Stonewall Vessels Livestream from the Chameleon

After decades as a central location for live music in downtown Lancaster city, the Chameleon Club will be moving to a new location in 2021.

In 2003, 14-year-old Brandon Gepfer was dropped off by his mom at the Chameleon Club to see the Lancaster stop of the "Rock Against Bush" tour, featuring Anti-Flag, the A.K.A.’s and Tom Morrello's Nightwatchmen project. It was his first night at a club that would largely define the next 17 years of his life.

On Saturday, Sept. 5, it was Gepfer, who has been the talent buyer and production manager at the Chameleon since 2016, who shared the news on the club's Facebook page that the club's current location is shuttering its doors. News was also shared that the owner, Nick Skiadas, is on the search for a new location, tentatively announced for 2021. 

Since the announcement, the club has received an outpouring of love and memories stretching from across its 35-year history. 

"I think when places are mainstays or institutions, a lot of people can forget about it and forget what their first or best experiences were," says Gepfer over the phone. "So it was refreshing to see a lot of love." 

After moving from its initial location at 317 N. Christian St., the Chameleon Club moved to its 223 N. Water St. location in 1988, under the direction of founder Rich Ruoff. In the following decades, the club became a spot for local bands to prove their worth and national bands to begin their upward trajectories toward stardom. Generations of musicians, ranging from Weezer to Vanilla Ice to Gary Numan to Tyler, the Creator have all graced that stage. 

"We've done a lot of shows in the past few years at the [Lancaster County] convention center and HMAC [Harrisburg Midtown Arts Center]," says Gepfer. "We're getting to the point where we're doing a lot of stuff in different venues, which is kind of what our business is evolving into, where just the one room isn't enough." 

Gepfer says while COVID played a part in the Water Street location's decision to move, the rough idea for a new space has been in the works since his tenure began in 2016. The Chameleon Club team is scouting new locations, but Gepfer wouldn't say if any of those future locations are in downtown Lancaster city.

"I mean, I love downtown Lancaster; I've lived here my entire life," says Gepfer. "There are definitely constraints to being in downtown Lancaster, though. It's a town that has definitely changed a lot since we opened up in 1985." 

As someone who attended shows, played shows and then wound up booking shows at the club, Gepfer recognizes the love-hate relationship that music fans have had with the Chameleon over the years.

"I've been kicked out and banned from this building probably a thousand times," Gepfer says with a laugh of his time at the club prior to being an employee. "I've been around the gamut of the rough-and-tumble club world of the Chameleon, and I love it." 

The last performance on the Chameleon Club stage was a live-streamed fundraiser for the NAACP Legal Defense and Camp Dreamcatcher, a nonprofit camp for kids with HIV/AIDS, that took place on June 20. Local musicians and bands that took part were Swimgood, Metalwulf and Ralph Real and the Family Jam. 

Until some semblance of live entertainment can happen again in a realistic, healthy way, that will probably be the last show put on by the Chameleon Club. But it certainly won't be the last show at a Chameleon Club, wherever that might be in the future. 

"I fell in love with this building, and it'll be sad to see it go. It's basically like a church to me - if the place that you worshipped at each week burned down, you would feel some way about it," Gepfer says. "To me, the memories that you made here will always be there, but the shows will be bigger, better and in a new place. It's not the end of the world."