Nightwatch - Live
By Eric Brace
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 26, 1999
This week, Post Nightwatch columnist Eric Brace's guest was Lisa
White, who books acts at D.C.'s 9:30
club. The discussion ended at 4 p.m., and the transcript is below. Until next time, you can reach Eric by email at email@example.com.
From backstage at the annual Wammies (Washington's own Grammy
Awards) to metal night at Phantasmagoria to waltz night at the Glen
Echo Spanish Ballroom, every week
Post staff writer Eric Brace throws himself on the front lines of the
bar-n'-music beat in the Washington area. A Washington resident for
nearly 30 years, Brace started with the Style section in 1990, where he
wrote live music reviews and filed longer feature stories on the likes
Jawbox, Pearl Jam, Stephane Grappelli and many others. Then he
created the Nightwatch column, which appears every week in The Post's
Weekend section and on washingtonpost.com's Music & Nightlife Web page. He
also plays rhythm guitar for the country rock band Last Train Home.
Hi all, thanks for signing on , my guest today is Lisa white the booking person at the (9:30 club and fletchers and bohagers.. (also known as a "talent buyer".. she is responsible for booking local acts onto bills as well, and many of the questions you all have sent in address THAT issue.... Lisa has been a part of the music scene in many capacities for more than a decade, and so, I welcome her, and let's let her tell us how shee came to her lofty position..
Hiya Lisa, thanks for taking the time..
While lots of folks wonder about a second stage for the DC area, but you all (meaning IMP) have two stage in Baltimore that you book.. Fletchers and bohagers.. I hear there are some things going on at both those venues.. What's up?
Lisa White: Hi everyone!
What's up in Baltimore is, at Fletcher's we've taken out the ceiling over the stage so we will hang the PA speakers from a beam up above and make the stage higher so it will be easier to see and will sound better. At Bohager's it's changing locations to a bigger location that we can go in a design by ourselves right from the beginning, so it will be better to do shows there.
I saw the Roots last night at the 9:30 and it was a great show, but how come you all don't book more hip-hop acts? Poeple defitnely want to see hip-hop shows, the place was packed last night, and there was no violence at all, so what the dilley?
Lisa White: We book plenty of hip hops acts in there with all the other acts we book. We try to cover a wide variety of musical styles and if there are hip-hop acts out there on tour that people want to see, we're going to go out and book them.
I have a band. We're all over the DC/Baltimore press (feature stories, covers, etc.), have a CD on a cool local label which has received outstanding reviews (local and even a few national), bring decent draws to our shows (especially to big shows), and have started to receive industry attention. We dream about playing at the 9:30 Club or Fletcher's, but Lisa has never returned any of our calls. We've played just about everywhere in DC (Black Cat, Bayou when it was open, Velvet, etc.) and also play out of town. We don't call her constantly; but if a show comes up that we think we'd fit in on, we call. So far no dice. Anything we can do to boost our chances of getting a show at Fletcher's or 9:30? We are a genuinely good band (if having Eric--who's the greatest!--write a nice story about you is any indication!) I understand that not everyone can play at these clubs--too many bands, not enough slots, national acts get preference--but every so often, Lisa books a local, and we'd like a shot at being one of them. How can we increase our chances?
Lisa White: The way to increase your chances of getting into the 9:30 Club or any clubs I book is to keep playing around town and building your following. Most of the shows come to me as a package with the headliner and the opening acts are specified. Most of the time when I've booked a local opener I've had to submit a tape to the agent or manager of the headliner along with a story that I have to write about why this local band is suitable to open for the headliner. Then I have to hound them and hound them to make a decision and then a week out, they'll come back to me and say, "sure, whatever you want to do is fine."
the aggravating thing about this is that the local band only gets into one ad, so how can they maximize their draw on the show? most people don't realize that most of this stuff is out of my control. so the best thing that local bands can do is keep playing the other clubs and building a following. That gives me a leg to stand on when I'm fighting to get them on a show. By all means, if you see something in the calendar you think would work, call me, even if you just tell my voicemail. I'll get the message, and if I can work on it I will.
Has the 9:30 group ever thought about opening a smaller club to book some of the acts that may not be popular enough to fill up the big space? Not to dis your competition, but the sound system at the Black Cat is seriously lacking and it would be nice to have an alternative.
Lisa White: I absolutely want to open a smaller club. Some of you may remember that I did a side stage at Republic Gardens about 5 years ago that really gave me a chance to start working with some developing bands. When that got sold, we opened up a stage in the basement of the old 9:30 Club so that we could continue working with baby bands. After moving to our new space, we had to stop because there's no space in that club that's usable for this purpose. I certainly hope that I could find the right space in D.C. to book some of the smaller bands and to help them develop. For now, that's what I'm doing at Fletcher's in Baltimore.
where are the local venues for local bands to play.
there really seems to be a lack of venues for new talent to play.
seems that the big booking companies have a lock on everything.
what is your commitment to local music?
Lisa White: these days there are as many venues that book local acts as ther has EVER been in DC...
Metro Cafe, Velvet Lounge, Black Cat, Galaxy Hut, IOTA, Phantasmagoria, Uncle Jed's roadhouse, TT Reynolds, Rhodeside Grill, and more all book lots of local bands... they're not booked by big booking companies.. I don't really know what you mean by that... IMP and Cellar Door/sfx?
It's tough tough tough to build a following.. that is for sure.. and that is a fact.. without a radio station that focuses on local stuff, it's hard to get a buzz going, but you cannot say there's nowhere for a local band to play.
As far as the 9:30 club's committment to locals, I think she addressed that...
oops.. that answer about local venues booking local bands was from me, Eric, NOT lisa...
Hey Eric, Lisa,
I am an overall fan of 9:30; beautiful room, option to sit or stand, diverse booking and many shows that won't bust the billfold. At several shows in the past (notably Jonathon Richman and Steave Earle) I was embarrassed and irritated by perbasive and load talking during performances. While I don't necessarily advocate Birchmere style governance against what is essentially rudeness, I wonder if this is acommon complaint or one that you and your colleagues at the club ever discuss?
Lisa White: I agree. There are a lot of really rude people out there! Our staff does try to keep people from interfering with other people's enjoyment of the show, but there's only so much that they can do. Short of a heavy handed policy like the Birchmere has, we mainly ask loud talkers to go somewhere else until the band they want to see goes on. I certainly do this myself in my club, and in other clubs! If someone's bothering me, I tell them to shut up! The bottom line is, it's extremely disrespectful to the artist.
IMP came up as a scrappy little concert promotions company that began booking punk rock shows and such into cool little spaces, acts that weren't being booked by the other agencies in town, mainly Cellar Door productions... now Cellar Door has been bought up by the huge conglomerate SFX, and Cellar Door's founder Jack Boyle is head of productions for SFX... his son John boyle just sold the Bayou, but has refurbished the Ballroom (now Nation) and bought what used to be the Roxy/Ozone/Alcatraz (to be renamed the Garage).. they plan to aggressively book up and coming acts, going up against IMP productions and the 9:30 club...
Is this good competition? Does Seth Hurwitz (founder of IMP) feel there's going to be a booking war? Will customers benefit or be hurt by this...?
Lisa White: I think the competition can be very good. We need to have more places for bands to play. Local bands, regional bands as well as touring bands. With a market this size, there aren't enough clubs for bands to really build a larger following. I think that more clubs is a fine thing, I just wish one of them was a small club for me to book! I think customers will benefit because there's going to be more music for them to go and see. Take the Velvet Lounge for example. They have been booking some really experimental music in a regular series, which is great! There's no other place for that music to be heard and there are people that want to hear it! It's a limited number of people, I couldn't do it at the 9:30 Club because of its size, but it works great at the Velvet Lounge. Since D.C. Space closed, there has not been an avenue for this kind of music on a regular basis.
I think the 9:30 is a great venue, but with the lack of rock clubs in DC, I think the 9:30 does not do its part to encourage the local music scene like it used to. I understand that you now have the ability to get bigger acts and it's great for many reasons, but don't you think there could some balance?
Lisa White: The problem is it really comes down to dollars and cents. The 9:30 Club now is a much bigger room with a certain amount of overhead, just to open the doors. It means that we can't take risks on bands that maybe we're only going to have a hundred people show up for. That is such a huge money losing proposition for us and frankly, I can't see that it does a band a lot of good to play in a room that can hold almost a thousand people when there's a hundred people in there. I don't think that generates the kind of energy with the audience or the band that gets people excited about what's going on. I think it's more demoralizing than anything else, both to the band, the audience and our staff. It doesn't really do anything to further the band's development. I've seen this happen! I've given the pep talks to the bands after this has happened! I think it's much better to play the smaller rooms and pack them - I think it generates a lot more excitement.
9:30 F St.:
What ever happened to the punk rock matinee in this town. I feel 9:30 Club has basically turned its back on the little punk rock band. I know you'll be inclined to be defensive & give me a list of punk bands that have played the new 9:30 Club but that list won't include the slew of under recognized punk bands that deserve a shot at a gig & can draw as many people, in fact more, than say some of the real clunker shows u have booked like Elysian Fields!
Lisa White: No, actually, I don't feel defensive. I certainly went to my share of punk rock matinees back in the day. But the reality is, now there just aren't that many punk rock bands that could fill the club. There are other issues that go along with doing punk rock matinees, like extra security, which means extra labor cost, and low bar sales, which means less money to offset these extra labor costs, and less money to offer the bands. Furthermore, our staff works extremely hard and they have some extremely long days. We've talked about doing a fun summer punk rock matinee, but so far we haven't felt like we could put that extra demand on our staff since it's such an uncertain return.
How much (if any) say does an artist have on security and other related issues during a show? Or does the club just figure how many bouncers/security guys are needed based on the number of tickets sold? I'm wondering because sometimes moshing is rampant and no one seems to care, but other times there is a noticeable effort to discourage it.
Lisa White: The size of our security staff on a given night is determined in part by ticket sales but mostly by what kind of show it is. If we sold 800 tickets for Shawn Colvin and 800 tickets for Slayer... we probably would still need more security people for Slayer. However, the artist does have a say in how the security is handled. For example, whether or not a barricade is in front of the stage, whether or not security people are working the barricade keeping people off the stage, whether or not they're going to allow stage diving, etc. Regardless of the artist's wishes, our staff always tries to identify people who are getting out of control and could potentially hurt other people so that they can be removed from the mosh pit. Generally the pit tends to police itself. People who are down in front know they're going to get involved in that activity if that's what kind of show it is. If someone is moshing inappropriately at a show which is not a moshing show, like the Barenaked Ladies, they're made to stop.
Do you have plans to bring on many of the bands that were routinely packing the now defunct and much missed Bayou. I saw Love Seed Mama Jump at your place a few weeks back and thought they were killer. Bring 'em back!
Lisa White: Anybody that looks at our calendar can see that a lot of the bands that used to play the Bayou are at the 9:30 Club now, like Strangefolk and Galactic.
Hey Lisa, you used to manage a bunch of bands in town... how did you get into that.. and how did you land the job at the 9:30 club?
Lisa White: I managed A band in town, the Baltek, and I got into that just because I met them when I was writing for a free newspaper, the Duckburg Times, and I interviewed them and saw a few shows and really liked them. So I wanted to help them, and I really didn't know what I was doing, but a lot of it is common sense, really. You learn as you go along.
I think I got hired at the 9:30 Club partly because I'd been hanging out there on a regular basis since 1985, so the staff knew me and they knew that I understood what the 9:30 Club was about. But also, I think that I got hired because I had already made money for Seth Hurwitz, the owner, doing some WAMA Crosstown Jam shows that were very well attended. This gave me an advantage over the other applicants for the job. That was 7 and a half years ago!
So, what's the trick to getting backstage to meet the stars?
Lisa White: The only way you're going to get backstage to meet the stars is if they invite you back there themselves. Not everybody wants to be met! It's our security staff's job to make sure only the people the band wants to have backstage get backstage. And they're very good at what they do. Sometimes people will do a meet and greet or sign autographs for a limited period of time, but this is always at the artist's discretion, not ours.
For those of us who drive to shows from the burbs, parking seems to be a problem. Not only finding spots, but safety is also a concern. I know so many people who have had their cars broken into while inside. Are there any plans for more secure parking spaces?
Lisa White: We're always on the lookout for more parking. In the meantime, I would advise anyone who comes to the 9:30 Club or any downtown location in any city not to leave anything in view in your car. It's amazing how many people leave leather jackets, and CD players, and all kinds of stuff in plain view and then wonder why it gets stolen! We have people who patrol the perimeter of our parking area and our parking lots which helps to deter crime, but people do need to take responsibility for concealing their personal possessions, and not tempting fate! The Metro is also an option for weeknight shows.
Good afternoon all! Hey, do either of you think DC bars/clubs will ever go smoke free like in California? I sure hope so, because as much as I love to go out in this town, I really hate all the filthy smoke that is everywhere in the places I like to go. Think it could ever happen, or am I crazy?
Given the recent vote in Montgomery County to go smoke free in 2002 (or something like that) it's certainly possible that DC could go that way too... but instead of that, I think clubs should pick one day a week and see if there's enough of a market to do it voluntarily.. Phantasmagoria in Wheaton has gone smoke free.. and it's hard to guage whether that's helped or hindered it as a rock club...
I've wondered aloud to club owners about what might happen if they tried, say, "Smoke-Free Wendesdays" or something... but no one's gone for it..yet..
Lisa White: Sometimes an artist will request that there be no smoking in the main room during the show, like the Cowboy Junkies and Rickie Lee Jones to name a few. So we post signs and the downstairs back bar turns into a smoking lounge! From talking to people who have been to Phantasmagoria, people who like to smoke when they're drinking really hate to go outside. Then again, the nonsmokers love it! Personally I think the solution is to have a separate smoking area for those who want to, but not every place is configured properly to do something like this.
Hey Lisa, what have been your favorite shows at both the old 9:30 and the current "new" one...?
Lisa White: Boy, there are so many. My first show at the 9:30 Club waaay back in 1981 was the Blasters and they kicked a**! Other highlights were the Bad Brains on the I Against I tour which was one of the most amazing shows I've ever seen in my life. The band came onstage and started rocking out, and H.R. ran onto the stage and did a backflip and the room just exploded with the most incredible energy. How many shows have I seen over the years, and that one just really rises above everything else. The last night at the old club was so incredible. The bands were: Tiny Desk Unit, Trouble Funk, Black Market Baby, Mother May I, and Smart Went Crazy. Truly, a celebration of Washington's musical diversity.
Favorite shows at the new club: Bauhaus! Oh my God. Al Green with Trouble Funk opening. That was another really great energy show. Oh my God. The D.C. Space reunion party that we did a couple years ago with at least 20 bands of all different musical styles, film screenings, dance troupes, poets, that is one of the things I am most proud of in my entire career. That was so fun! Johnny Cash. Bob Dylan. Any Son Volt show. And the X reunion with Billy Zoom was so exciting!
The hazardous nature of my job (brain cells suffer) prevents me from jumping in with my favorite shows at the 9:30 club(s).. I vaguely recall some pretty good bands rocking out pretty hard, but, umm, the rest is sort of a vast fog..
So, I'll thank Lisa White for coming on-line with us today, and I thank all you folks who submitted questions for her (and me).. Apologies to all those who sent in questions that we didn't get to..
Again, if you'd like to send any questions or comments or suggestions to me at the papaer, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll try to answer..
I'll be back in two weeks at 3 pm, perhaps with a guest or perhaps not.. either way, thanks.
Hey, Lisa, any last words?
Lisa White: Thanks for asking all these fun questions. See ya at the club!
To the woman from Alexandria who wonders about her fourteen year old son's ability to see shows... the 9:30 Club is all ages all the time. Always has been. Plenty of shows are attended almost exclusively by people who are under 21, it just depends on the band.