Marah is playing the Hogan House Friday April 20th. Click here to read Marah - Five Songs You Need to Know by Joe Oestreich.
Colin G. - Let's jump right in with the Marah show on April 20th. Why did you want to host this show?
P.J. - Marah is one of my favorite bands of all time. As far as live rock bands, they and Mekons would probably be my top two current favorite bands. I saw them many times before they split up and since the brothers have reformed I’ve seen them 3-4 times in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Virginia. And don't get me wrong, I've caught other versions of the band through the years and they have always been excellent. But it's hard to replicate the dynamic Bielenko brothers when they are on stage together. They are a band I’ve reached out to every year or so to see if they would be interested in a house show. As a huge Watershed fan as well, (and your solo stuff) having you open is going to make this an amazing night. I remember being jealous of reading the article on Pencilstorm on seeing their holiday show in Philadelphia a few years ago. I went to the show this year in Philly and I may make that an annual tradition.
Colin G - Ah shucks, you are too kind. But yes, us Watershed guys have always been beating the Marah drum. It's a thrill for me to weasel onto the bill. Back to your situation, when booking a show, do you reach out to the artist or booking agent?
P.J. - I’ve had the best luck booking bands by going directly to them through Facebook. Dealing with booking agents, I’m not always sure they understand what it is I’m doing. One agent sent me a rider asking for air transportation, hotel, merchandise salesman, etc. I had to explain that I make 0 money doing this so I don’t have a budget to provide all of those kind of perks. What I do provide is 100% of ticket price directly to artists and food and bedrooms.
Colin G. - At what point did the idea hosting shows in your basement switch from a dream to a reality?
P.J. - It was kind of a fluke to get into hosting shows. I’ve always been a huge fan of live music and before having a child probably went to 60 or shows a year. There is a company called Undertow that books house shows and they were looking for volunteers in Columbus area to host a band called Vandaveer. My wife, Abbie and I are both big fans so we took the plunge and hosted the show in 2014. It was a wonderful experience. The crowd was respectful and were there for the music. There was more interaction with the crowd than at a normal show. The last time I had seen Vandaveer at MOTR in Cincinnati the crowd spoke through the entire set. That was the first show we hosted and we’ve hosted Vandaveer every year since and have become friends with the band. The lead singer recently played a surprise birthday concert for my wife. We had about 30 friends all realizing they were at a concert but my wife was shocked. It was a special evening. There is a video of it I can send.
The next year we hosted another Undertow show for Chris Mills. An artist I loved since the late 90s when I lived near Chicago. Another great crowd and show and we met some great friends at the show. We also hosted Vandaveer again. This time through their booking agent. Dolly Varden was the first show I booked directly with the artist. They are one of my favorite bands. It was difficult selling tickets but still an amazing show. First show I had where someone flew in to attend.
Once I started booking the shows myself I would occasionally book a local opener to try and spread the word of the show and to selfishly see lineups that get me excited. We’ve also had some nice moments where bands that might not have much awareness of each other become great friends by the end of the night. Jon Langford was so taken with Happy Chichester that he booked him for a show in England with him. Craig Finn and Bottle Rockets were both Undertow shows. Bands with built in audiences like that are very easy to put on. Undertow puts the tickets up for sale and they both sold out quickly.
Robbie Fulks was booked by working with his booking agent. I’m still not sure his agent understood it was a house show but it all worked out very well and he seemed open to doing it again someday.
Colin G. - Are you a musician yourself? What motivated you to start doing this.
P.J. - I’m not a musician myself. I’ve just always been a big music fan. I’m very shy in normal social situations. I would never go speak to a musician at a show, but by having shows in my house I’ve become friends with some of my musical heroes. The fact that Jon Langford will comment on my daughter being goofy on facebook is something I’ll never get over. Also that there is video of Jon Langford and I singing Charlie Rich’s “Most Beautiful Girl in the World” into breadstick ‘microphones’ makes this whole crazy thing worthwhile.
Colin G. - What is the hardest part of hosting these shows?
P.J. - The hardest part is trying to get the word out on shows. The fact that all money goes to the bands means that any traditional advertising would come out of my pocket. I’ve had a couple shows where I thought there would be great crowds and struggled to get 15 people.
Colin G. - What is your favorite part?
Favorite part is usually the show itself. I can stop trying to sell tickets at that point and just enjoy the music. It helps to have a full crowd of fans of the bands playing but we’ve had great shows where it’s just a handful of my friends.
Colin G. - You have had some amazing acts so far, who is on your wish list?
P.J. - I’ve been very lucky with booking my favorite acts. If I had to rank bands, Mekons/Jon Langford would be my favorite. Hosting Jon Langford was a dream come true and having him be a good guy who loves playing at our house has been a great joy. He said he’ll keep coming as long as we will have him. Other all-time favorites for me that I’ve been shocked to have play would include Marah, Bottle Rockets, Two Cow Garage.
Of my all-time bands left, I would love to host Slobberbone/Brent Best but I’m not sure if they will make it out to Ohio. I’m flying to Texas to see their 25th Anniversary show in May. Bands I would love to host (That some people have heard of): Hayden, Lisa Germano, Bonnie Prince Billy, Joe Firstman, Kimya Dawson, Matthew Ryan, Gary Louris, on and on. I have a list of about 100.
Colin G. - Do you have any plans to expand? How long do you see yourself doing this?
I don’t necessarily have any plans to expand. I’ll keep doing this as long as it’s fun. There are times when we have shows coming up and not selling any tickets that it becomes more stressful than fun. I’ve had day dreams of opening a traditional club but I fear I might lose some of the love of the music if it became 100% a business for me. I still love going to Rumba or Ace of Cups as just a fan and enjoy a show.
Colin G. - Any random thoughts you would like to share before wrapping this up?
P.J. - Sure....
Things I’ve grown to love with the basement shows:
Posted set times. I’m too old to go to a show where ticket says 9:00 but opening act doesn’t go on until 10:30. Columbus clubs have gotten better about posting set times and that has been very helpful with getting to see more shows. Our shows normally start at 8PM (or a little later based on putting our daughter to bed) and usually over by 9:30 with one act or 10:30 with two acts.
Fully seated. We can sell up to 55 tickets and have a seat for everyone.
Crowd has been respectful to artists at every show. Have never had to ask anyone to quiet down.
Shows are BYOB and much more social than a normal club show. Most people feel somewhat uncomfortable going to someone’s house for a show. We try to make it feel as much like a party at our house. Usually people mingle before and after shows.
2015 (Vandaveer, Chris Mills)
2016 (Vandaveer, Clem Snide, Dolly Varden, Justin Wells/Shane Sweeney/Todd Farrell, Syd Straw/Happy Chichester)
2017 (Craig Finn, Flat Five, Jon Langford/Happy Chichester, Bottle Rockets, Vandaveer/Lizard McGee, Richard Buckner, Adam Carroll, Jon Langford’s Four Lost Souls/Micah Schnabel
2018: Robbie Fulks, Tommy Womack/Micah Schnabel, Marah/Colin Gawel, Amy Rigby, Dean Schlabowske