Mouse kept his promise when he purchased The Cave on April Fools' Day in 2000. "The minute I bought this place, I instituted early shows--7:30 to 9:30--and we've been going strong ever since."
The Cave runs two shows, five days a week, Tuesday through Saturday. "People love it," Mouse says.
"I've been thanked over and over about the early shows." It's worked out well for both bands and fans. Musicians like the fact that they can get in early and play and get out to do a gig for a younger crowd, and the older audiences can go home rocked and rested. "The way I advertised it for the longest time was 'shows for people with real bedtimes.'"
Although Mouse puts national bands in the rotation as well, The Cave is still a local band showcase and a haven for singer/songwriters. "The solo songwriters just can't hold the late night crowd, but they do really well during the early show. So they'll do a lot of that on the weekends and I'll even throw full bands on there, but we mix it up a lot."
The early show suits some bands so well they request the slot. "Some of my old schoolers, Nikki Meets the Hibachi and Joe Bell and the Stinging Blades, who used to be strictly weekend night bands, have relegated themselves down to the early shows on the weekends because their crowds are older and are not staying out as late."
Mouse says there's no end in sight. "It's good for business, it's good for the town, it's good for music lovers. They can come out and see a show after dinner, or even before dinner."
At Raleigh's Pour House, booker Marianne Taylor is having a tougher time with the earlier shows she's instituted. "I book these show with passion, not because I want to make money," Taylor says on the day she's forced to cancel a Billy Joe Shaver show because of poor advance ticket sales. "It makes me sick to my stomach," she says of the cancellation.
Taylor instituted 7 p.m. shows on Sunday nights after talking to fans complaining about how late shows started on Sunday nights. She's dubbed her early shows the Sunday Roots Series, and promises to bring in a mix of national headliners, stars on the horizon and legends.
The series got off to a rousing start in September with a Yep Roc showcase that featured Welsh pianist/crooner Geraint Watkins doing an unorthodox mix of boogie-woogie and lounge music like Captain Beefheart channeling Bob Wills. Tres Chicas, with their tag team harmony, were the featured act. The house was packed for that show, but subsequent ones have not drawn as well.
Taylor says that she came up with the idea because she likes early shows herself. "I figured there's a whole generation of people like me who love great music and don't want to go out to late shows." She's prepared to do some things most bars don't offer to make patrons more comfortable: "What I want to do is have it really relaxed, and have it so that people can bring kids."
Despite the slow start, Taylor is committed to continuing the series. "We're gonna do it as long as people will keep coming. I'm booked into December, and we plan on it being a weekly thing. I try to get a big headliner and then give a new band an opportunity." Tony Joe White is on tap for an early show in November, as is Steve Poltz and Ian McClagen, who played with the Faces and the Stones. Arlo Guthrie's daughter Sarah Lee Guthrie and her husband Johnny Irion are also scheduled. Regional Americana icon David Childers is paired with Jostle Lee. Taylor is even asking promoters to hold down ticket prices to attract an audience.
She remains optimistic that people will come out once the word gets around. "Now I've got agents and artists e-mailing me and calling me and wanting to do those early Sunday night shows. I'm hoping it's gonna get bigger and bigger and pretty soon we won't be able to get all the people in the door."