September 18, 1997
Steve Thompson
On My Departure From The Music Business
I formally started Musicopia (sole-proprietorship, one person operation) on 1 September 1993. Musicopia was to be a booking and media agency. Musicopia’s first client band was the Rank Outsiders. I was basically the Rank Outsiders’ manager figure. Though we’ve all remained good friends, I stopped working with the Rank Outsiders during 1994. Through Musicopia, I attempted to put together a small roster of bands for which I would act as booking and/or media agent, sometimes as an exclusive arrangement, sometimes not. I also booked bands into private and special event engagements such as festivals, frat parties, wedding receptions, etc.
The band that I came to focus on was The Backsliders (from Raleigh). I had met Chip Robinson (Backsliders’ singer), through mutual friends at a party at Carina’s Durham abode back in 1989 and first actually saw the Backsliders as a band when they opened up a Woods’ show at Charlotte’s Double Door Inn in 1991. My first booking with The Backsliders was in the Fall of 1993 at the old Stanleyville Grill in Charlotte - which was their first headlining date outside of the Raleigh/Triangle area. From late 1993 until they signed with Mammoth Records in 1996 I did as much “booking & media agent” work for The Backsliders as I could muster. I wasn’t able to work much with the Backsliders after they signed their Mammoth deal.
My biggest “break” in the music business happened in June of 1994 when Chandler Spawr, owner of Jack Straw’s, invited Musicopia to handle bookings & media for Jack Straw’s. Jack Straw’s had recently contracted Steve Cudic’s Science Fidelity Sound to provide permanent, high quality sound reinforcement in the room, and it became our goal to create Charlotte’s most consistently eclectic and interesting live music environment. By the Fall of 1994 we were offering original live music up to 5 nights a week.
As the list of bands booked into Jack Straw’s shows, between June ’94 and September ’97 I booked 318 different artists into Jack Straw’s. We were the first Charlotte venue to book a number of bands that went on to become regional favorites, such as: 6 String Drag, Agents Of Good Roots, All Mighty Senators, The Aqualads, The Austin Lounge Lizards, Belizbeha, The Ben Folds Five, Big Ass Truck, Big Stoner Creek, Bio Ritmo, The Cigar Store Indians, The Derailers, Emmet Swimming, Everything, Fleming & John, The Gibb Droll Band, The Gladhands, Gran Torino, The Grapes, The Honeydogs, Hypnotic Clambake, Jackopierce, The Jonas Helborg Trio, Jump Little Children, Leftover Salmon, moe., Moon Boot Lover, Ominous Seapods, Purple School Bus, Seconds Flat, Spider Monkey, The String Cheese Incident, Too Skinee J’s, The Uma Jets, The Urban Shakedancers, The V-roys, Vallejo, The Verve Pipe, and Yolk, to name but a few…
Here are some more stats from my time at Jack Straw’s, June 94 - September 97:
39 months, approximately 700 shows booked.
The average paid attendance per show was 129.
318 different bands performed.
During this period our average nightly band pay-out was $483.00. I am particularly proud of this statistic. The bands tended to make good money at Jack Straw’s!
Our biggest show ever, in terms of attendance, was Big Ass Truck (3-22-97), followed by The Blue Dogs (6-15-96), Jolene (2-10-96), The Grapes (11-17-95), and Kevn Kinney (11-16-96).
In addition to establishing a viable booking & media agency, my second goal was to be part of the development, ownership, and operation of a large-scale club concert venue. In fact, this had been a dream of mine going all the way back to when I used to go see late night music films - The Alternative Films Series - at the old Plaza Theater on Central Ave. in Charlotte back in the mid-70’s. When inside that theater I used to imagine running it as a "Fillmore" style live venue and that fantasy stayed with me for years. By the end of 1996, we (Jack Straw’s) were beginning to lose some of our biggest drawing bands to rooms that offered greater capacity. Chandler Spawr, owner of Jack Straw’s, also harbored a dream of presenting live music on a larger scale. The time seemed right to put our dreams into action so we formed Globe Productions, our goal being to develop and operate a large-scale club concert venue that would be called (borrowing from Shakespeare) The Globe Theater. That which had been Musicopia became Globe Productions. In January of 1996 we choose the site of the old Wayne’s Supermarket on Central Ave. as our location and we began work. This location offered us a potential capacity of around 1000, it was part of an area that was being reinvigorated, it was soon to be connected directly to the Elizabeth neighborhood (Stanleyville) by the Independence Freeway project, and it was proximate to what could easily develope as a bar/entertainment “district.” After our construction was underway the city informed us that we were a few feet short of the required 400 feet between a “nightclub” and a “residential structure.” We then spent two months trying to gain a variance from the local zoning board. Even though we had the support of neighborhood groups and city planners, the over-grown hall monitors on the zoning board would not grant the needed variance, effectively killing the project.
Globe Productions regrouped and tried a second time to develop a large-scale club concert venue. With the addition of Steve Cudic (of Science Fidelity Sound) as a partner, Globe Productions added sound and audio production to its services and set about trying to buy the old Capri Theater on Independence Blvd., in Charlotte. According to the new plan, Globe Productions would be a booking & media agency, would handle bookings & media for Jack Straw’s, would be a sound reinforcement company, and would own and operate the Globe Theater. The Globe Theater would feature a 1200 capacity room with a large stage and excellent sight lines, and a second room for smaller shows and various theatrical productions. Sound reinforcement would be state of the art and audio and video production services would be available. We spent six months developing our business plan and negotiating the financial hurdles. On March 7 of this year (1997), at the last hour, the bank decided not to back our plan, effectively killing the project.
During March, Globe Productions regrouped yet again and set about the task of developing a top-notch sound production company and growing a viable booking & media agency. Our plan was to make these areas of our business strong and to then make another attempt at developing the club concert venue.
My level of personal sacrifice in this business has been high. Chandler Spawr and Steve Cudic have also endured great sacrifice. I was able to justify my own sacrifice with the hope of a viable agency and a big new venue. As long as these hopes were alive, I worked on, full speed ahead. But during July of this year (1997) I sadly concluded that in spite of our best efforts, Globe Productions would not be in a position to mount another push toward the establishment of the Globe Theater. The sound reinforcement aspect of the business was beginning to thrive, but my passion for the music business was wanning. I fatigued out on trying to book bands that were just too hard to book (at an acceptable level of profitability). With the hope of a big new venue vanishing I was no longer able to justify continued sacrifice. On August 4, 1997 I told my good partners that I was leaving the music business.
Working with Chandler, and Jack Straw’s, has been a great experience for me. All of our dreams did not come true, but we did a lot of interesting things along the way. I appreciate the opportunity that Chandler offered my young Musicopia more than he will ever know.
As I look at the lay of the land, musically speaking, I see support for live music generally going down. Even though we managed to maintain pretty good numbers at Jack Straw’s, we detect a feeling amongst many people that live music is but one of many entertainment options, and that certain other options are often more compelling than live music, as it now is. In recent years, Charlotte has become quite good at doing certain things, but fostering a vibrant music/bar scene has so far not been one of them. Those who have attempted to support the local “situation” have always been pretty much relegated into small enclaves. There are still a few good bands out there playing, but to minds at all critical, the old line - “things ain’t what they used to be” - seems to ring truer and truer. Of course, this industry has always been somewhat cyclical - disco killed live music in the mid 70’s but then it came roaring back in the late 70’s and 80’s. Maybe there’s just something of a “shake-out” taking place. Or, maybe the real creative minds are no longer in the music world… maybe the real creative minds are now busy (and perhaps have been for some time now) with the personal computer revolution…
After our last regular show with The Derailers and the Two Dollar Pistols, with the room emptied, I sat down at a table... and I swear I couldn’t remember why I ever wanted to be out of all this… Some nights, this was a great job... The next morning, with a clearer head, I knew the time was right to move on...
Related Article:
Jack Straw's Is Pulling The Plug On Live Music
The Charlotte Observer, 9-26-1997
By Kenneth Johnson
Pop Music Writer