From the DIY File: Homegrown Venues are Blossoming Everywhere (Even Rural America)
Ron Placone Interviews Cameron McGee
There were a total of seven of us, we had a case of beer in the van, and we were still getting over the shock that we actually found this place. My friend was the drummer, so I asked him if he wanted to go get a drink. While we all knew that finding civilization was unlikely, we decided to humor ourselves. We found a bar (after about 40 minutes of wondering around in the dark) and upon walking in we realized this might be the last night of our lives. Let's just say I was thrilled I wasn't wearing any apparel via Fat Mike that criticized the President. Surprisingly, a few rounds later we were embraced as locals, and the clientele was thrilled to have a real "band" in the bar. I learned an old lesson again that night; don't judge a book by its cover. Anyway, about 9:30 or so my friends had to get back to play. We returned to the venue, none of us with high expectations, to see a room full of about 200 kids. "Wow," I thought, "these kids have something very special going on out here."
Over the past few years I've come to realize that the little town in rural Pennsylvania I was in wasn't anything out of the ordinary. All over America teenage kids are starting and running their own venues, bringing the bands they love, giving smaller bands a tour stop they wouldn't have had other wise, and giving their peers a place to hang out. Tons of these places, in fact, aren't even in the major cities, they're in small towns. Towns that don't have any decent 500-seaters, towns that have no independent promoters, basically, if you're into punk, hardcore, or anything else under the radar…good luck. Yet, instead of sitting back, bending over and letting Clear Channel penetrate them with some of the most mindless dribble imaginable, these kids are making it happen for themselves. One of these venues I speak of is a place called the “Hub City Club” in Centralia, WA (about 2 hours outside of Seattle). Hub City has been around since July 13, 2007, and is run by 19-year-old Cameron McGee. I've had the pleasure of performing at Cameron's place a couple times via their bi-monthly comedy night. I admire the work-ethic and dedication these kids are showing, and I was lucky enough to get a chance to talk to Cameron a little more about his endeavors:
Ron Placone: So let's start simple, when was your grand opening? Who played? Describe the entire experience.
Cameron McGee: Our first show was the 13th of July. It consisted of Burning Twilight, Rattlesnake Renegade, The Firefight, and From Inside a Lion. I was there the whole day getting ready for the show. A lot longer than I really needed, but it was my first time and I was worried. We opened the doors 30 minutes before show time and people started rolling in. We had about 75 for the show, which wasn't bad. Especially for the first one. Early on, we had as few as 3 people at one show. Now we average around 95. The show went off without a hitch. It was a good first show with good bands. I was happy with it. My parents actually came down and barbecued for the bands behind the club. It was cool. We had way more help than we needed. That showed me that people wanted this to happen as much as I did.
RP: Give me a history of the club, how did you get into all this? What were some of the obstacles? How did you raise money?
CM: It kind of just fell in my lap. I had helped my friend Jesus on a couple of Music Festivals he does called "Jesusfest" (Non-religious), and we went to speak with the building owner about renting the facility for that one event. He had mentioned in one of our meetings that he was looking for someone to run the facility, which I took as he wanted someone to work for him. I wrote up a business plan in the next couple of days and brought it in to him as a resume for managing the club under him. He informed me that he didn't have any employees, but if I brought it back to him later he would consider leasing the facility to me. I went home, re-did the business plan, spoke to some private investors, borrowed $17,000, and met with the owner one more time. Now here it is.
The biggest obstacle so far has been the money. Not acquiring it, but the fact that I got it in chunks. I only started with five grand and got it in pieces. So I've been operating with very little cash each month.
We also had to rent a sound system to start out with, which sucked.
RP: What thus far has been the biggest challenge for you running this club?
CM: Time. There's not enough time in the day, and it kind of upsets me that I'm forced to sleep. I could get so much more done if I didn't have to. At one point I was going to school and working two jobs on top of running the club.
And it's not just my time that's causing problems. All of my help is volunteer. That means that anybody who helps out has to have an actual job to support themselves. This makes it very hard to find help for some of the shows. Especially when we're doing three shows a week.
RP: For all the independent bands out there, what do you suggest to them to get booked at your place? What are you looking for in a new band?
CM: Send us an e-mail at our g-mail account. Make sure there's a way to listen to your music.
We're looking for good solid musicians, a band that can really play to the crowd, and good people. If you're an asshole, we probably won't want to have you. It's your fans that make or break you so don't be a dick. Mingle with your fans. They'll love you.
RP: Have you had any issues with the community about this? (i.e. noise complaints, etc.)
CM: We haven't had any complaints about the noise. We've had complaints about the parking in the back, people on the tracks, and people teasing the guard dogs next door. Most of which have been fictionally grounded. We have a good relationship with the police. When we opened I went down and spoke with the Chief of Police. I let him know what we were doing and that we were aiming for a safe environment. He was very cordial and didn't treat me like an adolescent (as so many others do).
RP: Wow, that's refreshing to hear, so how much support has your community given you?
CM: We've seen a lot of support through our regular attendees, bands and comedians who perform for free, and my volunteers. The owner of the building has been helping out a lot as well by sending people my way who are interested in renting out his facility for parties and such. When he's full he sends them here.
RP: How much time per week do you usually spend in regards to running this operation?
CM: About 50 hours a week at the club and then working at home and elsewhere another 10-15 hours. It has changed with the season though. When summer comes back around again I will probably be working more.
RP: Shit dude, that's a ton of hours. Ever wish you had more free time?
CM: Not really. Most of this feels like free time. I'm working but I'm doing something awesome. I get to work with my friends and watch multiple concerts a week. I meet new people pretty much on a daily basis. That's probably my favorite thing about this job; all the new acquaintances.
RP: What's your opinion on the state of independent music these days?
CM: There are a lot of really hard working and devoted bands out there right now. There is a lot of undiscovered talent. We get tons of different genres through the club, but our hardcore genres have hit the hardest. We've had stuff as big as Showbread, but some of the local and regional acts rival that of the larger bands. We have locals that pull more than bands of Showbread's stature. Blessed By Falling, Burning Twilight, and Rattlesnake Renegade (one of our youngest bands) are all from Centralia/Chehalis, and are usually involved in our bigger shows. Then we also have bands like The Roe, who pull fairly well and are from Bend, OR. The one thing that all of these bands have in common is how well they play to a crowd. As a club owner, having independent bands that can pull is almost as nice as having bigger signed bands.
I think that the internet and p2p file sharing has really been destroying the major music industry, but I think it has almost had the reverse effect on independent music. A lot of the independent bands don't have their stuff sold commercially which means it’s harder to pirate it. That means people have to actually buy their albums and/or purchase their stuff off of places like smartpunk.com.
MySpace has been the best thing to happen to independent music in a long time, it could also be the worst. I mean, it's a giant network of bands, fans, promoters, and clubs. And it's free. It's spread the work of some really good bands and some not so good ones. It's made their material accessible to more people.
RP: What advice would you give to people like yourself, young adults if you will, trying to attempt a venture similar to this?
CM: Stay organized, keep your focus, and have a good time. If you don't enjoy yourself, things will get to you a lot more. When you're stressed out, you panic when things go wrong rather than just fix the problem.
RP: You said this just kind of fell in your lap, 2 years ago did you ever imagine yourself doing something like this?
CM: Not necessarily a venue, but my own business? Yes. I actually owned a T-shirt company with two of my good friends. We started it when I was 17. They were dating and when they broke up, it ended. So the whole business thing has always appealed to me. I actually only took one year of any business classes when I was a senior. I kind of just winged the rest. I learned a lot from that first business though that I can implement into the new one.
RP: How long will you have your lease for?
CM: The lease right now is until January 1, 2009. If this year goes well, we will end up buying the building. We've already discussed this with the owner and he's all for it.
RP: What are some of your goals for the club in the near future?
CM: Booking larger acts, selling in-club advertising, completing our actual website, and paying my help. Oh and we'd also like to start a team for the American Cancer Society's Cancer Walk this May.
RP: You mentioned your volunteers, around how many volunteers do you have and how active are they?
CM: I have around 13 volunteers. The majority of them are just during shows, but there are a few others that help me with day-to-day stuff. My friends and peers have all been very supportive. They all love the club and pretty much everyone I know has offered to lend a hand in some way.
RP: Do you have any longer term goals for the club? Something that'd you'd like to see blossom 1-2 years down the road?
CM: Purchasing the building is our biggest goal right now. We'd like to start doing some festivals, starting in the summer of 2009. We're also working on a clothing line that we would be selling on-line and in-club. We would also sponsor independent bands to go on the road with our gear.
RP: Favorite part about the music scene in the Northwest?
CM: The people. Everybody, crowds and bands, have been really into the music. If somebody gets knocked down, somebody else picks them up. They take care of each other. It's like a hardcore family.
RP: Centralia or Olympia?
CM: There's a lot more to do in Olympia, but there's nothing to do in Centralia. Which means you'll probably end up hanging out with us at the club. And I love new friends. Plus, we're only 25 minutes away, and they don't really have as much of a music scene anymore.