Anyone out there attempting the big dream of “making it” in music knows how enticing it seems to be able to play a show in New York City at (insert name here) lounge/bar/club – that is, until it’s 2 a.m. and you’re still not home. You’re alone on the PATH train surrounded by a handful of drunks who spent their evening partying and having fun with their friends. You sit and stare at them wishing you were as drunk but knowing you still have a 45-minute drive after you get off the train. You start re-reading all the emails you received from the promoter of this club. “Playing a show in New York is the only way you’re ever going to make it,” they told you. “You need a 15 person draw or you will be blacklisted from performing the venue.” “21 and up. $10 cover. Payout based on your band’s draw.” “No, lazy artist, do your own promotion.” You can’t believe you didn’t realize it was all just a big scam from the get-go. Sure, performing music isn’t about making money, but when the only people there are your friends – no one else, not even another band – and between the $10 dollar entry fee and the two drinks they’ve bought, you’re probably bringing in somewhere between $360-500 for this club, they might give you 20 bucks at the end of the night. Not even enough for the tank of gas it cost to get there. The promoter you had been in contact with isn’t even there, employees of the club don’t know who is playing that night, and overall you just feel like it wasn’t worth it to beg your friends, stress yourself over filling their quota, and make sure you can get off work for the third time this month to make it on time.
The truth is, playing venues like this are not going to benefit you as the performer. The only winner in the situation is the club. Now, you probably either have experienced this firsthand or know someone who has. Luckily, there’s a great way for artists to avoid having to deal with this bullshit scam: D.I.Y. venues. I had a conversation with Sean Ritz of Surprise of the Century and the operator of The Spider Saloon, a venue that has recently closed, about his experience running a show house.
The idea of a basement acting as a venue may seem a bit weird, but to anyone in the New Brunswick area, the idea is far from foreign (Far From Foreign seems like it could be a band name. I wonder what their genre would be). Sean had attended shows in New Brunswick for years; eventually he even went to the Plan-it-X Records festival in Indiana. For anyone who doesn’t know what Plan-it-X is, you’re blowing it. Just kidding, but this festival is a great example of what the power of doing it yourself can look like in full force. In the Montclair area, a place with a huge music community thanks to a number of places (The Meatlocker and 73 See Gallery to name a few)…. As the Christian Science Reading Room, another show house in Montclair, came to an end Sean was simultaneously moving to the quaint town of Little Falls. Upon arrival, he had wanted to begin throwing shows, but it took a little over six months for the wheels to go into motion. He and his roommates had to set the space up, acquire the sound equipment, soundproof the space, and finally take down walls of cobwebs (hence the name The Spider Saloon).
On November 15, 2015, the spiders started making the web. The first show had a lineup of Whisper Wars, Danni May, Travis Love Benson, The Surprise of the Century, Earth Folk Dirt Funk, and Sunflower. The house found success in throwing shows almost every weekend for nearly a year. Touring acts from all over the country have stopped into The Spider Saloon: Elise Dyson & The shambles of North Carolina, We The Heathens of Wisconsin, and Chatterbox & the Latterday Satanists of Colorado to name a few. The space has also housed plenty of Jersey’s own, such as Will Wood, Danni May, and Reese Van Riper. One thing The Spider Saloon did differently than your standard venue was hold an open mic at the first hour of all their shows, giving the fans a chance to express themselves, too. When all was said and done, The Spider Saloon found a lot of success in a town you would drive around and think, “This place is so cute, I could raise a family here.” The point is anyone can start a D.I.Y. venue anywhere and it can be something that is unique from any other place.
According to Sean, running a space like this isn’t hard as long as you have a dedicated team of people to help you. It’s just a matter of being able to see past the constant number of empty beer cans in the basement, weekend after weekend of waiting till sunrise to fall asleep, hoping enough people come and donate money so the touring bands can get something, and stressing throughout the night that the cops might come because these spaces are not exactly legal. Fuck, to me, that sounds like a lot. But if you’re able to look past all of that and realize how wonderful a thing you’re doing, then fucking do it. These are the places that keep music alive, that make cross country tours possible for the unknown, provide people of all ages, sexuality, race, and gender a comfortable environment to enjoy local talent, and finally give artists a chance to perform somewhere worthwhile. The night I played at The Spider Saloon was my favorite local show I have ever been to and my favorite show I have ever played. It’s nice to play somewhere you don’t have to worry about how many people come, whether the audience is listening, and if your friends who aren’t 21 can get in.
At the end of the day, hats off and rest in peace to The Spider Saloon. You may be gone, but there are plenty of places out there that are keeping the D.I.Y. spirit alive. It’s just a matter of finding them.
R.I.P. Spider Saloon. D.I.Y. or D-I-E. Fuck your NYC lounge.
Cozz is a local musician, artist, and skater, who decided that he wasn’t doing enough cool shit and decided to join the N.J. Racket team.
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