Corrections or additions?
(This article by Dan Noonan was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on
December 2, 1998. All rights reserved.)
When Folk Fans Turn Producers
When Scott Cullen takes the microphone on the concert
stage at the Unitarian Church in Titusville, it’s an appearance that
leaves the audience feeling warm and welcome. But Scott isn’t the
performer, he’s the promoter. Actually, the co-promoter along with
his wife, Julie. Together, they make up Saje Productions, and are
in their third season of combining the church and folk music to create
a good time in Titusville.
The Cullens are part-time promoters, admittedly still rookies in the
entertainment business. Slowly, they’ve been making a name for
on the folk concert scene. The singer-songwriter set has included
a sell-out performance by Christine Lavin and near capacity crowds
for recent shows by Patty Larkin and Iris DeMent.
A good crowd is expected for Vance Gilbert, on Saturday, December
5, as Saje wraps up its fall series with a concert by the acoustic
artist know for his blend of folk, jazz, and improvised humor. That’s
when Scott and Julie can take a deep breath until their spring season
kicks in with John Sebastian in February. It’s long hours for the
husband and wife team, but as they tell it, worth every minute.
The Cullens came to this area from Connecticut four years ago,
in New Hope, after the trade magazine that Scott edited at the time
relocated to Pennsylvania. Scott grew up in Connecticut where his
father worked as an electric company linesman and his mother was a
homemaker. Julie was raised in West Virginia by her mother, a school
teacher. Her father was "a rambling guy" who held every
type of job from wrangler to household manager for the rich and
It was after Scott and Julie joined the Unitarian Universalist Church
on Washington Crossing Road in Titusville that the couple, folk music
fans, had, well, a vision.
"I used to go to these concerts with my wife in Connecticut,"
says 43-year-old Scott. "Folky kind of concerts in the basement
of a church or hall. I used to see people like us putting them on
and I’d think, gosh, if they can do it we can do it too. It looked
Scott’s vision came alive when the church added a new
sanctuary, a high-ceilinged, airy hall with the capacity to seat 300
members. Or rather — in Scott’s eyes — 300 concertgoers.
said this is the perfect place to hold concerts. So I asked the
and they agreed, and in September of 1996 we did our first show. For
beginners with no track record it was fairly successful." Julie
remembers booking Lucy Kaplansky for the first show. "I was
she was nervous, her agent was nervous," says Julie, "but
they were very helpful and it was a show we all felt good about."
There was certainly enough stress to go around before the Kaplansky
show. "We were a little star-struck with Lucy, so well-known in
the folk world. She called our house for directions! Wow! We watched
her on TV and now she’s calling here! We were extremely nervous,"
With Kaplansky, Saje Productions was off and running. (The company
name is an acronym of the family names Scott, Aaron, Julie, and Emmy,
Scott’s daughter from his previous marriage). The church board of
trustees agreed to make music with the Cullens without any
The hall came rent-free. Bookings, promotions, and other expenses
came out of ticket sales, with Scott and Julie responsible for any
losses. That was fine for the first show, but when some of the
performers they booked drew only 60 to 70 people, more than a sour
note was struck.
"Reality smacked me in the face," Scott remembers, "I
thought you put on a show and people came. Just because you have good
publicity doesn’t mean you’re going to have a good audience, name
recognition is still a factor."
The Cullens began scheduling their concerts as a series instead of
single shows, so the bigger shows with bigger headliners would offset
any possible losses from smaller crowds. And although Bob Dylan and
Joan Baez haven’t come calling yet, this non-profit-minded venture
has actually raised a few thousand dollars for the general church
"It’s a wonderful thing for the community and it’s a minor
for us," says Unitarian minister Charles Stephens. He adds that
Scott and Julie have a lot of credibility within the church, and in
return they get a lot of support from its members, some of whom are
sprinkled throughout the audience during concerts. Others direct
and parking, or sell refreshments or work the gate. At October’s Patty
Larkin show, the minister himself was at the door taking tickets and
counting his blessings.
The church has given the Cullens’ "total ownership" of the
concert series, never telling them which acts to book. Scott sees
the relationship as a nearly perfect match. "Unitarian
is a very open, diverse, very liberal, accepting type of religion.
I think it goes hand-in-hand with a lot of themes and issues that
revolve around folk music," he says.
The modicum of success Saje Productions is enjoying is not without
a down side. After all, Scott and Julie still have to allow time for
two full-time jobs and care of their 17-month-old son, Aaron.
Before Aaron’s command performance, Julie was an equal
partner in Saje. She’s stepped back now. "I was doing most of
the booking originally, but since the baby came along I haven’t been
able to be that involved," she says. "Scott does the bulk
of the concert work, but he’s also Aaron’s primary caregiver when
I’m at work."
Scott now works at home as a freelance writer for a variety of office
equipment publications. Julie is an editor for a dental journal,
at the office three days a week and at home the other two days. Scott
does his writing during the morning hours while Aaron is in daycare,
then takes over as daddy after lunch. On the two days that both Scott
and Julie work at home they alternate writing and caring for Aaron.
And always, always there are the concert phone calls.
"I had no idea the amount of time this would require," says
Scott. "This is always on my mind, and when we have a big show
coming up our phone is ringing off the hook for weeks. It’s definitely
a challenge when you have two people working at home."
Scott’s "real job" as a writer has been beneficial in the
world of concert promotion, even though his articles about faxes and
copiers have few parallels in the world of folk music. "For some
of these magazines you have to cover the same topic a number of times
during the year," Scott says, "and there’s not a lot of
things to say." Thus Scott is always looking for a fresh angle
— the same way he looks for a new or different performer to
And to do that he has to generate his own publicity, such as creating
flyers and contacting newspapers and radio stations. Scott has learned
that the media doesn’t knock down his door simply because they
his release — there’s just too much entertainment competition.
Competing for that entertainment dollar and audience takes a little
know-how and some creative thinking. For instance, for one recent
show by Laurianne Fiorentino and Barbara Kessler, neither of whom
are well-known, Saje offered a discount deal: buy two tickets and
get a third ticket free. It was an experiment to bring more people
out for an artist with whom they may not be familiar, but may grow
to admire. And as Scott has discovered, scheduling performers who
are relatively new on the scene can be risky.
"I’d love to get the bigger acts all the time, but that would
saturate the market," Scott says. "Besides, there are these
lesser-known performers out there waiting to get to the next level.
And it’s the love of the music and the performers that makes me want
to take a risk on them."
And this seems to be a running theme in the operation of Saje
Scott says there’s not a lot of money to be made in promoting folk
concerts, but money wouldn’t be the driving force behind his and
efforts, anyway. They do it for the love of the music.
— Dan Noonan
at Washington Crossing, 215-862-1917. Opening act by Annie Bauerlein.
$12. Saturday, December 5, 8 p.m.
February 13, 8 p.m. ; Christine Lavin, Saturday, March
6, 8 p.m.; and Cathie Ryan, Saturday, April 17, 8 p.m.
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