PEOPLE RESPONDED RATHER QUICKLY, AS I RECALL. Yeah, we lucked out in the beginning. There wasn't a lot of competition for what we were doing. We didn't have a lot of money and folk music was an easy way to start because we had a small PA, and with folk music you don't need a lot of sound. The room had a natural resonance. Once we got the PA up to snuff, we were doing a lot of the Bloodshot Records bands that nobody else was doing. I believe in the Bill Graham philosophy: let's forget about the genre, let's put on what's good. I like to mix it up. I was going out searching for bands that no one was doing, guys who would work for a reasonable fee. If we could break even we considered the night was a success. We had low expectations about bringing in money, but high expectations for quality music and making sure the fan experience was really good. As someone who's been going to shows for 35 years, that's one thing that has diminished. For things to be great, the artist, the room, and the fan have to unite in some kind of symbiotic way. Call me an old hippie, I don't know.
IS THE FIRST BIG NIGHT STILL VIVID? The first band we had was the Continental Drifters — Susan Cowsill, Peter Holsapple, and Vicki Peterson from the Bangles. Remember them? They had a show in Boston on Saturday and we got offered Sunday night. That's how we did a lot of our shows early on: Sundays and Thursdays, we got people on their way to Boston. And it wasn't bad, we had a 150 people! But the next morning the building inspector left a note on our door. We didn't know any better! We had to close down and retool a few things. That was in July. We reopened in November, right after 9/11.
YOU MUST HAVE BEEN CELEBRATED AS A HERO AS SOON AS THE LOCALS FOUND OUT REAL BANDS WERE GOING TO BE DOWN THE STREET. Oddly, we've had little support from the locals. Less than five percent of the audience comes from Fall River. Eighty percent come from outside the 15-mile radius: Providence, Newport, Barrington, New Bedford, the Cape. My feelings were hurt initially, but we always paid the rent — that's the important thing — so the sting went away pretty quickly.
Actually, it's not surprising. You see it in other small mill towns, like North Adams with MASS MoCA. There's not a lot of local support for institutions like that. Yet they've had widespread support from New York and the Berkshires and other spots, and they do well. But look around: art helps community and economic development. It attracts people who bring opportunity. Fall River needs to attract the arts.
THE REGIONAL ECONOMIC TEMPERATURE MUST PLAY HAVOC WITH A PLACE LIKE THIS. ANY DIPS EVER WORRY YOU? It's always been on the rise, actually, a very positive experience. Our budget was $25K in 2001 and now it's almost $900K. Consistent growth, even after the fall of 2008. This year will be our best year ever. That said, I think we're maxing out on some things, too. We've been believers, and it's been a positive experience. There wasn't any point in time when we thought it wasn't going to work out.