By Bob McMahon
By Allison Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By Carolina de Busto
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
"Door guys," that's what we call them, or perhaps "bouncers," if we think they look the part. But the best of our city's night-club concierges deserve better, and Paul Stark, who has worked the door for the last five years at Off Broadway, was one of the best. A gentleman and a genuine music fan (and fellow DJ at KDHX, I should disclose), he greeted patrons warmly and patiently, setting the tone for a room that, with the exception of its blues-based near neighbors, has been presenting original, live music longer than just about any night club in the city.
This month Stark retired from his work at Off Broadway, ending a run that saw him stamp the hands of some 200,000 fans over the span of 1,600 shows at the venue. I sat down with him over coffee to reminisce about his time at the door.
Roy Kasten: When did you begin working with Off Broadway?
Paul Stark: In August 2007. Frederick's Music Lounge [where Stark previously worked] had been closed for more than a year. When Fred's closed I thought I didn't want to deal with rock & roll clubs; it was a headache, worrying about people calling in sick, making sure the bills were paid, things like that. The only thing I did with music after we closed the club was the Chippewa Chapel Traveling Open Mic; we went somewhere every week for the open mic night. We settled in at Off Broadway for a one-year run.
During that time, a couple of months after Frederick's closed and Kit [Kellison] bought Off Broadway, probably springtime 2006, I got to know Steve [Pohlman, the co-owner]. He was working the door himself, and he was at that point in the learning curve that he figured out that bartenders tend to make more money than the owner.
I remember when he had that revelation.
I said, "Why don't you tend bar for a while, and I'll watch the door?" It allowed me to be involved with music without having to worry about running a music club.
The first night I worked was September 1, 2007. It was a big rockabilly show, five bands. That was the first day that they decided to become a nonsmoking venue. I looked across the room, it was a crowded night, and I knew that something had changed, architecturally. Looking at the back wall, I was trying to figure out what they did. Well, you could see the back wall because there weren't 200 cigarettes burning! I could see the wall for the first time!
How many total shows did you do?
Let me see.
You actually kept track?
Yeah. A little more than 1,600 shows. About 3,700 bands. You figure two-and-a-half bands a night. I guess that's a pretty long run.
I'd say so.
It started out just helping once in a while, and then it became five nights a week. I pretty quickly picked up other responsibilities. I managed some of the ticketing, did the MySpace and then Facebook pages, and I maintained the website. I was the concierge and helped bands load in and out. And I was the janitor, sweeping up sidewalks, shoveling snow. And I'd also settle up with bands at the end of the night. It then turned into doing something almost every day, and I got to listen to music every day.
Tell me about the most memorable shows.
I'd put them in different categories. There are those artists that I admired and listened to for years and years and finally got to spend time with them. Jonathan Richman, Asylum Street Spankers, Marshall Crenshaw, Webb Wilder, Southern Culture on the Skids, Brave Combo, Rosie Flores, John Doe. Then there were new acquaintances who would come through about once a year, and I would see them so frequently that I consider them friends. Susan Cowsill, for example. When I was nine years old and she was nine, I had a huge crush on her. Ellis Paul, a great guy; when he comes through he records for Musical Merry-Go-Round [the show Stark hosts on KDHX], and he has his family records, his ethical, humanist music. I consider him one of the inheritors of Woody Guthrie.
And then there are those bands I never would have heard of if I hadn't been at the door. The School, who recently played the club, from England — they wowed me. I bought the whole catalogue that night. And bands like the Boulder Acoustic Society, the Wiyos, Hot Club of Cowtown, April Smith and the Great Picture Show. I didn't know these artists, but I got to learn about them at the club.
A third category would be artists playing for the first time onstage. The open-mic nights, for example, when someone would be up there with a nice PA system, cool lighting. I felt I could help them with their nervousness. The Folk School student showcases were really neat, with 70 to 80 students who had just finished their sessions and would perform recitals for their families and peers. We also did some burlesque shows, and Lola Van Ella had her school. Instead of mandolins it was pasties and feathers backstage. But they had practiced, and now they were going to perform for the first time.