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Sacramento Music’s Numbers Game

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Music promoters in Sacramento gathered Sunday evening to discuss the need to create more local venues and how this would help the local music culture thrive. Time Tested Books hosted the Living Library discussion, called, “The State of Live Music in Sacramento.” Many panelists said that creating more venues in Sacramento is vital and find the city’s regulations to be a huge obstacle.

No chairs were empty, and a crowd stood for the whole two hours of the event. When the moderator, local writer/music fan Dennis Yudt, asked if anyone present was a musician, more than half of the attendants raised their hands.

Yudt spent the first hour and a half prompting the five panelists with questions – music promoters Jerry Perry (who once ran a popular venue called The Cattle Club), Brian McKenna (promoter of many local bands, including Hella), Mindy Giles (who was once vice president of Alligator Records and was marketing director for Tower Records) and Rick Ele (who hosts the “Art for Spastics” show on KDVS). Also with them was Olivia Coelho, co-founder of the music venue and vintage shop Bows and Arrows.

When Yudt asked the panelists what Sacramento has that other cities don’t, Perry had great things to say about the local artists. When looking for Sacramento’s new great band each year, he said he finds 10 or 20 that are up to par.

The conversation quickly switched to what Sacramento lacks, and for all the panelists, it’s a key way of presenting these artists to bigger audiences.

“There’s a 1,500-seat venue that’s the missing link,” McKenna said.

McKenna outlined this missing link as a transition for bands to go from smaller venues to big shows – not necessarily a “huge building to fill every night,” but a new venue open to all genres and all audiences.

Everyone on the panel agreed that supporting the city’s culture and opening more music venues could help revitalize K Street and would be a step toward turning Sacramento into a world-class city.

Ele said that he could easily brainstorm 80 venues in Portland, but not even two dozen in Sacramento, which he finds extremely problematic.

“If (Portland) can rise from the joke of a scene that they were,” Ele said, “there’s no reason Sacramento can’t, too.”

Perry expressed a lot of frustration with the city’s regulations on entertainment. He said that many restaurants would be selling food and alcohol without any trouble, but once live entertainment was involved, suddenly people would worry about minors drinking alcohol.

“What makes you think we’ll let them drink?” Perry said. “They treat us like children…. I wish the city would open their eyes and support us.”

McKenna agreed with Perry’s point, and he said that it is important for the missing link to be all-ages and still provide alcohol.

“Adults don’t want to come out if they can’t get alcohol,” McKenna said, “but it’s the kids that really bring new enthusiasm for music.”

Coelho said she knows this venue struggle firsthand. She explained how tough it was for her to present live music at her store, Bows and Arrows, legally. The process consumed a lot of time and money, sometimes leading to paying bands out of pocket.

“It’s incredibly expensive to make sure bathrooms are up to date and to have sprinklers,” Coelho said. “(It costs) tens of thousands of dollars just to have amplified music in your place.”

Coelho spoke of one victory she had for Bows and Arrows, where she was able to save money by asking the city to allow her one security guard instead of the required two.

When she pointed out that her venue is small and that two guards for so much as two attendants was unreasonable, they listened to her plight and agreed with her.

“Sometimes (the city) will be more responsive than we think they will,” Coelho said.

Despite this victory, the “one-size-fits-all” entertainment permit has to be renewed every two years, even if nothing has changed with the establishment. The application fee is supposed to cover the cost of time the government gives to investigate a venue, she said, and the renewal is $1,400.

“I would be so sad to not be able to bring live music to people,” Coelho said.

Once Yudt finished his questions, the panel turned to the audience. Many hands filled the air to offer ideas and brainstorm new strategies for helping Sacramento’s music culture. One audience member suggested that they file petitions against certain regulations, while another said that the panel could easily be the founders of a special interest group.

One audience member, Michael “LP Sessions” LaPlante, pointed out that theaters in San Jose have several months of off time, and that they supplement income with live music performances. LaPlante said that The Sacramento Theatre Company, Wells Fargo Pavilion, and B Street Theatre could easily do the same.

“We have lots of diverse music in this town,” LaPlante said. “Venues and presenters and bands need to get together and organize.”

Yudt closed by thanking everyone for coming to the event. He asked that they take action to help Sacramento’s music culture, even if it’s something as small as bringing a new friend to a live performance.

“Everyone can have a say to institute change,” Yudt said. “Young, old, regardless of genre… tonight, we’re all in the same genre.”

The next Living Library will be held Febuary 19th, and will have beer historian Ed Carroll, author of “Sacramento’s Breweries,” discuss Sacramento’s brewing heritage. 

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