When it comes to concert promotion, sometimes, no matter what you do, it’s just not good enough.
Scott Cullen knows this first hand. Cullen is a veteran music head who has been putting on concerts at several local venues, most notably at Concerts for the Crossing, a live music series held at the Unitarian Universalist Church at Washington Crossing in Titusville.
At his church one Saturday, he decided to have an open-mike talent night for teenagers and young adults. "It was a way to get a younger audience exposed to what we do," he said. And things went well. Lots of kids and parents showed up, and the quality of the music the youngsters performed was very good.
Then the youth show ended, and the audience left. Just about all of them. Kids and parents.
Cullen was aghast. "It was a huge disappointment. But it was a success in that we got them to come to the venue, but they did not stay for the show."
We asked Cullen and two other professionals who book entertainment – Lauren Palena of Triumph Brewing Company in Princeton and New Hope and Mike Matisa of Sotto 128 in Princeton – to tell us what it takes to develop an audience for live music and also to tell us the acts they are most excited about this fall. All three agree they have a great job, but say it is also a struggle and a labor of love.
Cullen says he needs an audience of at least 100, sometimes 200, people at his events, which occur once or twice a month, to break even. Performers can charge between $300 and $3,000 an event, and Cullen says he tries to keep the ticket price no higher than $20 a show. "We have lots of overhead. The costs of mailing and printing, rent, sound, insurance, we have to cover all of that," says Cullen.
Cullen especially enjoys bringing in acts that are different – even uncategorizable. "This is one reason we like to call this a concert series and not a folk music series," he says.
The upcoming act he is most excited about this season, Cullen says, is the Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players, who appears at the Concerts at the Crossing on Saturday, September 30. "You’ve got to see these people," he says, his enthusiasm unbridled. "They are originally from Seattle. They go to yard sales and estate sales, and they buy old slides. They set them to music and write songs about them. They sing songs about the stories in the slides, and they don’t even know anything about the family. They’re amazing. The father plays guitar and keyboards, the daughter, who is 12, plays drums, and the mom runs the projector."
He is also looking forward to having veteran folk-rocker Steve Forbert on Saturday, September 16, he says.
Lauren Palena is only 27, but she has been involved with music for most of her life, she says. She enjoys working as the talent booker at Triumph immensely. "I am extremely blessed to have this job," she says. She spends most of her days going through the 100 or so demos she receives every week, as well as checking out live bands in an area spanning New York, New Jersey, and Philadelphia.
There are about 10 "staple bands" who play the two Triumph venues every year, Palena says, and about 50 to 75 acts that rotate in and out. Some of the standout performers in the upcoming weeks and months include R&B singer Melvin McKnight, rockers Turbine, Latin band De Sol, and singer-songwriter Steve Liberace. "We don’t bring in strictly one genre of music," she said. "We are always up for trying something new."
Despite the business she is in, she doesn’t have an Ipod. "I have a huge CD collection though," she says. "I could open up an indie record store if I wanted."
She’s fairly new to the business side of music, but in the two years Palena has worked at Triumph, she has seen some changes. "When I started doing the job, there was lots of classic rock and roll. Now there are more bands coming out, with an indie-pop feel, everyone is involved in the group, not just a front man with a band."
The operative word for Mike Matisa, who books talent at Sotto 128 on Nassau Street, is adaptation. When Sotto opened in March at the site of the former Annex restaurant, says Matisa, he planned to bring in a mixture of folk, rock, and pop entertainment. He did just that, and he was mostly satisfied with the results.
But Sotto needed to change things up a bit, he says. "The restaurant business is incremental. The entertainment part of it is picking up, and after a mediocre start, we have seen much improvement. We’ve been figuring out what works for us and what doesn’t."
When the venue first opened, he says, "we considered top-shelf, well-seasoned musicians, and while that was true, it didn’t appear as if some worked out as we hoped. There are other artists who have done a much better job at engaging the audience."
The types of artists he is looking for now, Matisa says, are artists like Johnny Pompadour, who sings Top 40 pop hits and gets audiences to sing along with him. "All-night party music" is how he describes the artist.
"If we were in New York City, things would be different," he says. "In downtown Princeton, people are there to spend money, and they want to have fun and relax. They don’t want to watch some guy up there who is totally engrossed in his thing. They want to enjoy themselves, and that was the hard lesson to learn."
He is trying to position his club in terms of the ambiance, comparing Sotto to other places in Princeton. "Without mentioning names, when you look at some of the restaurants in the area, at one place, the acts there are much more background music, and at the other place down the street, there is a more rock-ish, college crowd. We’re right down the middle."
Matisa says Sotto will be home to Latin guitarist Arturo Romay and keyboardist Derek Turcios, for two Latin Nights in September. Turcios will serve as DJ when the duo is on its breaks. Romay will also play solo every Saturday between 6 and 9 p.m. Matisa also is excited about performers such as guitarist Gregg Cagno, the duo of Joe Zook and Paul Plumeri, blues-rockers Maggie Hill and Jerry Steele, as well as Fran Smith of the Hooters.
Matisa has been in the music business for just a bit more than 20 years, he says, and he has seen some significant changes in the local area in that period of time. "When you go back to one point in the `80s, the drinking age had been lowered to 18, and you could go see music five nights a week at a dozen venues. There were a lot of local legends around. You could see people like Richie Sambora (of Bon Jovi) playing in Trenton clubs, and Frank Stallone had a band, too. When they raised the drinking age, that killed things a little bit. Then when club music became popular, live bands took a hit."
Now, things seem to be picking up, Matisa says, and he is happy to see that people are more interested in live music and human performance in general because of reality shows like "American Idol" and "Rock Star Supernova."
Top Of PageConcerts at the Crossing
Unitarian Church at Washington Crossing, Titusville, 609-406-1424, www.crossingconcerts.com.
Steve Forbert and Kate Gaffney. Folk and rock legend Steve Forbert is best known for "Romeo’s Tune." Kate Gaffney opens the show with bluesy, folk-flavored originals. $20. Saturday, September 16.
The Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players. The art and rock band takes vintage slide collections from estate and garage sales and creates pop rock musical exposes based on the contents. Deirdre Flint serves up songs about blind dates, vengeful bridesmaids, and brain-dead cheerleaders. $20. Saturday, September 30.
An Evening with Eliza Gilkyson. Texas-based singer songwriter. Co-sponsored by WPRB’s Music You Can’t Hear on the Radio. $20. Monday, October 30.
Ellis Paul and Antje Duvekot. Singer songwriter of folk music Ellis Paul and German-American Antje Duvekot. $20. Sunday, December 3.
439 South Broad Street, Trenton, 609-656-1199, www.conduitmusic.com.
Dementia. Every Friday, goth/industrial dance party, 9 p.m.
Ray Rodriquez. CD release party featuring classic salsa music and originals. $15 cover. Thursday, September 21.
Local Sounds Concert Series. Selkow, the Smiles Project, the Medium, Julius C., and Funky Butter. $10 cover. Saturday, October 14.
Cornerstone Cafe and Bistro
25 New Street, Metuchen, 732-549-5306, www.cornerstonenj.us.
David Schnitter Trio. Jazz. Wednesday, September 13.
Hendrik Meurkens Quartet with Helio Alves. Jazz. Friday, September 15.
Claudio Roditi Quintet. "Happy Birthday Ronni Rose." Jazz. Wednesday, September 20.
Randy Sandke Trio. Jazz. Friday, September 22.
John Bunch Trio. Jazz. Wednesday, September 27.
Virginia Mayhew Quartet with Norman Simmons. Jazz. Friday, September 29.
The Darla Rich Quartet. Jazz. Wednesday, October 11.
Trenton City Museum
Cadwalader Park, 609-989-1191, www.ellarslie.org.
Fall Jazz and Blues. Eric Mintel Quartet Wine and hors d’oeuvres. Register. $15. Friday, September 29.
Joe Zook and Friends. Singer songwriter Joe Zook presents an evening of autumn blues from the 1930s to the future. Wine and hors d’oeuvres. Register. $15. Friday, October 27.
529 Route 130 North, East Windsor, 609-448-8012, www.capitalcityconcerts.com.
Amberblues. $5. Saturday, September 16.
Sudsy Jugs. $5. Friday, September 22.
Rick Barry and the Commons. $5. Saturday, September 23.
Morristown Unitarian Fellowship, 21 Normandy Heights Road, Morristown, 973-335-9489, www.folkproject.org.
Screaming Orphans. The Diver sisters sing and play pop with an Irish flair. $15. Friday, September 15.
Alicia Bjornsdotter-Reid and Burlap Lute. Fiddle music of Sweden. $7. Friday, September 22.
John Forster. Singer-songwriters. $7. Friday, September 29.
Finest Kind. $7. Friday, October 20.
Cindy Mangsen and Steve Gillette. $7. Friday, October 27.
Kate Campbell. $7. Friday, November 10.
Grounds For Sculpture
18 Fairgrounds Road, Hamilton, 609-689-1089, www.groundsforsculpture.org.
Courtyard Concert. Wenonah Brooks. Rain or shine. $8. Friday, September 15.
Marshall Crenshaw. $15. Saturday, October 14.
James Lee Stanley and John Batdorf present rock on acoustic guitars. Register. $20. Saturday, November 11.
Musical showcase with banjo wiz Tony Trischka and his band featuring acoustic and bluegrass-tinged versions of holiday favorites. Register. $20. Saturday, December 9.
9 Hulfish Street, Princeton.
Richard Braytenbah Trio with jazz. Weather permitting. Free. Saturday, September 16.
Larry Tritel with contemporary folk. Weather permitting. Free. Saturday, September 23.
Carm and John with blues and folk rock. Weather permitting. Free. Saturday, September 30.
15 East Broad Street, Hopewell, 609-466-9889, www.hopewellvalleybistro.com.
Karen Zumbrunn Jazz Trio, Saturday, September 16.
Harry Allen-Joe Cohn Quartet. Fixed price dinner and show. Register. $39. Saturday, September 23.
Tony Mennella and Dick Braytenbah Trio. "Sounds of Sinatra." $15 minimum. Saturdays, September 30, October 14, and October 28.
Darla Rich Quintet. Jazz vocals and dancing. $15 minimum. Saturdays, October 7 and 21.
Java Moon Cafe
4110 Quakerbridge Road, Lawrenceville, 609-275-7447.
William Daab. Jazz guitar. Thursday, September 14.
Brian Keith. Jazz guitar. Saturday, September 16.
John & Peter’s
96 South Main Street, New Hope, 215-862-5981, www.johnandpeters.com.
Justin Pope. Wednesday, September 13.
The Administration Aderbat. Thursday, September 14.
Bongo Jones. Friday, September 15.
Spitune and Friends. Saturday, September 16.
James Seward. Sunday, September 17.
Arielle Silver. Tuesday, September 19.
Paul Thiessen. Wednesday, September 20.
Cowmuddy Redbeard and Aderbat. Thursday, September 21.
Agency. Friday, September 22.
The Young Werewolves. Saturday, September 23.
James Seward. Sunday, September 24.
Monster Mash. Tuesday, September 26.
Eyeless. Wednesday, September 27.
Spooner Street. Thursday, September 28.
The Cobs. Friday, September 29.
Fireflys and Friends. Saturday, September 30.
120 South Warren Street, Trenton, 609-575-9857, www.maxines2.com.
Latin Night. Salsa and mambo dance classes followed by social dancing. $5. Thursdays, September 14, 21, and 28.
14 Hulfish Street, 609-252-9680.
Arturo Romay. Latin jazz guitar. Every Thursday, 7 to 10 p.m.
78 Albany Street, New Brunswick, 732-296-1600.
Arturo Romay. Latin jazz guitar. Every Wednesday, 7 to 10 p.m.
Nassau Street, 609-921-2333, www.palmersquare.com.
JazzFeast 2006. Performers include vocalist Bryan Clark and the New Legacy Jazz Band, pianist Derek Smith, Gregg Piccolo and Heavy Juice, and Ed Polcer with his All Stars. Rain or shine. Free. Saturday, September 16.
Princeton Public Library
65 Witherspoon Street, 609-924-9529, www.princetonlibrary.org.
Jim Murphy and the Pine Barons, bluegrass and country. Friday, September 22.
128 Nassau Street, Princeton, 609-921-7555, www.sotto128.com.
Greg Cagno. Guitar and vocals. Thursdays, September 14, 21, and 28.
Maggie Hill and Jerry Steele. Blues, folk, and rock. Friday, September 15.
Sandy Zio and Alice Leon. Rock covers and originals. Saturday, September 16.
Arturo Romay. Latin jazz guitar. Every Saturday, 6 to 9 p.m., and every Sunday, 5 to 8 p.m. On Saturday, September 30 he is joined by Derek Turcios.
Ernie White and Tom Reock. Blues, rock originals, and covers. Friday, September 22.
Billy Hill Trio with Meg Hanson. Popular favorites. Saturday, September 23.
John Bianculli Band. Latin jazz fusion. Friday, September 29.
Sovereign Bank Arena
81 Hamilton Avenue at Route 129, Trenton, 609-520-8383, www.sovereignbankarena.com.
Classic Rockfest 5 Feat. Lynyrd Sknyrd and 38 Special. $40 and $46. Thursday, October 5.
Doodlebops Live. $15.50 to $35.50. Sunday, October 8.
The 449 Room
449 South Broad, Trenton, 609-989-7777, www.449room.com.
Kallie, Seth Adam, and Patse. $5 cover. Thursday, September 14.
The School of Rock. Friday and Sunday, September 15 and 17, and Saturday and Sunday, September 23 and 24.
Audible Mainframe. $5 cover. Saturday, September 16.
Clark Street, and Sugarhigh. $5. Thursday, September 21.
Blind Deceptions, Break Away, and Distorted Penguin. $5. Friday, September 22.
Trenton Jazz Festival
State House Complex, Trenton, 609-394-3300, www.tickets.com.
Jeffrey Osborne and Brian Culbertson. $35 and $45. Saturday, September 16.
138 Nassau Street, 609-924-7855, www.triumphbrew.com.
Frank Thewes Singer-Songwriter Night. $3 cover. Every Thursday.
Licorice. $5 cover. Friday, September 15.
Martin Rivas and Craig Meyers. $5 cover. Saturday, September 16.
Tim Butler. $5 cover. Friday, September 22.
Gongzilla. $5 cover. Saturday, September 23.
Rainbow Fresh. $5 cover. Saturday, September 30.
400 Union Square, New Hope, 215-862-8300.
Deb Calahan. $5 cover. Friday, September 15.
Rainbow Fresh. $5 cover. Saturday, September 16.
Christine Havrilla. No cover. Friday, September 22.
Melvin McKnight. $5 cover. Saturday, September 23.
John Conahan. No cover. Wednesday, September 27.
DJ Dozia Blakey. $5 cover. Friday, September 29.
The Kause. $5 cover. Saturday, September 30.
Arts Council of Princeton
Princeton Shopping Center, 609-924-8777, www.cafeimprov.com.
Cafe Improv. An open stage features music, poetry, and comedy. Televised live on cable channel 30. Sign up on website. $1. Saturdays, September 23, October 28, November 25, and December 16.