Loving the Lull: One upside to the summer slump: it happens everywhere. The Expendables are taking a break from touring and coming home to play two nights at the Catalyst Aug. 14-15.
In the dog days of summer, even rock and roll hides out.
By Curtis Cartier
AT DEER TICK'S sold-out indie rock show at the Crepe Place not long ago, one hipster was heard saying to another, "Man, I'm just glad someone still has shows in the summertime." The porkpie hat-sporting gentleman's observation, it seems, is rooted in what's looking like another bone-dry schedule of summer sounds from a few of Santa Cruz's most famous venues. During the spring and fall, places such as the Catalyst, Rio Theatre and Cayuga Vault are well known for bringing huge names in rock, reggae, indie, folk and hip-hop to the local stage. Yet, each summer, in a pattern stretching back as far as most care to remember, the hot months mark a cold front in the live music output of all three concert halls. And local fans, like our cynically grateful hero at the Deer Tick show, get left pining for the good old days of a few weeks back.
The reasons for the summer slump are many. Gary Tighe, the head music booker at the Catalyst, has seen more than three decades of concert schedules ebb and flow through the seasons. In the spring and fall, his venue averages four or five live concerts per week and at least one big name like Band of Horses, the Mars Volta or Snoop Dogg. Come June, the Cat's quota slips to one or two a week, the Rio drops to about one a week and the Vault gets all but locked shut. Tighe says it's a generally accepted rule that "summers are slow, and that's just the way it is."
"The students leave in the summer and lots of other people take vacations," he says. "Plus you've got the music festivals that make their bands sign radius clauses. So they can't play anywhere near the festival for months before the show. It just makes a difficult situation more difficult."
Nearly every major music festival requires most of its billed acts to promise--in writing--not to play shows in the weeks prior to the event and within a certain distance of the festival grounds. These radius clauses, Tighe says, cost the Catalyst a number of bookings when touring acts are forced to choose between a few headlining shows in towns like Santa Cruz and a huge, well-attended multi-band event such as San Francisco's Outside Lands Music & Arts Festival or the Treasure Island Music Festival. Tighe remembers 2008 and a certain alt-rock icon that got away as the most bitter example of this phenomenon.
"We had Beck all set to play last year, but he couldn't do it in the end because of the radius clause [at Outside Lands]," says Tighe. "We tried to work with the festival promoters on getting him to play. I was willing to hold off announcing it until after the festival but, in the end, it just fell through. It was pretty disappointing,"
As an almost strictly summer-bound pastime, music festivals and their radius clauses are an easy target for blame. But the slump may have more to with the bands themselves than the clubs that book them. When thousands of UCSC students finish their spring finals, stumble through a weekend of alcohol-fueled goodbyes and pack their parents' vans, they go home and bring a sizable hunk of indie, rock, reggae and hip-hop's target audiences with them. Bands know this and plan accordingly. Adam Bergeron, manager and booker at the Crepe Place, blames the migration of students more than anything for the sag. Bergeron, however, like the managers of the still busy Moe's Alley, Kuumbwa and Don Quixote's venues, is able to dig a little deeper into the obscure and keep his concert calendar cluttered from June through August.
"Bands, especially indie rock bands, time their tours with the college students," says Bergeron. "The biggest months are September, October and November. And then again in March, April and May--October and April are really huge. We just keep booking shows because it's what we do. It harder to get people to come in the summer, but we're small so it's not a big deal if it's a flop."
As the co-creator of the hugely successful Outside Lands and Treasure Island music festivals, Allen Scott, of Another Planet Entertainment, also helps run the 3,800-seat Fox Theater in Oakland. He says the newly renovated and charmingly intimate Fox is operating at a similar dismal pace like the Cat and the Rio, but that it's to be expected. Of course, Scott's also got about 150 acts between his two upcoming mega-festivals set to rock in August and October, so he's got plenty to be cheery about.
"The music business is cyclical," says Scott. "In the summer months, bigger venues get a lot more action. It's the same at the Fox. I'd say 25 percent of the bands on [Outside Lands or Treasure Island's] bills played Santa Cruz this year or will play later. Summer a different time of the year, and I say just enjoy it for what it is."
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