Many overlooked people make major contributions to the local music scene. An even-handed doorperson allows you to have fun without endangering yourself or others, and he or she steps in when "others" cross that line. A good soundman enhances a band's live show, keeping the music clear and well mixed so you can hear every note. Your friendly bartenders keep the whole machine lubricated and running on a somewhat even keel. But none of these fine people would have jobs if it weren't for the booker (except for the bartender -- people gotta drink). Boiled down to its particulars, the booker's job seems fairly simple: Bookers make the arrangements for a band to play at a particular venue on a particular night. Make a couple of phone calls and call it a day, right?
The truth is, it's never that easy. Bookers have the unenviable task of dealing with musicians full-time. That means getting ahold of people who keep late hours, wake up late or hung over (or both) and often have one or more straight jobs that keep them unreachable for days at a time. They have to book enough shows that will draw decent-sized crowds to keep the venue open. They field dozens of phone calls from bands that want to play out and then must turn down those bands they think aren't ready. Bookers act as talent scouts, PR reps, agents, businessmen, schedule-makers; above all, they have to be flexible. When a booker does the job well, he or she is invisible. The band shows up ready to play, paying customers show up to see and hear them, the club has enough staff on hand to accommodate the crowd and everyone has a good time. When something goes wrong, well ... it's best not to think about that. Bookers have enough problems.
After talking with several local musicians, it became clear that one booker in town is performing the job with a dedication and sense of commitment that mark him as St. Louis' finest: Shannon Hill over at the Creepy Crawl. Points were awarded in three categories:
1. The "What's Your Name Again?" Factor: Some bookers stick with a core group of bands they know and trust. They want to hear a demo tape or a CD before they'll even call you back if your band is not on their list. This is a stumbling block for bands that haven't been around long enough to do any recording or don't have the money for a decent demo. Shannon scores major points here because of his policy of giving just about any band a shot. Several local bands have played their first-ever public shows at the Creepy Crawl without having any recorded work to their names. That's helping the scene, and it's helping musicians.
2. The "If It's Tuesday, Starkey Blakeman Is Playing at the Dreamcatcher Again" Factor: This is a direct result of Factor No. 1. Too many clubs offer the same bands on the same nights, week after week, because of their bookers' personal lists of acceptable bands. Familiarity breeds contempt, or at least a healthy sense of apathy. Shannon scores high in this category because he books a large number of different bands every month. Yes, they all run toward the "punk/metal/hardcore/rapmetal/generally loud and aggressive" end of the spectrum, but most clubs stick with a certain genre to build an audience, so that point is moot. What matters is the number of bands he books. Will you love them all? Hell, no. But, statistically, you have to end up liking some of them. The sheer volume of bands offered demands it. Variety, because of its spiciness, earns extra points.
3. The "You Have Reached the Voice Mail of the Absentee Booker -- Welcome to the Seventh Circle of Hell" Factor: Shannon calls back. That's it. Every band we talked with for this category listed this as the single most impressive thing about Shannon. He could have won the award on the basis of the response to this category alone. Curses were sworn, tears were shed and group hugs were unashamedly exchanged as the musicians recounted their own horror stories about the massive amounts of time and energy spent trying to get various other bookers to return phone calls. All the musicians polled said they would rather get a rejection phone call instead of being snubbed by bookers who don't need their services, so before the angry deluge of letters from other bookers comes pouring in protesting the amount of time it would take to call back potential bookees (it'll have to be letters, because we have it on good authority that they never call back), just remember those three little words: Shannon calls back. See, your mother was right about the importance of common courtesy and good phone manners.
Shannon, the St. Louis music scene is healthier because of your efforts. Thank you.
-- Paul Friswold
Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.