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

themselves

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,

settling

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

imaginable

type of job from wrangler to household manager for the rich and

famous.

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

easy."

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.

"I

said this is the perfect place to hold concerts. So I asked the

powers-that-be

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

nervous,

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,"

says Scott.

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

reservations.

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

lesser-known

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

budget.

"It’s a wonderful thing for the community and it’s a minor

fund-raiser

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

traffic

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

Universalism

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,

working

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

different

things to say." Thus Scott is always looking for a fresh angle

— the same way he looks for a new or different performer to

promote.

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

received

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

Productions.

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

Julie’s

efforts, anyway. They do it for the love of the music.

— Dan Noonan

Vance Gilbert, Saje Productions, Unitarian Church

at Washington Crossing, 215-862-1917. Opening act by Annie Bauerlein.

$12. Saturday, December 5, 8 p.m.

Coming in the new year: John Sebastian with Y’All,

Saturday,

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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