Little Ramona 

I wander into the Bronx Bar looking for a girl I've never met who has "black hair and blond streaks." I'm meeting Ramona Shureb, the Magic Stick's recently hired talent booker, for beer and bar food.

The place is nearly empty, save for a couple of grizzled regulars chatting with bartender Charlene. I join them and rejoice in a midday drink.

Charlene has short, pink-red hair, wears glasses and an oil-splattered shirt. She's brash — her comments are biting and hilarious, which she often finishes with "honey." She's been at the Bronx for decades.

The bar, at 4476 Second Ave., near Wayne State University, is the default watering hole for lushes aplenty: Students, hipsters, 9-to-5-ers and the gainfully unemployed find common ground in this wood-paneled dive. A little dusty, a lot dark, the Bronx offers cheap beer, hit-the-spot greasy food, bacon rashers by the dozen and a do-it-yourself Sunday Bloody Mary bar. There's WiFi capability and a well-stocked juke. Thursdays are haircut days with a vintage barber chair in the corner.

A girl in jeans and a light-blue Lucero band T rushes in. Her hair's tiger-striped as described and wildly colorful tattoos wrap around her upper arms. Her lips are glossed frosty pink, her nails are manicured a delicate pink, and two faux-diamond rings glitter pink too.

"Sorry if I'm late — have you been waiting long?" Ramona asks in a weathered voice, tucking a beeping Blackberry into her purse. "I have so much to do."

Indeed. Ramona has a tough gig — contacting musicians and agents from around the country (30 to 40 a day) to perform at one of Detroit's premier live-music venues. But Ramona's all business, and the tone's set the moment we sit across from each other. Question and answer. She's very careful — the juiciest tidbits of concert venue politicking, of rock-star intrigue, remain confidential.

Between messages and calls on her three PDAs, I learn that the 29-year-old has been at the Stick since mid-July, replacing long-tenured Greg Baise. (Baise now books Crofoot in Pontiac.) Ramona says she gets along well with the storied owners of the Majestic Theater complex, the Zainea brothers, who, she says, always believed in her.

"One thing I'm proud of," Ramona says, "is that there aren't that many female talent buyers out there. I've been able to hold my own in a very male-dominated field."

Ramona says she maintains her company, Black Iris Booking, which in the last year has brought shows into such venues as Alvin's, Small's and the Magic Stick. It's that work that helped get her the Stick gig.

Oh, about her name, Ramona. It's not after the Ramones' "sweet, sweet little Ramona." Her parents wanted a boy, wanted to name him Raymond. And so ...

We order lunch. I choose the "clean veggie machine" sandwich (fantastic), with tomatoes, cucumbers and spinach layered between spiced, fried bread. Ramona vacillates between her friend's recommendation, the cucumber soup (which Charlene mumbles is revolting, though flocks of patrons swear it's delicious) and a tuna sandwich. Ramona opts for the sandwich and seems to enjoy it quite a bit. She tells me more about herself.

As a teenage scenester, Ramona befriended the Suburban Delinquents, who, in turn, introduced her to the Suicide Machines. Soon she was hooked to noise rock, to punk rock, to hardcore — often driving to Detroit shows from her Livonia home.

"My mom made me buy this massive cell phone when I was 16 years old, to make sure I'd be OK in 'scary' Detroit," she says, laughing a little. "It needed a backpack to be carried around."

After independently booking smaller bands in the Detroit area as a way to be involved in the scene without actually performing, Ramona was hired by concert conglomerate Live Nation. ("I'm one of those who feel like music's an addiction. It's really too bad I don't have an ounce of musical talent. But I'm definitely a businesswoman.") She did six years there, spending time living in New York City, working directly with such high-profile bands as My Chemical Romance and Taking Back Sunday.

She says her transition to the Stick has been smooth. ("There's still a lot of talent here," she says. "I'm pretty optimistic about the Grande Nationals, for instance.") Though she has so far booked primarily hardcore shows, she's keen to keep the Stick's musical mix eclectic.

Charlene appears at our table and clears away our plates. The beers have been nursed warm and Ramona takes this as a cue and bids me adieu. Before she leaves, though, I ask her if she thinks Detroit's still "Rock City?"

"I feel like we need a new excitement in Detroit," Ramona says. "People get bummed out when I say that, but, honestly, I don't know where the music scene in Detroit is going to go. Seems like there's a change going on — because we're just not as excited as we used to be."

This food column will appear monthly. Meghana Keshavan is listings editor at Metro Times. Send comments to mkeshavan@metrotimes.com.

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