By Joseph Hess
By Joseph Hess
By Allison Babka
By Gina Tron
By Kelsey McClure
By Roy Kasten
By RFT Staff
By Oakland L. Childers
When Mike Cracchiolo and Kenny Snarzyk attended their weekly meeting at Cicero's last Monday, they were in good spirits. Snarzyk, the venue's publicist, had just played a packed New Year's Eve show at the venue with his band Fister alongside Not Waving but Drowning and Machree. The RFT had just included Cracchiolo's takeover of booking at Cicero's as one of 2011's "Biggest St. Louis Music News Stories."
"When we went in at 2 p.m., I was surprised to see BC [assistant general manager and special-events manager Brian Colon]," Snarzyk says. "He told me that Shawn [Jacobs, venue owner] wanted him to come early for the meeting. Then Shawn came in and fired us. I thought he was joking at first. He wasn't."
Snarzyk continues, "Shawn said things weren't working out, and he wanted a clean break, which really caught us off-guard. Honestly, we weren't expecting anything like that. We had been there for six months, and things were looking up, but he just wasn't seeing the numbers he wanted."
"We were basically just told that they decided to go in a different direction," Cracchiolo says. "There wasn't a lot of talk in the meeting about specifics, other than they didn't see enough improvement in the numbers, and they had complaints about my organizational abilities. I was fairly clear from the get go that I felt my priority was to spend my time booking, not to fill out paperwork in the most accurate way. I think that rubbed them the wrong way, and there were clerical errors on my end. And I thought that was just growing pains, and we kind of squashed that by the end. There's no good time to hear they didn't want to work with us anymore, but it was particularly bitter for me."
There were disconnects between Cracchiolo and Snarzyk with the venue owner. "Shawn's old-school; he doesn't even use the Internet or anything," Snarzyk says. "Most of the time we'd work from home, and my job rarely involved me to physically be at Cicero's. He didn't see us knee deep in the mess. He saw us coming in to pick up a paycheck and maybe getting a bite to eat every once in a while. So maybe to him we were dead weight."
"At the meeting, Shawn didn't even know what Kenny did there," Cracchiolo says. "He talked to both of us as if we were both booking shows. He told Kenny that he could still book shows every once in a while. Kenny said, 'I'm not going to book shows here because I don't book shows. I'm your publicist.'"
When Cracchiolo and Snarzyk began working at Cicero's, they inherited some of the venue's problems. "There were shows already scheduled when we got there, and they told us not to wipe them off the books no matter how bad they would be," Snarzyk says. "Shows that shouldn't have been booked, out-of-town bands with no draw and no local support. Then at this meeting Shawn asked why we didn't just cancel those shows and book our own over them. But we were told not to.
"We didn't really get the books to ourselves 100 percent until September, and Mike did a hell of a job booking great shows. Then the Cardinals went into the playoffs and annihilated everything. We had Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band, which should have sold out the room, coming in a little bit shy of the guarantee. The Cardinals were playing the Phillies that night, and Wilco was playing across town, so it was a tough night on everybody. And November was good. December and January are bad for every venue, but we still did quite a few successful shows last month."
The pair was also handed a room with an identity crisis. Cicero's was once a dirty basement venue that hosted experimental shows and future legends such as Beck and the Flaming Lips. Most people remember Cicero's more recently as a haven for jam bands. "People might turn their noses up at Cicero's, but they were really thriving as a jam-band room," Cracchiolo says. "After that died down, they meandered for a bit."
In a recent blog post on RFT Music, Chris Bay speculated that Cracchiolo handling the venue's booking "may have the potential to bring the focus back to what [Cicero's] was in those early days, when in addition to booking local artists it also fostered talented yet relatively unproven touring bands working hard to build an audience."
Cracchiolo was hired based on his success booking at the Firebird, where his agenda is bringing national acts and hosting special-event shows for local bands. "I have relationships with agents, and I've developed credibility with them," Cracchiolo says. "We've developed trust, and that more than anything is what opened Cicero's up to doing more national groundbreaking stuff. Agents have different concerns. Sometimes it's about the bottom line, sometimes it's about how the bands are going to be treated, sometimes it's about the size of the room, the crowd they perceive the room to have. Cicero's had fallen off the map to agents, and there's no question that the reason they were OK with doing shows there was because we were the ones doing it."
Cracchiolo continues, "It's not that they didn't know Cicero's exists. It's not that they didn't know there was a 200-capacity room in St. Louis. It was because we bridged that gap, and we made them comfortable bringing their bands to the room. That's probably the single most important thing somebody could have done for the place if the goal is to book national talent. And we didn't have a real clear goal going in, it was a process of finding what was going to work and who was going to respond well to the room. We were just finally getting a handle on it and starting to expand on it when the rug was pulled out from under us."
The only Cicero's manager available for comment was general manager Karen McVicker. She dismisses the idea that Cracchiolo and Snarzyk's departure will have much of an effect on the venue. "We've done national bands on and off since we started doing live music," she says. "We've been doing live music since 1984, and we'll continue doing live music."
The future of Cicero's is now somewhat unclear, though Cracchiolo and Snarzyk feel no animosity toward the venue. "I honestly don't want that place to do bad," Snarzyk says.
"I really really enjoyed working with both Kenny and [the] great staff at Cicero's," Cracchiolo says. "They have to decide what's best for their business. I don't have any bad feelings, I just feel bad if in the end it's all a waste of time. I think maybe that at the end of the day they didn't know quite what they wanted or what to expect, and those expectations were certainly never made clear to me. I had my own vision of what the place could be, and I think we made a lot of headway, and I hate to see that not come to fruition."
"If you're asking for my personal reaction, it was pretty painful to hear and very disappointing," Cracchiolo says. "If you're asking for my professional reaction, I'd say it's a bad idea to fire us if they intend to do live music there in the future beyond just weekends. I want the venue to thrive doing whatever they decide."
Snarzyk concurs, "Shawn's a good guy, and I don't think he's stupid. He's been running that place for 35 years, and he'll be running it for a long time in the future. I just think he made a bad decision this time."
Oh! It all makes sense now! I couldn't figure out why so many cool bands were playing Cicero's in the last six months. I assume it will go back to being a dead venue now. A word to the owner: just because you've been in business so long doesn't mean you still have any idea of what you're doing.
I am trying my hardest to feel sorry for Mike Cracchiolo on this subject. He is a somewhat nice guy and his heart falls definitely in the realm of a true music lover. What pisses me off about him here is the part where he says he walked in to the club faced with a whole bunch of shows that he seems to do everything but call outright turds. My wife, Laura Hamlett booked and ran that club for two years prior to taking a job elsewhere. She did a great job. There were nights when that place was packed out the door, and others, admittedly, where there was a great act on the stage and a few people in the audience. That is booking, that is running a club - sometimes you win and sometimes you lose, but the quality of the music was never in question. Laura took a club that was certainly known as a Jam Band haven and turned it back into a club that featured many really impressive touring and local bands. I also had a great deal of trouble swallowing the RFT's sorrow on this count. They never supported the club while she ran it and worked hard to ignore it and almost all of its shows. Ironically, the club that all too often got the press in the RFT was the Firebird - Cracchiolo's downtown home - which the RFT took great pains to write about ad nauseum. Laura and I agreed that at least if they were bringing Mike in to run Cicero's, the RFT would be a little nicer to the club - which deserves the attention. [It didn't help that Shawn, Cicero's owner, disliked the RFT and banned it from his club.] This article makes it sound like Cracchiolo pulled the club out of some jam-band primordial ooze and, after only 6 months (confronted ruthlessly with the Cardinals winning the pennant and Wilco appearing for the millionth time in town) he was unceremoniously canned. Sadly, this is just business. Cicero's is making their choice - a wrong one in my opinion - and the RFT is dispensing their typical whine and moan job. They are, as usual, a part of the cause of the problem and then they burst into tears when the obvious happens. Ah, our hometown free-weekly, sloppy as ever.
everyone knows the firebird usually gets the best shows in town that can't exactly fill the pageant and don't want to deal with the sodom that is pops. i've went to more shows at cicero's in the last 6 months than i have in the last 6 years.. why? because mike books good shows. end of story... can't wait for the narrows/apmd show in march, which i'm sure mike booked... i'm pretty sure kenny lived in a window for a week, and set up a bunch of other cool and interesting events that i've never seen at cicero's. two good dudes that do a great job got canned over impatience. have fun drawing the same patchouli smelling crowd with some weak hacky sack playing jam band week after week, cicero's.. i will say the food and staff at cicero's are outstanding, but the venue RARELY books decent shows, and will continue now that mike and kenny are gone. guess i'll continue to go to cicero's for the outstanding food, beer, and service, but not for shows.
This sucks so bad. There were some very underrated national bands that I saw in Ciceros late last year that I enjoyed a lot - Youth Lagoon and Givers, are two. I'm guessing these kind of bands won't happen again at Ciceros...
They had "Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band", hmm... If more people knew of the show they would have sold out. I know I would have gone and probably would have brought 5 - 10 other people with me.
This is bad news. I had never seen a live show at Cicero's until last year, when Mike started booking the shows. Several of those shows, including the Ettes and Moon Duo, were among the best of the year in my opinion. Cicero's is making a huge mistake by letting these dudes go.
Are you kidding me??!!This is a JOKEThe Firebird is the WORST venue in the STL areaThey are rude and their prices for their shows are RIDICULOUS!I went to a show they " presented"I was the only one there!They didnt "present" ANYTHINGIf they couldnt promote a show at Ciceors; what makes them think that they can take care of the booking?Ciceros should NEVER have done business with them.They have amazing shows there; it sjust people would rather get wasted or high than support local musicSOMEONE with actualy KNOWLEDGE of booking bands ought to take care of the booking.
Now Cicero's is free to concentrate on their core audience: Impatient teenagers who wander over from Fitz's hour-long wait.
200x$20 bucks equals $4 grand200x$40 bucks equals $8 grandgive the band a third and you are looking at $1500 to $2500 acts.good bands spend that much just traveling to the venue.single artists may be able to pull it off.long live cicero's back room.
Jim, I'm not asking you or anyone to feel sorry for me. But please note that I didn't say anything negative about Laura in the article- the quote you reference was Kenny's.
I guess I can console myself with the fact that you think I'm a "somewhat nice guy." :\
Erica, I'm sorry I was rude to you at the Pretty Reckless/ Autovein show. You yelled at me in front of a bunch of people and reacted to it badly. I'm sorry you had to stand outside in the cold but that was because the headliner went way over on their soundcheck. It wasn't the club's fault. You don't have to keep making up insulting things to say about my staff or our shows when it's my behavior you had an issue with. I've seen you at plenty of the shows I booked at Cicero's so clearly it's not as bad as you're making it out to be.
Except for Bug Girl, that show was a total turd. You're right about that one.
You're the lady that complained about the Bug Girl show at Cicero's once, aren't you? You're like a parrot without a cracker. In a gas chamber.
ok so let's recalculate based on the same-ol-same-olgas money from parents basement to cicero's = $20 bucksband draw potential = 0number of show attendees (minus relatives, band friends and staff) = 0
what was i thinking to post that a quality touring band would need a couple grand to get around from town to town. i suppose i forgot the starving artist factor.
who pays 20 or 40 bucks for a show at cicero's? that's ridiculous. bands that are playing rooms like cicero's should be getting a 10 dollar cover, max.
How much do bad bands spend getting to venues? Where could these good bands be coming from that it costs $2500 to get there?
Yeah that doesn't make any sense. Most bands tour on a shoestring and don't go out on the road to do one gig. Travel expenses are agregated over the course of several dates. I suspect a lot of bands wouldn't spend over $2k in a week on the road. And since when does Cicero's book shows that cost fourty bucks a ticket?