Summertime blues at local venues

Smaller crowds have to do for the local music scene when students are gone.
Wednesday, June 16, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:22 a.m. CDT, Monday, June 30, 2008

“Jam-packed” does not come to mind when looking at the 15-foot gap between fans and the band Elf Power at Mojo’s.

A month ago, a full house at Mojo’s would not be uncommon. But by the end of May, collegiate concertgoers leave the town’s music venues working to keep crowds.

About two-thirds of MU students do not take summer courses, according to enrollment information from 2001 to 2003.

Johnny Finn, who bartends at the Music Cafe, said the beginning of summer means a sharp dip in attendance.

Shattered on Broadway faces similar desertion. Mikael Wood, who works the sound system there, said there are 50 to 100 fewer people during dance nights, Tuesday through Saturday. On Saturdays, Shattered puts on an ’80s night.

“It does well over the summer because it draws some older kids,” Wood said.

The threat of smaller crowds can mean different business strategies. Shattered sometimes lures crowds with drink specials. The Music Cafe changes its booking strategy to target 20- to 30-year-olds instead of college students, Finn said.

But clubs still have to cut staff and shows.

“We try to become as efficient as possible, keep everything low-key,” Finn said. He said the Music Cafe cuts staff for summer.

Small crowds also make it impossible to book large acts. Without a big crowd, clubs can’t meet the required guaranteed pay.

This might hurt the income of the venues, but it can help local musicians.

Josh “Big Pants” Windle, Eastside Tavern’s entertainment booker, said he would rely on Eastside’s roster of 15 to 20 local bands that frequent the venue over the summer. He said the tavern is a good choice because some of the fan base stays in Columbia.

“The scene we’re in is geared toward younger kids anyway,” said Greg Roberts of the White Rabbits, a local band. “There’s always going to be that large contingency of high school kids in town.”

Roberts said he never has trouble getting booked during the summer.

But small touring bands can’t compete with large acts that use outdoor theaters.

Richard King, manager of The Blue Note and Mojo’s, said they usually have to compete with large outdoor venues. But this year, the Amphitheater at Mizzou will close because of construction on the Paige Sports Arena, said Dave Bartlett, production manager at the Hearnes Center. This takes some pressure off the local venues.

Even without competition, King said he hosts fewer shows during the summer. He said The Blue Note would host fewer because it’s a larger venue that is costly to operate. Mojo’s will not cut back so drastically, he said.

Not all venues share these problems. Kim Sherman, who books shows for Ragtag Cinemacafe and The Ranch, said she books music popular with Columbians, so she doesn’t worry about student fluctuation.

She said sometimes crowds are larger because people have more free time without school.

Whether students are in or out, King said Columbia deserves quality shows, which is why he’s been aggressively booking his venues.

“It looks like we’re going to have a lot of great shows this summer,” King said. “Any time we can continue that into the summer months, it makes you feel good.”

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