By Evan C. Jones
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After nearly four years putting on some of the city's best experimental rock, noise and electronic shows, Radio Cherokee will close at the end of July.
Besides the usual day job and real-life crunches for co-operators Galen Gandolfi and Dave Early, the decision to shutter the venue at 3227 Cherokee Street came down to money or, more precisely, the lack thereof. "We're in utter financial ruin," Gandolfi says candidly, almost cheerfully. "The thing is, there are various loans we have it's not just the mortgage. We had to have a loan for the lateral sewer, we had to have a loan for the roof. We're not making ends meet. We need to cut our losses before things get too far out of hand. The goal was never really to make money, but we were hoping to keep debt in check. Debt at this point is almost unabated. It's essentially all about the spreadsheet, unfortunately."
Gandolfi goes on to laughingly relate how they only cover the mortgage payments during months when crowd favorite electro-pop performance artists Femme Fatality play.
Fittingly, the venue's run will end with a rare show from experimental instrumentalists Grand Ulena on Wednesday, July 19, and venerable indie-rockers Bunnygrunt on Sunday, July 23.
Gandolfi and Early met at a Cardinals game in 1998, three weeks before the former was to move to Boston. Gandolfi eventually returned to St. Louis, and idle talk about collaborating on a project that included music eventually led to Radio Cherokee's opening in October 2002.
To put it mildly, the early days of the venue were DIY.
"When we opened Radio Cherokee, it was all being run by one socket with an extension cord out of the garage," Gandolfi recalls. "People would go to the bathroom, where there were no lights. You could unplug the band if you went to the bathroom and tripped over the cord. Our first couple shows, we didn't have a roof. Water would leak onto the bar."
But in the ensuing years, touring groups and local underground artists (Gandolfi personally gives thanks to Illinois noise bands such as Skarekrau Radio, who played Radio Cherokee last week) have made it a destination for those looking for shows beyond the mainstream.
"The people that are involved, it's a really good group of people we had down there," Early says. "If it wasn't such a good group of people and bands that we had there, I would have said ‘the hell with it' about a year in."
While Gandolfi won't get specific, he says that "there could always be some sort of return from time to time Radio Cherokee revisited."
That might have to do, seeing as how the partners' attempts to recruit someone to take over the club were unsuccessful.
"Unfortunately, no one has really bit at that," Gandolfi reports. "It's probably been about three months we've been trying to find somebody to take it over as an indie-rock club so it doesn't have to turn into an H&R Block on the corner. And unfortunately, none of that has materialized."
Early and Gandolfi intend to maintain a presence on Cherokee Street, however. Early will open Snowflake, a store for vintage furniture and furnishings (open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Saturday); Gandolfi's Fort Gondo Compound for the Arts remains a popular performance space and gallery.
"In keeping with the indie-rock mentality, four years is an admirable run," Gandolfi says. "We think it was a success; it wasn't that ephemeral. It actually has surpassed expectations."
The liquor license hearing for the Creepy Crawl's new location at 3524 Washington Avenue is scheduled for 2 p.m. Monday, June 19, downtown at city hall (1200 Market Street) in Room 208. Word to the wise: The hearing is open to the public. Rockers, barflies and just plain fans of local music might want to consider showing up in their best duds to express support for the club. Annie Zaleski
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