Black Cat scales back on concert acts

Black Cat scales back on concert acts

Alexander McCall

Restaurant and concert venue Black Cat Burrito recently made the business decision to close its doors to most shows not taking place Friday nights.

The change was sparked by decreasing popularity of weeknight performances by lesser-known acts, bringing a return to a schedule used in previous years.

While some exceptions will be made for holidays and special touring bands, the number of shows per month has been greatly reduced, causing some public outcry by members of the local music scene.

For Otto MacLennan, Black Cat’s doorman in charge of tickets and crowd control, there is a greater need to focus on quality over quantity in order to continue turning a profit as a business.

“The shows we have are a separate entity – a symbiotic relationship – one that requires us to at least not lose money,” MacLennan said. “We need to fine tune it, make it work better, try to bring in more people less often instead of less people more often, a focused laser beam of shows instead of the spray and pray technique.”

Local booking agent Devon Tuttle has worked with Black Cat as a venue for the past three years and sees it as a one-of-a-kind venue.

“While I understand a lot of their reasons for doing it, from a booking standpoint, to lose any space in town is a huge blow to progress,” Tuttle said.

While Black Cat intends for the change to weed out some smaller acts and make room only for the best, Tuttle said that booking does not work that linearly. Many of the shows that he cites as most successful have been on nights other than Friday.

“From my standpoint, every show that I book has a touring band, and touring bands don’t tour Fridays at a time,” Tuttle said. “It means that myself and every other show promoter in town is competing over one day a week and that one day isn’t likely to work for the touring bands that we’re trying to bring through.”

In the few weeks since the change has been in place, Tuttle has already had to turn down some bands, and he fears the lack of accessibility will hurt Boone’s reputation.

“In a perfect world, people who have spaces who could host shows would host shows,” Tuttle said. “But I understand that obviously business owners are not in any way obligated to do that if they feel there’s any risk.”

Travis Reyes, owner of local record store 641 RPM, sees the change as necessary and anticipated based on attendance and waning public support.

“I just think it’s amusing sometimes that people take interest in things after the fact – after they should have been taking notice in things,” Reyes said. “If people are worried about having shows not on Friday night then they should have been out there supporting those shows.”

Since moving to Boone in 1997, Reyes has seen a few cycles of popularity in local music and said that each time, the movement gains traction. Owning a record store, Reyes said he can sympathize with the amount of “theoretical support” over actual monetary action that the local community seems to pour into causes like this.

“For people to be pissed off about this and point that anger toward Black Cat is pointless,” Reyes said. “To all the people that complain, just do something about it. If you want to have a voice in it, you have to be in it.”

MacLennan agrees, saying that while most of the acts booked are well received, small crowds still dominate most shows and end up not only unprofitable for the venue, but also for the bands.

“When we have two employees on the clock all night to sell seven beers and get 10 people in to watch a great band play to an empty room, it’s just depressing,” MacLennan said.

Reyes hopes the change will encourage the opening of a new performance space that does not rely on outside business sales to profit – an effort that Tuttle hopes to pursue himself.

“Space is the most important topic,” Tuttle said. “We can bring any band to town, but if there’s not a place for them to play, that part of the cultural terrain around here is desolate. We’re all adaptive and everyone who’s involved in this exchange and this dialogue, we’re all friends. We’re all pursuing the common good for everyone in this town.”

STORY: LOVEY COOPER, Senior A&E Reporter