eat, and use the refrigerator.
Scenes from the green room and stage:
Near the end of our interview, I met the members of The Madrid Express. Their lineup included Tyler Neal, lead vocals and guitar, Darren Stanley on drums, Dante Harmon on pedal steel, Nick DiSebastien on mandolin, Franher Joseph on bass, Joey “Papa J” Sommerville on trumpet, Danny Wytanis on trombone, and Jez Graham on keys. As the lights dimmed and the band started out with lively renditions of songs they sang with the Colonel, the crowd thickened and dancers moved onto the floor. Everyone in the room, bartenders, staff, band, and fans, seemed to be enjoying themselves to the fullest. The first song they played, “Feeling Good,” summed up the vibe perfectly, and if Col. Bruce were watching from Zambiland, I’m sure he would be smiling.
The Madrid Express
I will be making another trip to The Vista Room soon to see Zydefunk on May 19th! Stay tuned and check out this marvelous place.
Watch The Madrid Express perform “Feeling Good” below: