Every piece has its place. Among the posters for coming shows and past shows in the lobby and small foyer dotted with a velvet lounge, a pair of chairs and three bass drums that serve as drink tables with vinyl albums as coasters, are dozens of photographs, many of them signed, by music legends past and present who have a connection to Brian Lizotte. Elton John. Tony Bennett. Janet Jackson. Kasey Chambers. Shane Nicholson, Marcia Hines. Ross Wilson. Billy Joel Piano Man album jacket, Eric Bibb, Brian Cadd, Mark Seymour (signed), Harry Manx, Diesel. Even a '45 single - Every Time by the Little River Band. In the final parting after an hour-long interview with the very tired, but very patient Brian Lizotte, who has just sold the Newcastle music dinner club bearing his name after 15 years of full-on shows, he comments on the hundreds of items that adorn the walls of the performing theatre, the balcony, the lobby and foyer. "Everything goes with it," he says. "Some of those pics might say 'To Brian', I'll take those. But it's the musical composure. It has to be here. To unplug it, it would go limp, start shrivelling up. They are better off curling up here, because they are comfortable. Everything here is for a reason." The first thing on Lizotte's mind now is a clear head. "I wake up every morning. I open my eyes. I'm still thinking 'beach' usually," he says. "Beach, sea air and the ocean is still where I'm happiest when I wake up. So I'm looking forward to not thinking I've got to get out of bed and go straight to work. "I've always been happy to get out of bed because I've loved what I've done. For a while there it was hard, because I wasn't enjoying elements of what I was doing. I always enjoy the music. My mantra now is 'what's next, what's my next purpose?'. I'm looking forward to that. "But I'm giving myself time, and not beating myself up for not knowing what's next yet, what my next purpose will be. But I've got a few things up my sleeve and I'm confident one of them will come to the surface, faster than the other. I'll give that a shot." BRIAN LIZOTTE SELLS HIS LEGENDARY VENUE TO WAYNE ROGERS The odds are strong that before Lizotte jumps into another business venture or job, he's going to take a considerable break. Lizotte and his wife Jo have already committed to their number one priority: "The first thing I'm going to do is a [health] retreat to unfold all of that and take a deep breath and exhale for a little while," Lizotte says. And there will be music in his life. Festivals, hot venues, whatever catches his fancy. "I look forward to driving somewhere and see who's playing. And visit some of my mates, give them a call and say, 'I'm coming to your gig tonight', and hang out with them. 'Cause I've never had a chance to do that. It's always been here," Lizotte says. He happily notes he'll be appearing on the Lizotte's stage soon, probably getting an appearance on the trombone with Joe Camilleri and The Black Sorrows and his brother Diesel (Mark Lizotte), who both have shows at the venue in December. He's nailed down gigs with Diesel at both the Birdsville Big Red Bash and Mundi Mundi Bash in 2024. ("I'll be onstage in front of 10,000 punters in the middle of the Simpson Desert, and I've sorted that out," he says.) Before Lizotte got into the restaurant game, he was a caterer to the stars. The business he ran, More Than a Morsel, catered to touring rock 'n' roll artists that included Billy Joel, Elton John, The Rolling Stones, Michael Jackson, INXS, Madonna, Bob Dylan, Midnight Oil and U2. After 12 years constantly on the move, he started a restaurant, Lizotte's at The Bay at the Hardys Bay Club on the Central Coast. That expanded to a restaurant at the Ettalong Beach War Memorial Club, where he first started offering live music in a dinner club atmosphere. He jumped to Kincumber, opening a live music dinner club, and kept a restaurant in Hardys Bay (Yum-Yum Eatery), before evolving into three live music venues - Kincumber, Newcastle and Dee Why, and eventually consolidating to single venue at Newcastle, finding more satisfaction in owning the venue than the challenge of being a tenant. At its peak, Live @ Lizotte's had three venues and 75 employees, and Lizotte was stretched to the maximum. "Driving up and down the freeway near killed me," he says. "I would start here, drive to the Central Coast, put an act on. Then drive all the way to Sydney and pull an act off the stage and go to bed. Then come back and do the same thing the other way." He toyed with the idea of franchising the business along the eastern seaboard of Australia, but it was a bridge too far. But grabbing the historic Kings Theatre building at 30 Morehead Street, Lambton, turned out to be a brilliant move. "To be able to purchase the theatre and use that as the rock, that's probably been one of the best business decisions I ever made," he says. "When I bought this, this was our little nest egg," he says. "I got rid of the other two, and concentrated on this. It would have been five years at least before we were going to go on a trip and then COVID hit, it's been eight or nine years since then." COVID was a huge challenge for the business. "After a year, it seemed like the tunnel end disappeared," Lizotte says. "It was like a black abyss. People still kept their tickets, with blind faith we would come out of it." The pressure on Lizotte and the business was enormous. Even as restrictions were eased, the logistics of rescheduling shows and all the bookings that went with them was almost unfathomable. "I had to postpone shows, and spent countless hours on administration to try to work it out, change the date, change this, change that," he says. "Losing 25 per cent of the show because they couldn't make it to the new date. I would never want any business to go through what we went through, ever again, especially in this industry." The key to his success in Newcastle is like a great recipe, a mixture of ingredients that makes something special. "It's a combination of putting things together," he says. "It's like glue, you have to materials that glue together pretty well. "We built databases on a very slow basis, so we haven't gone out and bought databases. We've hard yakka'd our 45,000 or 50,000 here in Newcastle. It's bloody hard work. "You entrust in them, you deal with them. There are so many hands-on elements when you have a business like this... we've built businesses over the years in all our venues that hopefully staff stay long enough to touch, to be able to add value to customers, and they get to know them. It's a marriage, and so many customers who will give any thing a go because they just love this place. "That's what we've really sold. We've sold the memories of the past, we've sold people's love of the venue and the music they bring." Family connections tug at the future for Brian and Jo Lizotte. They will remain in Newcastle for the foreseeable future, but have thought about buying an investment property on the South Coast, where one of their daughters, Emelie, lives with her family so they can "have a little base in both places". At 60, Lizotte figures he has a lot of life left to live and plans to dial it down to a "more simplistic lifestyle". That said, he has an endless list of work possibilities. "If I ever go back into the industry it will be on a consultancy basis to help people get the job done, to help promoters, that will be something I look forward to doing," he says. Booking bands and venues. Managing a tour. Even working as a driver at Bluesfest - anything is possible. "I need to take some time off for sure, but I know I'm probably going to get a little bit bored at doing nothing," he says. "At 60, I do need to work for at least another decade 'cause I'm no millionaire, that's for sure. "I've learned to live with a bit less, and plan to take some time to do the more simplistic things in life than running businesses. That's spend time with my grandkids, just be a vagabond for a little while." He's even contemplated putting more time into working in the aged care sector. "I'd easily go back to that," he says. "I started off working in aged care, as a kid it was one of the first jobs, as a kitchen-hand in an old people's home. In an RSL war veterans home in Perth at 14. And I really enjoy working there. "I did Meals on Wheels all through COVID. Five doors down from where I live is Lambton Meals on Wheels and I became an integral part of that a couple of days a week, and I really enjoyed that. "And I just have a passion for it, making sure if I could make a difference in aged care people's lives so we don't end up without all the beautiful elements we really love, and that's music and good food, and company, and community." Brian Lizotte banters seamlessly with stars and his customers, they're all just people. The memories and friendships will last forever. International musos like Keb Mo, Eric Bibb, Harry Manx, Luka Bloom travel to his room because they like it, not because they need it. Ukelele genius Jake Shimabakura was the best instrumentalist ever to play the Newcastle venue ("He lit the place up."). There have been many all-nighters, when the crowd is gone and the doors closed. Among the most memorable - Brian Cadd and Taj Mahal ("My favourite was feeding Taj Mahal and drinking red wine with him until 4 o'clock in the morning.") Lizotte's parting message: "Thank you for your unwavering passion for music and food, It's been an absolute pleasure to look after your social lives for all of these years."