Tag Archives: Reminiscence

The Rise And Fall Of A Small Venue – Part 5

Sometimes, no matter how hard you fight, you still lose.

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

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If you’re looking to boil it down, Fats mostly died because someone else owned the building and land it sat on.

For months before the closure, we knew something was going to happen. Mishell had been told that the building was going to go away, but hadn’t been told precisely when. As I’ve mentioned before, this was not a lady who was about to go down without a major battle. As such, Mishell started looking for a new spot.

Compromise was not on the table. We were going to keep live-music going, or die in the attempt. This raised the difficulty factor considerably, because it meant that we needed a lot of space, and the right kind of space. It meant that we were NOT going to downsize. It meant that getting a move set up would take an enormous pile of time, money, and effort. We figured that we had until the spring to make it all work.

But all kinds of problems started to pile up. The stress mounted to epic proportions. And, with buildings, there’s always something. In our case, you could find a place you wanted…only to realize that the required fire-suppression system (which would be required for a new tenant) didn’t exist. Adding a fire-sprinkler system to a building is a five to six-figure affair, so landlords assiduously avoid it/ stall it/ ignore it/ dance around it. Fats, by the way, had been sprinklered on Mario and Mishell’s dime – not the landlord’s. There was no way they were going to get roped into that again, and talking a building owner into doing something that major takes some time.

As I said, we figured that we had until spring to make it all work. After all, it wasn’t likely that a demolition team was going to come by and dig in a bunch of frozen dirt.

December rolled around, and we got the news: The building was coming down in January, winter cold or no winter cold. Out of time, out of options, and exhausted from carrying Fats along, Mishell had to let the business go.

Americans have a cultural myth that we cling to. It’s the myth that working your tail off guarantees “success.” Anyone who isn’t successful, then, must not be working hard enough.

We speak this myth to ourselves because we are a frightened people. This fear is not conscious. Our terror lives, quietly, deep in the base of our psyches. It is the masked and hooded figure which quietly whispers, “Disaster may visit anyone.” Without realizing what we’re doing, we hold our torch against the muttering abyss and chant, “Disaster visits those who make the wrong choices. I am making good choices. The bad things can’t happen to me. I am working hard. I’m not like those people. I’m going to be okay.”

But our pitiful torches are very easily snuffed out, a tired hiss and wisp of smoke leaving us in the frigid black. Your choices and your effort may not be enough.

The truth is that everybody at Fats did their jobs. In the end, I can’t personally think of some metaphorical lever that would have saved the place that we just weren’t willing to pull. Mishell ran herself into the ground for the venue. I certainly feel that I put in the time and prep necessary to do shows the right way. I’m not saying that we were perfect; I AM saying that laziness wasn’t a problem for us.

You may run as fast as you know how and still not win the race.

Yet hope remains when, after that sigh of defeat, other torches spring up in the night, their owners walking toward each other. The fire-carriers speak to one-another of the myth, in words like those of Seth Godin: “If it doesn’t work, we should stop telling ourselves that it does.”

The photo above is what I saw when I went downstairs the day after our final, mainstage show. Mario had started the tearout earlier in the morning. Our small-but-mighty stage was now officially retired. The light and sound of that place were now muted, but if I dare say it, the echoes of every note played in the room continued to ring.

The tearout of the mainstage was a poignant bookend to my time at Fats Grill. It was an “in reverse” throwback to the old days, when Mario and I would have those great conversations while show prep was going on. There we were, at work again, except now our purpose was to disconnect and remove everything salvageable. I had brought my checkbook to purchase some of the items that Fats owned. Mario refused to take my money, and let me have anything I wanted.

Mario himself uttered what I think was the definitive statement of that moment:

“Every cable we pulled out was unraveling the mystery of Danny.”

There wasn’t a single thing in that room, down to an adapter, mic clip, or lighting clamp, that didn’t have a story. Everything had been put in a piece at a time, with a specific purpose as we grew and refined the production for the basement. There wasn’t so much as a screw that didn’t have a measurable quantity of our lives in it. Every mic, whether it made it out alive or not, carries some part of the history of Fats.

It’s a history shared with many people, and with both love & luck, it might be that the history of Fats is now merely the opening act of another story. I hope so.

See you around, Fats. We sure will miss you.


The Rise And Fall Of A Small Venue – Part 3

2011 was when the settling in got really serious.

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

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One day, Mario and I couldn’t take it anymore.

Fats without acoustical treatment was an earth-shattering, punishing experience, and the excitement at the newness of the place was starting to wear off. People were beginning to complain. We weren’t enjoying things as much as we could have been. On one especially loud night, we looked at each other and knew that something had to change.

So, I suggested to Mario that some acoustical treatment might help. I figured that something would be better than nothing, so I proposed a relatively small amount of inexpensive “wedge” foam. Mario was even more receptive to the idea than I had hoped. I was pretty nervous about floating an idea that would cost money, but I shouldn’t have been. As I’ve said before, there was a real enthusiasm in play. We ended up calling a workday, and I walked in to see that about two and a half times what I had asked for had been ordered in.

After the foam went up on the walls, Fats was never the same.

In a great way.

At first, I was reluctant to say that the treatment was really doing much. I didn’t want to overplay the contribution. In the end, though, I’m pretty danged certain that treating the space was one of the greatest “post overhaul” investments that the Fats basement ever had. It made me seem like far more of a sound ninja than I actually am, because it made my job markedly easier.

Seriously, folks. If you fix one thing about a venue, fix the acoustics. I’ll take an okay PA in a great room over a great PA in a tough room any day of the week…and twice on Sundays. I’ve never done a truly quantitative analysis on this sort of thing, but my best guess is that the influence of the space on the sound of a show is at least an order of magnitude more important than the gear involved. (Assuming that any given choice of gear is capable of handling the necessary fundamentals, of course. A half-busted boombox from the Five-And-Dime won’t do any show a favor.)

The same drive for improvement that caused the manifestation of the acoustical treatment also enabled another huge improvement: The custom-built digital console that ended up running the bulk of Fats shows. Mario and Mishell stopped by my family home for a dinner meeting, a meal that took our relationship from “friendly bosses and employee” to “friends.” A lot of hopes and desires for what Fats could become were shared that evening, but the big one for me was an upgrade to the mix rig. I had been nursing the idea of a computer-based console for a while, but now I actually had the income necessary to try it. At the same time, it was a real risk. The chances of it not working to satisfaction were significant.

Mario and Mishell promised to back me up if the experiment ultimately failed, and that gave me the confidence to jump in.

The experiment did end up working, though, and what we got was a virtual desk which could compete with an Avid console in certain respects. I mixed a LOT of shows on that rig, and it’s now very difficult for me to imagine doing serious work with anything that’s less capable.

The year of 2011 was also the year that I met Floyd Show.

Floyd Show, AKA “Tim Hollinger knows more about Pink Floyd than Pink Floyd,” was one of those precious rarities that only comes along once in a great while. They were an ambitious project, with a LOT of people and gear involved. There was so much to them that they initially declined to play at Fats – we didn’t have enough space.

Well, dangit, Mishell wanted some Floyd Show, so Mario extended the stage.

It was completely worth it. From soup to nuts, it was worth it. It was worth it to meet all the players in the changing lineup. It was worth it to work on a show that required multiple techs to operate smoothly. It was worth it to load in and set up all day. It was worth it to make music and friendships with people who respected and adored the source material to a fanatical degree. It was worth it to put in all the effort, and then get to stand back and say, “Check THIS out!”

If you didn’t have a sense of pride after constructing a Floyd Show gig, you couldn’t possibly have been paying attention.

That first time that Floyd Show started playing, Mishell, Mario, and me all had our jaws smack the floor. It was as though the real thing had been crammed into a Sugarhouse basement. There was a sort of unreal magic to what happened at that first night, even though we had to submix a bunch of channels. (We didn’t have the new FOH setup yet.) On subsequent nights, I would feel disappointed that the same magic hadn’t quite happened again.

With Floyd Show, you were in the presence of folks (especially Tim), who made you want to do more and more for the production. When Tim asked if it might be possible to mix things in quad-surround, what do you think I said? And, of course, we did. We got the routing figured out, ran cable, and put FX behind the audience. We also talked about how cool it would be have to some real, honest-to-goodness, moving-head lights. I got it into my mind that it would be great to surprise the group at one show with some kind of intelligent lighting setup. I started putting plans into place. I was going to blow everybody’s minds.

Before I could pull it off, Tim passed away suddenly. No more would I hear the refrain when he came down Fats’ stairs: “What’s up, Danny? Do you have your toolkit, man?” (The dude’s guitar rig was always broke, and he always got it fixed before downbeat.) The unending stories about how Pink Floyd’s albums were created, and the jokes about technical problems being all David Gilmour’s fault, halted into silence with the abruptness of a tape machine that had stopped with a bang.

Of course, all of Tim’s friends put together an epic show to bid Mr. Hollinger (and the band, because he WAS the band) a fond farewell. The result was as unforgettable as could be imagined, with days of preparation leading up to a roaring finale that – finally – recaptured the elusive spirit which had permeated the very first night. We had bottled the lightning once again, and on the day where we absolutely had to do so.

Plus, I had those moving lights. I sprang for them a little bit early, because I knew that I might not have any more chances, ever, to do a gig with Floyd Show.

The house was packed.

The players were on point.

The mix cooperated beautifully.

It was incredible.

It was the show I had so wanted to do with Tim.

Floyd Show Folks (18 Different Ones)


Pigs (3 Different Ones)

The Rise And Fall Of A Small Venue – Part 1

One person invited one other person to a show, and…

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

earlyfatsWant to use this image for something else? Great! Click it for the link to a high-res or resolution-independent version.
The picture above was taken after my first Halloween show at Fats. I chose the date of that event as my reference point for how long I worked for the room.

Before the late-middle of 2010, I didn’t really remember Fats Grill. I had been there once before, many years earlier. I had a vague notion of the downstairs being a comedy club.

But I really didn’t have a history with the place. What I did have was the rise and fall of another small venue: New Song Underground. Underground had been an “on then off then ON” pet-project of mine for a good while, but the host church had moved and plans for a restart had fizzled. (It’s a long story.) After Underground closed, I had finally finished my IT degree. For some reason, I couldn’t find a job. I couldn’t even get interviewed.

I applied to deliver pizzas and was turned down.

Needless to say, I wasn’t feeling so hot as summer wore on. For all intents and purposes, my already shaky self-confidence had slammed into the ground and left a smoking crater.

And then Wes Furgason invited me to a gig.

Wes had played some shows at Underground with the Assent, and maybe also with Molly Drive. He had developed a pretty solid fondness for the place, enough for him to say that losing the venue was a tragedy for local music. Wes remembered me as a guy who knew his way around a live-sound rig, and also as a dude who enjoyed interacting with local musicians. He dropped me a line about this Sugarhouse show, letting me know that his group of melody-makers would be playing in my neck of the woods – and that the event was free.

Surprisingly, I made up my mind to go.

I’m a bit of a hermit. I generally prefer to hole up, especially in the face of an unfamiliar destination. I’m also not a bar-goer at all. I certainly had been in clubs and watering-holes while mixing shows for the band Puddlestone, but I wasn’t there as a patron. Being at a night-spot in a non-working capacity really wasn’t something I was used to. So, it was pretty amazing that my thought-process took the turn of “I should get out of the house and actually put my money where my mouth is regarding the support of live bands.”

As I walked into the basement of Fats for the first time, I really had no clue as to what my expectations should be. I knew basically nothing about how the place worked. I managed to convince myself to walk up to the bar, where a fellow wearing a nametag that read “Mario” was standing. Mario had that sort of ease which gives you the feeling that he was very definitely in charge…which was appropriate, given that he was a majority owner in the establishment. (I found that out a little later.) I asked Mario if folks were allowed to order food from the upstairs and bring it down.

“You can order it right here,” said Mario, and rang me up for a burger and fries.

At some point, I caught Wes’s attention, and Wes started to try to bring me to Mario’s attention. It was mentioned that I was pretty handy with mixing consoles and loud noises. I tagged along like a puppy when Mario and Wes went up on deck to look something over. I listened intently as Mario described how the house mixer worked. It was a simple affair with a few channels, which had once been the nerve center for a church’s system. I knew that I wasn’t going to do anything impressive with that console. There wasn’t anything wrong with it by any means, but at Underground I had been using all kinds of goodies to massage and cajole live-audio into something that resembled a decent mix. I was used to channel-per-channel compression, four-band parametric EQ per channel, and all kinds of system processing being available “post console.”

I would have none of that this evening.

Even though there was no way I would do much better than what Mario could do by himself, I still wanted to get my mitts on that little desk. The craft of audio has a call like the mythological Sirens. Besides, having something to do would make me feel more comfortable. Heck, it would me feel actually USEFUL, which was a feeling I had been missing for months on end.

So, Mario went back to running the bar, and I hauled my burger over to the sound booth. In between bites, I made adjustments. I probably looked pretty funny, frantically tearing a chunk out of my food, chewing and swallowing in a big hurry, and then reaching out to ride a vocal up or down.

Amongst all the other bits involved, the night ended up being another lesson in the smallness of the Salt Lake City music scene. I’ve said on multiple occasions that the industry in this town is the size of a postage stamp. Everybody has played in everybody else’s band, and everybody has “run sound” for everybody else. Put two bands in a room, and there’s a nearly zero percent chance that the players won’t know each other. Well, there I was, and much to my surprise, there also was General Harrison in the closing slot. General Harrison was the offshoot of another band that had played Underground (Crashing at Dawn), and they had gotten hooked up with Wes via playing the Magna Arts Festival (coincidentally, playing that festival on the same day that the new Crashing At Dawn played that festival), and here they were on the day that I actually decided to get out of the house.

So, it was a treat to be hands-on with a rig, playing rock and roll amongst friends.

And I guess I did a pretty okay job, because Mario asked me for my phone number. He assured me that Mishell would get ahold of me soon.

So, when it’s all said and done, if anybody likes what Fats ultimately became as a live-music venue, they should make sure to thank Wes Furgason at the same time as they thank anyone else.