If you're a music enthusiast, it sounds like a dream: Your own rock club. Certainly for Isaac Trogdon and Lauren Ford it was something of a dream; but as fresh new graduates of UNC, it was something else more important: a job. "We had both been traveling abroad the summer of 2002. When we came back, we didn't have anything to do, didn't have jobs, and we were broke. We had been to a book reading at the Skylight Exchange and we really liked the space," Ford explains. "We had actually heard the owner (Dennis Gavin) was thinking about doing some late night thing, and he didn't want to do it himself."
So they volunteered. It was something of the perfect situation. They already had the space--the daytime bookstore/record and coffee shop, Skylight--and simply needed to find something that would work at night.
"It was low risk. Dennis was already there. All we had to buy was the cooler and the beer and be willing to pay half his rent," Ford says. "Isaac bought a sound system from a guy from Indy Media, and we bought a cooler. We took out a small loan and started."
They already knew a lot of musicians, since Trogdon had been station manager at WXYC for several years and "was very in touch with the local scene," according to Ford.
But after a successful debut year, Trogdon moved to Berlin. Fortunately, Ford had developed a friendship with one of her interns, Ryan Martin, who had been helping out with sound engineering. When he found out the place might close without Trogdon, Martin stepped into the breach and became Ford's new partner, as well as the venue's new booking person. (He also joined Ford in the bands Boyzone and Boner Machine.)
"We look for anything off-beat or weird. When we see live shows we like to be surprised," Martin explains. "And it's good to have a club that books shows that maybe other clubs which are more rock-centric wouldn't. We try to book stuff that otherwise wouldn't have a home in Chapel Hill."
Certainly with the bookcases lining the walls and the '50s-style lunch counter, Nightlight is not your typical club.
"I see us as being one small part of the Chapel Hill scene. We've always been a little more experimental and a little more of an outsider venue. Things you wouldn't see at the Cradle and which appeal to a more specialized audience," Ford says.
To celebrate the venue's second anniversary, they've brought in bulbous, new waving, rock monster Jett Rink, Chuck Johnson's experimental electronic project Pykrete, locals Mowing Lawns, the all-female rap trio Black Widow, and DJs Admit It, Misty Touch and Monorchid Orchestra. There will be cake, but Nightlight encourages everyone to bring their own celebratory dish and contribute to the potluck party.
Ford says she hasn't quit her day job, but she harbors no regrets.
"It's totally worth it and it's really fun. We definitely don't lose money; we make a little of it. But that isn't why we do it," Ford says. "It's more a labor of love."
Nightlight's anniversary party is Saturday, March 12. The show starts at 10 p.m. and admission is $5.