“But I don’t sit idly by/I’m planning a big surprise/I’m gonna fight for what I want to be/And I won’t make the same mistakes/Because I know how much time that wastes/and function is the key/To the waiting room.”
When Ian MacKaye of Fugazi wrote these lyrics, he was most likely referencing the frustrating ennui and inability to kick start a music scene in Washington, D.C., circa the mid-1980s. MacKaye did eventually have a major part in spearheading the post-hardcore music movement, through his work with Fugazi and the work of the indie label he launched, Dischord Records. Yet the song cited above, “The Waiting Room,” perfectly encapsulates that moment when an artist realizes that clear-headed vigilance is going to be necessary when seeking to drag a dream into reality.
Which is most likely why Donny Kutzbach and Chris Ring wanted to name their new venture the Waiting Room. The two are music promotion veterans – Kutzbach as co-founder of Fun Time Presents and co-owner of the Town Ballroom, Ring as head of After Dark Entertainment – and are well aware that “function is the key” in our own music scene, one that seems to be forever walking the tightrope between great success and dismal failure.
On Monday, Kutzbach and Ring opened the Waiting Room at 334 Delaware Ave., the site of the former Sinful Nightclub. It’s directly across the street from Ani DiFranco’s Babeville, which houses the Ninth Ward, Asbury Hall and Hallwalls. Already, the club is boasting an impressive roster of upcoming shows, including the Slackers (tonight), Andrew W.K. (April 15), Ron Hawkins and the Do-Good Assassins (May 17), and Jonathan Richman (June 19). Already, hopes and expectations are high within a scene that recently endured a devastating setback with the closing of the fabled Mohawk Place.
“Right away, when we knew Mohawk was closing, we knew we needed to do something,” Kutzbach said on Monday before the Waiting Room’s debut gig, headlined by the Polar Bear Club.
“Some of the first shows I ever booked were at Mohawk Place, and I loved doing shows there. The idea was to build a band slowly – maybe they’d come to Mohawk the first time and play to 50 people, then come back a second time and play for three times that many. Those intimate shows, when a band is just starting to break, are among my favorite shows of all. We needed a place in town where that could continue to happen,” he said.
Kutzbach and Ring wanted to strike rapidly and with surgical precision, which was a wise move – the longer Mohawk Place remains closed without a suitable club to fill the void, the greater the potential damage to the independent music scene in town. Such scenes can scatter to the winds fairly quickly when there is no central hub for their activity. As healthy as the jam band, DJ, blues and jazz scenes are at various clubs, without Mohawk Place, indie-rock – both of the Buffalo artist and touring band variety – was in a very precarious position.
Kutzbach said he knew the area needed a room with the capacity of the Waiting Room, about 450 people, or twice the size of Mohawk.
Of course, the Waiting Room will not be Mohawk Place Part II, necessarily, though some of the late, lamented club’s staff will be working there. There are two stages – a large main stage with a newly constructed soundbooth, and a smaller “songwriter stage” which will feature mainly local, largely acoustic acts.
Recall, too, that Mohawk Place, as much as we all loved it and considered it home away from home, was housed in an old, dilapidated building, and offered an atmosphere that was at best dingy and at worst, kinda gross. The Waiting Room, Kutzbach said, will be “like Mohawk Place in vibe, and in the sense of community, but cleaner, with better sightlines and better sound.”
The fact that Kutzbach and Ring are proven commodities in the area concert promotion business is not something to be taken particularly lightly here. Too often, the initial enthusiasm that convinces someone to enter into the music club business wanes rapidly when it meets the cold, hard light of day, and with it, the realization that this is a complex business with a seemingly endless list of variables that can define success or failure.
When the dream and the reality fail to reconcile, more often than not, the club is sold or closes. A tough economy, more competition than the population would seem to warrant and a public that can sometimes spend more time complaining about perceived problems than offering support that might solve a few of those problems – well, when it’s your first rodeo, all of this must surely be overwhelming, arriving as it does all at once.
The previous success Kutzbach and Ring have had promoting concerts individually and together at such venues as the Town Ballroom and with the Outer Harbor concerts bodes well for the Waiting Room’s success.
Ultimately, though, that success comes down to us. If we want a healthy music scene here, we need to be actively involved in supporting it.