An unexpected ending, and new opportunities for two familiar booking agents | Music Feature | Indy Week

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An unexpected ending, and new opportunities for two familiar booking agents

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During the last two weeks, the network of Triangle music venues has endured one of its occasional bouts of unrest, with two old rooms closing and two longtime booking agents in the area landing new gigs. These moves are more than simple small business transactions: They affect the bands you can see locally and where you can see them.

South and north of Berkeley

Less than 48 hours before picking up the phone, Marianne Taylor nearly fit more people into Berkeley Cafe than she ever had before. More than 300 customers paid to see Southern Culture on the Skids play Saturday night, but between club and band guest lists, she reckons 350 people squeezed into the small two rooms on Raleigh's West Martin Street. It was the last stand for the larger, music-hall side of the venue, so people wanted to pay final respects to a room that's been open for a quarter-century. But already, Taylor has her gaze firmly fixed toward the future.

"A piece of history is lost with the Berkeley Cafe closing," says Taylor, who turns 60 this week. "But there's a lot more going on, and I'm really excited for it."

Before Southern Culture hit the stage for that last gig, Taylor announced that she'd be moving about a mile north in downtown Raleigh, to Southland Ballroom. After a show this Saturday, the club just off Glenwood South will close for 10 days to overhaul its sound and lighting systems and to put new management in place. Taylor, whose expertise sits squarely within the realms of country and bluegrass music, will share booking responsibilities for the 300-capacity venue with Eric Puentes, previously responsible for the club's mix of jam bands, heavy metal and indie rock.

"I was proud of the bands I got in here, but I was colliding with what else was here," says Puentes, adding that Southland's previous focus on electronic music will fade under new management. "I think it's going to be the perfect change. That's what I've been waiting for—for it to be all about the music and nothing else."

By now, Taylor is accustomed to working in transition. She began her career booking bands in Raleigh by bringing Americana to The Pour House. In October 2006, she shifted to Hideaway BBQ, an ill-fated restaurant and rock club outside of downtown Raleigh on Capital Boulevard. When that room closed, she landed at Berkeley Cafe in January 2008. She thinks she'll stick around Southland for a while.

"I tell people that I always land on my feet," Taylor says, laughing. "But the coming down is not so easy."

Southland will welcome Taylor to its team with a free open house concert at 8 p.m. Saturday, July 20. John Howie Jr., Michael Rank & Stag and the new Superlove Highway split the bill. —Grayson Currin

Durham's Broad Street Cafe closes

In mid-April, the owners of The Broad Street Cafe posted on Facebook of their plans to host a punk rock Fourth of July show. In May, they celebrated their wins as finalists in INDY Week's Best of the Triangle contest, for best place to see music before 10 p.m. and best open mic. And throughout June, they posted regular updates about upcoming performances, beers on tap and lunch specials. It was business as usual, and by all appearances, a booming one.

But on Friday, they offered an entirely unexpected entry: "Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened," the post began. "As of the close of business on Sunday night, June 30, 2013, we are serving up our last wood-fired pizza and closing the Café."

The news was something of a surprise even to the co-owners of Broad Street, a venue, restaurant and bar that's been open on Durham's Broad Street for the better part of a decade. They made the decision only two weeks before the announcement.

"You always face challenges in the restaurant business," says co-owner Paul Brock. "But when we talked about changes we wanted to make to continue to improve, and everything else we had going on, there was not much energy to do that."

Brock, for instance, has three kids and a law practice with co-owner Darin Meece, as well as a growing business making jerky with his brother in South Carolina. Meece also practices law and has a family. John Hite, another owner, works as an IT analyst by day. Anna Fishel, who has served as the general manager since graduating from college, has a 2-year-old daughter and career aspirations of her own.

And then there's the challenge of competing with so many new restaurants and venues in Durham's growing food and music markets.

"One of the cool things in Durham is all of the new things coming out, but it makes it difficult for restaurants," Brock says. "There are more and more choices for people, and the challenge is always, how do you fill the tables?"

But Brock insists the decision wasn't made because Broad Street suffered for business. Indeed, after making the announcement Friday morning, the owners intended on a three-day sendoff for their business. But the outpouring of support on Friday and Saturday was so overwhelming that the kitchen was completely emptied by the end of Saturday's service. The restaurant canceled its Sunday night celebrations. Instead of wood-fired pizza and Americana music, visitors on Sunday met dark windows, chairs stacked on tables and a printed sign taped to the door: "Closed for Business."

Beneath that line, though, there was a more hopeful epitaph, a suggestion that the ovens and free music might return to the spot: "Business for Sale," it read. —Emma D. Miller

Landing in Durham

In December, Tess Mangum Ocaña—who'd served as the concerts director and rental coordinator at The ArtsCenter for a decade—lost her job, but she didn't lose her drive. In a matter of months, Ocaña announced the formation of her own booking company, Sonic Pie Productions, and her lead role with two free summer concert series in downtown Durham. Now she's got her own room to book again: Ocaña is the new booking agent in the versatile Bull City space Casbah.

"With the outdoor stuff I've been doing, it's a pop-up venue: The sky is the roof, and the dirt is the floor," says Ocaña. "It will be nice to have a brick-and-mortar place again."

At The ArtsCenter, Ocaña generally didn't book local openers for her carefully curated series. That aspect of booking Casbah—selecting locals to open for touring bands—excites her most, especially since she thinks Triangle audiences like venues that pair acts across disparate genres. She's also hoping the wide floor of Casbah will allow her to offer what she dubs "booty-shaking music."

"I want to book fun stuff, anything from swing to hip-hop to square-dancing to soul and funk," she offers, "stuff that gets people out and moving." —Grayson Currin

This article appeared in print with the headline "Club shuffle."

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