Booking a music venue can sometimes be challenging. Hell, what am I saying? It’s always challenging. A booking manager deals with a multitude of different personalities and situations on a regular basis. These are just a few that occurred this past season: a band of merry musicians coming from quite a distance got stuck in a massive traffic jam and couldn’t make it to the venue in time for a sound check; a pesky winter storm decided to be on and off again all day long on the day of a show which eventually caused us to cancel the show; and how about the time when the immigration services officials didn’t process some paperwork in time for a Canadian musician to come and play an opening set? Yeah, how about that time?
This is when fate or coincidence or what you have you came into play….and made some of our patrons deliriously happy.
The show in question: Anais Mitchell was scheduled as the feature. We were looking forward to Anais playing our venue for the second time and also psyched to have Ian Foster from way up there in Newfoundland as the opener. Ian had been on our radar and the timing looked good for him to be in New England that weekend. Then as the date approached, Ian informed me that things were not looking good for his entry into this country for our gig or for several others that he had arranged that month. We held onto hope for as long as we could. Then Ian called to tell me that it just wasn’t going to happen and that I better make another arrangement for an opener for Anais.
This is when the fate or coincidence part comes into play and this when the “Happiness Happens” at the me&thee begins to take over.
But first let me digress or a moment to give you some context.
Last summer I had the opportunity to go to the Philadelphia Folk Festival. It’s one of the longest running folk festivals in the country. It attracts thousands and thousands of artists from all over the world and it has stages scattered around the festival site. One of the very cool things that the Philly folks do is to put a large sign up by each stage that tells you who is on stage at that moment. I was wandering by a stage at one point and noticed that John Gallagher Jr. was on stage. I knew John from his work on TV, movies, and stage but mainly knew of him via my daughter who happened to work in the costume department on the HBO series, Olive Kitteridge, which John appeared in as the son of Frances McDormand (Olive). I did some research about him only to discover that he won a Tony Award for Spring Awakening and that he also played music, usually in the NYC area and that he had played with a friend of mine, Anthony da Costa. I couldn’t let the opportunity pass and knew that I had to wait around and say hello at the end of his set. Coincidentally, he was not scheduled to play the fest but got a last minute request to play when another performer injured himself and couldn’t appear.
So, I watched the end of John’s set and waited for him to pass by and told him about my Olive Kitteridge and Anthony da Costa connections. We had a pleasant exchange and I told him that I booked a coffeehouse near Boston. He asked where and I told him and he said “Oh, I’ve been to Marblehead before and I’d love to play your venue.” I told him that I’d be in touch. However, when I got home and tried to get in touch I couldn’t find any contact information for him. That’s about the time that I decided that I better start carrying business cards.
Fast forward three months to Ian Foster’s customs issue and an email arrives in the me&thee in box on the day that Ian cancelled his gig. It’s from John Gallagher Jr. who says he met the “kind proprietor” of the coffeehouse at the Philly Folk Festival and he wondered if we had any opportunities coming up. Boy, did we ever! I got in touch immediately and told him about the Anais Mitchell show. He was thrilled and told me that he had been a long-time fan. I felt that this was a match made in heaven because I was aware that Anais’ folk opera, Hadestown, would be produced in NYC in 2016 and that it would be a great opportunity for the two to meet. By the way, as I type this— Hadestown has an extended run at the New York Theatre Workshop and John Gallagher Jr is appearing in Long Day’s Journey into Night alongside Jessica Lange and Gabriel Byrne.
This is when the fun of producing this show started happening. I did some market research to see where Spring Awakening had been produced recently and targeted those college programs and local theatre troupes. Who wouldn’t want to see a Tony-Award winning actor who performed in a play you were in? That marketing instinct worked when ticket sales started to pick up like crazy. Success!
And this is where some happiness starts to come into play. We got a Facebook message from the mother of a student at nearby Salem State University. She asked if there would be the opportunity to meet John Gallagher Jr. since her son played the same part in the college production of Spring Awakening! You bet there would be a meet and greet!
Some happy smiles here. Scott Jacobs gets to meet John Gallagher Jr.
As the date got closer, I began to think of other ways to make this a really memorable show and when I saw a ticket purchase come in from a local musician who is a killer fiddler…I couldn’t help but ask him if he could bring his instrument with him and then I couldn’t help but ask him if he happened to know any Bruce Springsteen songs and then I couldn’t help but ask John Gallagher Jr. during sound check if he’d be game to have a fiddler join him on a Bruce song. I could tell this tickled John and after an incredibly fast run-through, our plan was in action.
This is what David Delaney of The Whiskey Boys had to say about his evening at the me&thee last November.
“Maybe she’ll ask you to play a song with her!” said my girlfriend when I told her I’d gotten us tickets for the Me & Thee Coffeehouse to see Anais Mitchell. I assured Heather that that was crazy and it would be a dream if I just got a chance to tell Anais what an inspiration she is for my own songwriting and also to gush to her about how clever I think her lyrics are in “If It’s True What They Say” and “Young Man in America.” Then, lo and behold, the day of the concert I get a Facebook message from Kathy asking if I’d like to play some fiddle on a song with the opening act, the famous and talented in his own right, Johnny Gallagher.
I was pretty flattered and definitely game to play “Atlantic City” anytime, anywhere, so I packed my fiddle for the concert, and after a quick rehearsal with Johnny found myself onstage to sound check. The night was already going to be great because I’d get to hear one of my favorite musicians on the planet perform for the insane price of $20/ticket, but so far this was way beyond expectations. Sneaking in early for soundcheck meant I got to meet Anais who was super gracious and thankfully my nerves prevented me from talking her ear off too much about how the way the lyrics of “If It’s True What They Say” drift off into a B section and then loop back to the A section to hammer home the question of the song is so powerful and how all my friends know it because I make them listen and then talk through the whole recording.
To jump to the end of the story, Johnny killed “Atlantic City” and I had a ton of fun playing the lick between verses. At one point he came to a full stop followed by a big reentrance of the melody and I knew too well I’d whiffed it in our two-minute rehearsal, but it must have been a good two minutes because we nailed it in performance.
See David in action here.
That, and an Anais Mitchell concert in Me & Thee’s perfect-for-acoustic-music room would have been a memory to look back on for a long time but what cemented it forever was when during one of Anais’ last songs she asked if I was still out there in the audience and would hop up to play a solo. I was too nervous! And thought maybe she was joking? But she asked again in the next solo section and it turns out you only need to ask twice. I got to play on a song I’d been listening to for years by one of my favorite songwriters. Thanks Me & Thee, I’ll definitely be back.
Here’s a video of David making a dream come true!
Yes, you bet….we made a whole lot of people happy at this show.
Photos of David and Anais and John and Anais by Cliff Garber. Thanks, Cliff!