In my band days, I’ve played to my share of empty rooms.
In college, there was the coffee shop with eight people. A decade later, it was the crappy bar in Carbodale, Ill., to one person. And that was after a five-hour drive from Lafayette.
When you play to an empty venue, you either let it get to you, or you say “screw it” and rock out as hard as possible. A good thought is to treat the show as another practice.
When you are one of those eight people in the “audience” at an empty show, it’s another kind of discomfort. You feel bad for the band that has been on tour for weeks. These shows are often their main source of income. It’s what they do. If it’s the band’s first time in Lafayette, embarrassingly low attendance reflects poorly on the scene. In Lafayette, you’re never going to get hundreds of people at almost any independent touring band’s set, but Detroit’s The Deadstring Brothers, a Bloodshot recording artist, was greeted with a polite 17 people Thursday night at Jester’s. I counted them.
Deadstring Brothers still delivered a strong set at Jester’s, despite the low turnout. They deserved much more.
The band’s affiliation with Bloodshot Records — home of early Old 97′s records, Neko Case, The Bottle Rockets and early Ryan Adams — was enough to get me there. But I was feeling pessimistic on my way to the venue. Jester’s is a standup comedy club that does rock shows once or twice a week. Strike one. Now that it is getting darker earlier, I noticed that there was no illuminated sign for Jester’s. If you didn’t know the club was there already, it would be difficult to find it. Strike two. And Jester’s still suffers from the topsy-turvy history of that building. As Nick’s, the space was the place for rock n’ roll shows in the 1990s. In the 21st century, it suffered from name changes, format changes and a couple unsavory incidents that unfairly carried over when the venue tried to give it another go in one form or another. Strike three?
The room inside Jester’s still has that classic rock venue feel that it had when it was Nick’s. It’s virtually unchanged and had a stellar sound system, at least for that night. The sound guy, Brad Lumley, said he is trying to work out a deal where he can leave the sound system there. A venue with its own permanent P.A. system in Greater Lafayette is about as rare as health food at DT Kirby’s. Lafayette Brewing Company and Black Sparrow (usually) are the only venues to have this commonsense principle.
As most local musicians could attest, 17 people in an intimate room like The Black Sparrow is OK but Jester’s is huge, slightly bigger than Lafayette Brewing Company. Seventeen people abysmal-looking in a huge room.
My fantasy for Greater Lafayette is to have a successful rock club that has this feel, which includes having a permanent P.A. Bloomington has The Bluebird. Why can’t Greater Lafayette have something similar?
Jester’s is making a go of it in October. Friends of Bob presents El Vez on Oct.18 and bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley & His Clinch Mountain Boys will grace the room on Oct. 19.
The Bluebird has Drive-By Truckers, Victor Wooten, Mayer Hawthorne, Keller Williams, Sleigh Bells and freakin’ Dinosaur Jr. in October. Sigh … .
If quality shows like El Vez and Ralph Stanley go unsupported, Greater Lafayette does not deserve venues like The Bluebird. But I heard advanced ticket sales are good for both shows. Perhaps Jester’s can turn a corner this fall and insert itself as a top place for national talent. Again, the feel of that room is not like any other in Greater Lafayette. I hope it sticks around.
And hopefully The Deadstring Brothers will give Lafayette another shot.