Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Venues like the Village Tavern aim for genuine success

Thankful for the optimism

Posted by T. Ballard Lesemann on Wed, Nov 24, 2010 at 7:00 AM

James Justin & Co. on the scene at the new Village Tavern last week
Around the week of Thanksgiving, I’m usually more distracted by what spices and ingredients I need to shop for to make sweet potato and butterscotch pecan pies than by scribbling lists of things, circumstances, and deeds for which to actually be thankful.

I spent much of last weekend checking out the changes at the Village Tavern — the extensive renovations, the nice new sound system, and the overall feel of the place. While the shiny bartop and new furniture looked great, I was most impressed by the camaraderie among the Village Tavern crew. It resembled the mutual respect and support of the staffs at the most successful music clubs in town.

Running music venues can be as thankless as playing in the bands that perform there. The long nights, tight budgets, expensive distractions, and tense professional relationships can quickly grind away the enjoyable aspects of operating a cool club. Sometimes, the nastiest challenges and situations eclipse the small victories and bright spots.

On average in the country, more than half of the new restaurants and bars that start up fail within a year of opening. Charleston’s club scene has witnessed this grim phenomenon year after year.

For the independent, non-franchise bars that are determined to give original live acts a venue at which to perform, it’s usually an uphill financial battle. Compared to booking generic DJs and cover bands, dealing with original and underground acts can be risky and unpredictable.

Soon after original owner Trey Lofton opened the Village Tavern in Mt. Pleasant in early 2002, it accomplished unusual feat for a veue outside of the downtown scene: it established itself as a vital headquarters for original live music in the Charleston area.

Harrison Ray and the rhythm section from Slanguage
After a smooth opening weekend, it looks like the latest version of the Village Tavern is back on track with a awesome attitude about balancing business and art. The sense of teamwork was on full display.
Former Tavern employees and old-school barflies stopped by to check things out and wish the new folks well. Local musicians like Mac Leaphart and Jamie Resch tended bar. Other local players filled in with each other. Soundman Harrison Ray switched hats on Friday to perform a set of his new stuff with the rhythm section from Slanguage backing him up. Justin James and Co. followed Ray with a lively set rivaling their zestiest performances at the Pour House. Leaphart pulled a hat-switcher, too, when he and his band performed a headlining set on Saturday night.

Throughout the weekend, owner Jen Goldsmith Morlan, general manager John Morlan, and booking manager David Warren greeted customers like special guests, assisted the kitchen and bar staff, and complimented the musicians. Their excitement on the floor was as strong as the underlying optimism of their business plan: to establish the Tavern as a serious live music venue with good food, drinks, and service.

The venues with the most determination, focus, and positivity almost always find ways to make things work for their clientele and for their hired talent. If this Tavern team can maintain their optimism and momentum, they’ll achieve similar success. I’m already thankful for that.

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