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Phoenix Theater Weathers Another Beating

Posted by: on Sep 10, 2010 | Comments (8)

The news hit earlier today as the featured story on the front page of the Press Democrat website: “Concerts Banned at Phoenix Theater.” The reality is that there’s nothing to be alarmed about; the Phoenix is going to be up and running again next week after they provide the fire department with a light list of compliance and protocol to some very normal, regular ordinances.

Tom Gaffey, manager at the Phoenix, seemed calm when I talked to him. “I’m happy to take a weekend off, quite frankly,” he said.

What is alarming is that the initial newspaper article, which only quotes the Petaluma Fire Department’s side of the story, states that the shutdown is due to circumstances at the Smashing Pumpkins show on Wednesday, where “no one in an official capacity kept track of the number of people admitted, exits were blocked and some people entered without paying.”

That’s simply not true, says Jim Agius, who books the theater. He says that between the will-call list and the hard tickets taken at the door, the Phoenix kept a clear record of the number of people admitted to the Smashing Pumpkins show. “Their allegations in the newspaper are false,” Agius says. “There were four police officers here, they walked the building, they took pictures. They asked Tom about the capacity.”

Agius says that while the police officers were at the show, they didn’t express any concern about apparent blocked exits or other dangers. As such, he was shocked the next day to find that the show was allegedly “in flagrant disregard of the California Fire Code and laws designed to protect public safety.”

“If that was the case,” reasons Agius, while the police officers were there, “why did the show not get shut down? The whole thing doesn’t really add up to me.”

In stating that people were let in without paying (that’d be a media list, which I was on, and which hard tickets accounted for) the Fire Department implies that security was lax; in fact, there were 30 people working security that night, and I saw them with my own eyes doing their job—patting people at the entrance, searching bags, busting people who lit up.

The Fire Department also claims the police that night used a “pitch counter” to determine attendance, which sounds like a snazzy piece of crowd-estimating technology but is really just this. Sometimes staff stands at the door to a venue and uses it to count people as they come in. I didn’t see any police officer using one at the door, and I was there for several minutes, checking in as media. Neither Gaffey nor Agius saw one either.

I also walked around the entire perimeter of the floor at the show, and entered and observed the balcony. At no point did I see an overcrowded or unsafe venue. The Fire Department says there were 900 people at the show, 180 over capacity. “As the night went on, I counted up the will call and tickets,” says Gaffey. “I don’t believe we were over capacity.”

It gets fishier. The Fire Department gave Gaffey the notice at 3:30pm on Thursday—Gaffey looked it over, and saw that the Phoenix was already in compliance with most items on their list, such as having a security protocol on file with the Fire Department. Yet the department claimed they have no such thing on file. “We actually did file that,” says Gaffey. “We, as a board, filed that together. It got dropped personally off at their office.”

As for the rest of the list? Simple things to deal with, said Gaffey. “I said, ‘Great, I’ll have this to you tomorrow,'” he says. Only one problem: the Fire Department  informed him that all city offices were closed on Friday, and that he would have to cancel any scheduled shows over the weekend.

Here’s where the pieces fall together. The Police Department in the past has been vocal about their opposition to rap shows, and particularly about Andre Nickatina. Coincidentally, the Phoenix had Andre Nickatina booked for tonight, raising some eyebrows about the timing of the Police Department’s data-collection and the Fire Department’s subsequent notice. The Nickatina show has been postponed.

(The last time the Phoenix was forced to put a hiatus on hip-hop shows in 2008—similarly causing the Press Democrat to use the linkbaiting but incorrect headline of “Phoenix Theater Bans Rap Concerts”—what was the first show to be rescheduled? Andre Nickatina.)

“Our hands are tied, no matter what happened,” says Jim Agius. “All we can do is comply with their list.” Both Gaffey and Agius said they were confident the theater would be open again as normal next week.

[UPDATE: The Press Democrat talked to the Phoenix and updated their story.]

Orchard Spotlight Goes Dim

Posted by: on Apr 7, 2009 | Comments (5)

A month after the City of Santa Rosa changed the zoning code to make it harder for all-ages venues to open downtown comes the disappointing news that the Orchard Spotlight, a historic church and acoustic performance space, has been forced by the City to cancel all of their upcoming concerts.

The music has been quiet. The attendees have been well-behaved. The neighbors haven’t complained. So what’s the deal?

Last week, the Orchard Spotlight hosted Will Oldham, a.k.a. Bonnie “Prince” Billy, an underground legend who drew a large line on the sidewalk, causing a nosy tipster driving by to notify the city. “It wasn’t like they were even complaining,” says Spotlight co-owner Linda Rose-McRoy, “they just called with an inquiry, saying, ‘We saw this line outside of 515 Orchard. We wondered if that was okay.’ Like, duh!”

Rose-McRoy and co-owner Cheryl Ulrich met soon after with the Community Development department and were informed that entertainment at the Orchard Spotlight violates the area’s residential zoning. “We’ve known for a while that there were going to be some zoning questions here,” says McRoy, mentioning certain loopholes to stay loosely legal—registering on the Internet as a church, for example, and holding “mass” at 8pm on Friday and Saturday nights. “But Cheryl and I are the kind of people who don’t like feeling we have to continually look over our shoulder,” she adds. “But we’re also not giving up.”

What’s exciting is that “not giving up” involves working with the Arts District and the City Council to get a variance in zoning to allow entertainment at the venue. Vicky Kumpfer, coordinator of the Arts District, thinks it’s possible. “This is really an interesting opportunity to try to make this viable, and to work within the law,” says Kumpfer. “Yes, we have these laws, but is there a way that we can make a certain exemption?”

What the issue comes down to, then, is the neighbors, and so far, the Cherry Street neighborhood association has been supportive of the Orchard Spotlight. If that continues to be the case, and if the City is willing to honor their General Plan guideline to “consider the diverse cultural needs and talents of the community,” we may see the Orchard Spotlight rise again. “It’s just gorgeous,” Rose-McRoy says of the space. “It’s so moving, because it was built in redwood, for sound, for the human voice! I love it, it just makes me tingle all over. And so we’re not giving up.”

Steve Jobs Craps Pants, Cries In Corner Over Royalties

Posted by: on Oct 1, 2008 | Comments (3)

Apple has announced that if the iTunes Music Store is forced by a Library of Congress-appointed Copyright Royalty Board to increase their royalty rate for publishers and songwriters by six measly cents per song, then boo hoo, waah waah, they’re going to have no choice but to shut down the iTunes Music Store altogether.

From Wired:

“If the [iTunes music store] was forced to absorb any increase in the… royalty rate, the result would be to significantly increase the likelihood of the store operating at a financial loss—which is no alternative at all,” wrote Apple iTunes vice president Eddy Cue in a statement filed with the board last year, according to Fortune. “Apple has repeatedly made it clear that it is in this business to make money, and most likely would not continue to operate [the iTunes music store] if it were no longer possible to do so profitably.”

It’s easy to see that Apple is bluffing its ass off in an attempt to get record labels to absorb the six cents. But what’s even more infuriating is that they have the full stupid support of music fans who’ve been indoctrinated for the last ten years to believe that anything except 100-percent free music is the product of the evil recording industry and who clearly don’t know the difference between the record label, the recording studio, the RIAA, and the publisher.

One comment is indicative of many:

“As much as I have been an apple hater over the years and despise the i-tunes concept becuase of the DRM, kudos to them for taking such a hard line stand. The studios know the end of i-tunes will pretty kill their last existing business model. It’s about time somewith the power has the moxy to tell the RIAA F-YOU”

Now, I’m aware that Internet comments are by nature an intellectual cesspool, but what worries me is that everyone takes this knee-jerk “fuck the record industry” stance without understanding that this mechanical royalty rate increase is a move to actually help the artist. Of the four categories above—label, studio, RIAA, and publisher—there’s one that does right by the artist, and that’s the publisher. Nearly all songwriters work with a publishing company which pays them songwriting royalties. And everyone knows that songwriting royalties are the best and most feasible way for musicians to support themselves.

I’ve personally known musicians who’ve released 10 albums and hardly seen any paychecks at all. Then, bam! One day their song gets covered by a more famous artist, or used in a commercial, or played in the background on a made-for-TV-movie that airs in Australia, and all their hard work finally pays off—to say nothing of the many obscure artists who share songwriting credit for hip-hop samples, or those important figures who’ve maybe never even recorded a song but have written hit after hit.

Six cents might not sound like a lot, but try telling that to David Axelrod, the Los Angeles musician whose “Holy Thursday” was tapped for a sample on Lil’ Wayne’s mega-selling The Carter III. Try telling that to Rowland Salley, whose beautiful “Killing the Blues” was included by Alison Krauss and Robert Plant on their mega-selling Raising Sand. Try telling that to Tom Waits, whose “The Long Way Home” from Norah Jones’ mega-selling Long Way Home earned him more royalties than his entire brilliant 1972-1980 catalog combined.

So to Steve Jobs: Quit your crying. In the immortal words of Seth Tobocman, you don’t have to fuck people over to survive. Pay the six cents and earn yourself a little goodwill.