My introduction to the Chameleon Club came in 2007, when I wrote an article about Blind Melon's new tour.

Guitarist Christopher Thorn, a Dover native, wanted to kick off the band's first tour in more than a decade on familiar turf.

It was a great chance to explore the venue's backstage area and multiple levels. It also introduced me to downtown Lancaster, in which I promptly got lost.

Since that night, I've been back to report stories and catch great bands, including Blitzen Trapper, Dr. Dog and Virginia Coalition, who played the 2009 LAUNCH Music Conference. (I still don't know how to get out of Lancaster without making a wrong turn - or four.)

I can often be heard whining about the fact that York doesn't have a similar venue. But, when it comes down to it, most cities don't have a Chameleon equivalent.

Like any music club, it's had ups and downs, hits and misses, complaints and praise.

What makes it unique is that, even though it's changed hands a few times, it has been family owned and operated for more than two decades. Its weekly variety of live entertainment has left its mark. Any music nut from York County probably has a secret stash of ticket stubs.

Since I didn't grow up in the area, my history with the club started a few years back. But I recently learned that it was born in 1985 - the same year as me. (Please stop doing the math.)

In August 2010, I got an email from Allen Clements, who was working on a documentary of the Chameleon. I told him to get in touch with me when it was finished. A week or two ago, he invited me to his business Postage Inc. to watch the finished product - "The Chameleon Club."

Postage Inc. is a Lancaster-based post-production company that does animation, motion graphics and compositing for films, music videos, medical presentations, architectural visualizations and television commercials.

The project was a labor of love for Clements. It was financed out-of-pocket and done on free time. Almost five years and $20,000 later, Clements was ready to show it to a small group, composed mostly of the Chameleon insiders and others who helped with the project.

Clements, a Louisiana native, moved to the area to play guitar for Sadaharu. He remembers the first time he loaded the band's equipment into the Chameleon's gray vaulted door.

He came in contact with people like Jeremy Weiss, who was in Red Rose City bands, founded CI Records and, more recently, started LAUNCH. Everyone seemed to have Chameleon stories.

Clements decided to start a longer project about the club's history. He collected countless hours of home movies, archived footage, old photos and interviews.

The movie fittingly opens with an interview with Rich Ruoff, the venue's first owner, who was also at the viewing party.

In the mid-'80s, he was just a local kid with a passion for music. He had no club managing experience, but, after a cheap bartending class, he was running the Chameleon out of the former Tom Paines restaurant.

The old footage was at times nostalgic, embarrassing and hilarious. New wave, grunge, post-punk and hardcore flashed before our eyes, as did one location change and various redecorations and renovations to the space.

A lot has changed, but the heart of the club - the music - has remained. It was not uncommon for the club to book a national act one night followed by a high school band the next. The Chameleon has seen every genre imaginable, including polka-rock.

Former Live guitarist Chad Taylor fondly recalled the band's impromptu tour date at the end of its "Throwing Copper Tour," which packed the club in the mid-'90s.

Joan Osborne remembered how refreshing it was to play a great club in a quaint town far from her cramped New York City apartment.

One of the club's recent success stories - August Burns Red - said that the Chameleon will always be home.

Area music buffs will find that proper attention was paid to bands including Suddenly Tammy!, The Innocence Mission and Queen Bee and the Blue Hornet Band.

After the 53-minute movie, Clements asked for critiques. He received mostly compliments. 

He told the group that he sent the film to CMJ festival and plans to submit it to a handful of other film competitions. A premiere at the Chameleon (Where else?) is in the works as well as a DVD distribution deal.

As I climbed into my car to head back across the river, I thought about all the fans and bands who have patronized the Chameleon Club. I wondered how many stories it still has to tell and how many secrets it never will.

And that's when I missed my turn.

PopEye is a bi-weekly column focusing on the ever-changing landscape of popular culture. To reach writer Erin McCracken, call 771-2051 or send an email to


For details about "The Chameleon Club" documentary, visit

For details about the Chameleon Club and to check out the lineup, visit