many venues have taken up residence in Sandy over the years for various
reasons. But one departing venue has left a mark on the scene that
won't soon be forgotten.
Solid Ground Café was one of the Utah's best spots for underground and Indie music, not only bringing in rare acts that don't even get radio airplay, while also maintaining a music blog for the past year that at times put professional trades to shame. But Solid Ground's era has sadly come to an end as the venue was forced to close up shop over leasing, leaving yet another void in the local music scene. I got a chance to talk with Solid Ground's promoter Chad about its beginnings, it's brief history, what is to become of the remaining staff and dates, and some other random questions that came to mind.
Gavin: Hey Chad. First off, tell us who you are and a little bit about yourselves.
Chad: Well specifically: Chad, Asher, Lawrence, Megan, Paul, Tanner, Keni, Cierra, Sami and Vanessa.
Gavin: Who came up with the idea for Solid Ground and how did it first get started?
Chad: Asher and I have always loved going to shows and promoting shows and couldn’t stand that the café wasn’t be used for shows. So Asher asked the church (he attends there and is very involved) and they loved the idea and in January of 2006 we started doing a few shows. It has slowly evolved and grown since then.
Gavin: What was the process like getting the place set up and ready to go? And what was it like when it first started up?
Chad: We didn’t really do a whole lot to get the space set up. I think the majority of our set up was with promotion, MySpace, building relationships with local bands and booking agents. We learned a lot from our early mistakes! Our first show had one local and one touring band and was over in under an hour!
Gavin: A lot of the shows you had are national Indie artists mixed with local bands. Was that type of booking planned ahead of time or just how things work out?
Chad: Unfortunately, no all-ages venue can afford to stay open without the revenue from alcohol. So for us, putting locals with touring bands is the only way we can make a show successful. Touring bands are dependent on local bands to promote the show and bring a crowd and help bring paying fans out to shows. Some of the best bands at doing that have been Larusso, This Is Anfield, Ask For The Future and Mesa Drive. When they jump onto a bill, you can count on their fans having heard about whatever the touring band is. Hopefully as they get out on the road they’ll be fortunate to have bands in other cities do the same for them.
Gavin: You guys started a blog one year ago focusing on both the café and music in general. How did the idea first come about to do that, and what’s the response been to it?
Chad: Tim started that. He’s SO far ahead of the rest of us when it comes to music. Paul and Asher are also well ahead of the curve. Tim wanted a way to give back to the local community and show them what was out there. The response varies. If we actually stay with it and post routinely the viewership goes up dramatically. Lately we haven’t done much with it, but that should change soon!
Gavin: The place recently got broken into. Can you tell us about what happened?
Chad: Some kids broke into an upstairs window and smashed up the place. They tried to get into the closet that holds all the sound gear, but they jammed the door into the door frame and couldn’t get in. Amazingly, the church that formerly leased the Café began cleaning and repairing the same day of the break-in!
Gavin: What was the total loss in damage and what was done to clean up and get you guys back on your feet?
Chad: The Fellowship (the church) did all the repairs and work so I’m not for sure all that they did. They did repair the broken window and door and sanded off some spray paint, and cleaned all the syrup, caramel and honey that had been poured everywhere.
Gavin: Talking some about music, what’s your take on the local music scene, both good and bad?
Chad: I like our scene. It’s still in it’s infancy, but it’s growing and moving faster than Salt Lake can keep up with it. Bands like The Brobecks, Band of Annuals, Uzi & Ari, Kalai and Atherton prove that we’re as talented as the next town. The downside is that most bands think moving to California is the best move for their band: It hurts our scene (would anyone think Omaha was a big indie-music town if Conner Oberst moved to L.A. 8 years ago?). I don’t fault bands for moving, but we need good bands to stay if we’re going to become the next Portland. It kills me that Uzi & Ari’s MySpace says they’re from San Francisco and Kalai’s says Alaska.
Gavin: Do you believe local labels help or hinder local artists and the scene?
Chad: I can’t speak with any validity on this topic. It would depend on the label’s goals and communication of those goals.
Gavin: What's your take on how the underground media is doing covering local music?
Chad: Personally I’m a big fan of underground anything. Power to the people. I think we’ve still yet to find the best way to cover Salt Lake in a format that 16-28 year olds look for. We are lacking in the Underground Radio department – that would probably help us all. We have yet to find that one place where everyone in Salt Lake goes to find out about shows, CD’s, etc. There are lots of cool places, organizations, blogs that are covering things, but no one thing has become the flag-bearer that everyone looks to. And anyone that thinks X96 is that, well I’m sorry for you.
Gavin: Is there anything you think could be done to make it bigger or better?
Chad: Lots of things! We did our best though. All of us have jobs and families or are in school. If we had money too we could have done a lot more. We chose to remain committed to providing a family friendly, all ages feel and because of that, there were a few shows we chose to pass on.
Gavin: If you had to make a top five list, who would you say are the best local bands right now.
Chad: Hmm…tough call. So many bands will be mad at me for not including them. Here’s what I like, in no particular order: Atherton – absolutely amazing. Probably the best band in Utah and 90% of show-goers have never heard them. Paul Jacobsen & The Madison Arm are also incredible. PJ&TMA deliver a product so loaded with guts, bravery and honesty it’s almost too much for the average concert goer to appreciate. It’s very refined and very gutsy. Love it! Paxtin won’t be here this time next year. They’ll be touring and getting noticed for it. Asher’s new project, Seafinch is worthy of mentioning here. He’s opening up for Denison Witmer on November 5th. I’d round out the list with anything Will Sartain is working on. He’s a genius. I love his music, I love Kilby Court and he’s a critical cog in the local scene.
Gavin: Going more national, what are your thoughts on current music trends and what’s getting radio play today?
Chad: I actually only listen to NPR so I have zero clue what’s hot on the radio. I personally feel that Salt Lake has a very stunted view of what could be successful music on the radio. We need more college radio, more locally owned and operated radio and less corporate radio. We need stations that let the DJ be the DJ. This of course won’t ever happen again in America. Musically, Indie-Pop’s balloon has almost popped. Every record label has swooped up at least one band who does Indie-Pop which means it’s almost over for Indie-Pop. I’ve noticed a real surge in what I’ll call Daytrotter Indie-rock. This would include bands like Colour Revolt, The New Frontiers, Manchester Orchestra and Paper Rival. They’ve found a way to put grit back into rock while keeping it melodic and beautiful.
Gavin: What do you think about the music industry and the current state it’s in?
Chad: Whew, loaded question. I think the “industry” is in for some rough seas. I think they deserve it though. Whether they survive will continue to depend on what bands and fans will put up with. Radiohead, Madonna, Trent Reznor and others have already proved they’re moving on. Fans still snatch up what labels tell them to, but as labels continue to lose money, fans will get to decide for themselves what they want to listen to. For bands, I think it’s tough times as well. Playing for gas money, eating out of dumpsters and sleeping in Walmart parking lots will become more normal as the economy tightens. I think for lots of bands, the best thing they could do right now is take a year off, write music, work normal jobs, play regional shows and wait. I also think bands will have to learn to adapt: sharing equipment, avoiding trailers, shorter tours will all be necessary for the next 18 months.
Gavin: Do you believe Indie is the next wave of music, or is it just the next trend for a while?
Chad: Since Indie has come to be known as anything not on the radio, it will always be around. What Indie means and includes is always changing and being shaped by market forces. Commercial success will never be the barometer by which Indie is measured so the pressure is only to create beautiful songs. Hopefully people will notice though! I’m no good at predicting trends!
Gavin: You guys have officially shut down this week. What happened exactly?
Chad: Sadly, the church had to opt out of their lease of the Café. They’ve leased it for almost the last decade, but had to buy out of it due to economic pressures. It killed them to do so and they tried every other option, but it was their only choice; it’s expensive property that sits on a busy corner. We’re so thankful to them for letting us use the building for shows for the last two and a half years. If Salt Lake concert goers and bands had believed in us as much as that church did, everyone would actually know what we are and where we are!
Gavin: Why have you chosen to shut down and not reopen elsewhere?
Chad: I think if we found the right option we could end up somewhere. We don’t have any money though so opening up somewhere else just isn’t realistic right now. New Song Underground is letting us do the Denison Witmer show there so that might lead to some other opportunities. We really don’t know, we’re just trying to keep from making any emotional decisions. For me personally, I put so much into the shows at the Café and the thought of having to do it all again is a tough pill to swallow. I think we’ve proven we’re good at making something out of nothing and have learned a lot. It’s a shame to see it not be used to it’s full potential. We have door girls that could run a venue better than some are currently being run.
Gavin: What will happen to the remaining staff and the blog?
Chad: I’d like to keep the Blog going for sure. We’re committed to building the local scene and the Blog has always been our way to talk about bands and shows that are coming to Salt Lake. It was never just for the Café shows; the majority of our posts are about things that never involved the Café.
Gavin: What about the final shows you had planned the rest of the year?
Chad: Denison Witmer will be on Wednesday, November 5th at Newsong Underground (859 S 800 E). Tickets are $10 in advance and $12 at the door. We paid for his plane ticket to come out here and we’re pretty convinced everyone who goes will go home happy. We have Ivoryline and In:Aviate scheduled for Saturday, November 8th but we have yet to find a location to do that show at. We’ll let everyone know when we do though. The other shows have been canceled.
Gavin: Now that Solid Ground is done, what will you all be doing?
Chad: The people that work at the Café are amazing, beautiful, bright people. Working with them has always been the highlight of the Café. Tanner’s off right now doing guitar tech and merch for Sherwood and some smart band will pick him up as their permanent drummer. Tim’s getting married, Paul and Vanessa are getting more degrees from the U. Asher’s new project Seafinch will hopefully keep him busy. Keni and Sami are still in high school, Cierra’s off to Sweden and Megan will hopefully get picked up by a local Graphic Design or Web firm. She’s done all our graphics for almost a year and is amazing to work with. Lawrence helps lead music on Sunday nights at The Mount: a local college-aged worship service. Hopefully I’ll still be able to throw a few shows a year for friends, but we’ll see. If Postfontaine would pick me up, I’d be their happiest employee. My wife and I still have 7 spare beds and love giving traveling bands a place to crash and a warm meal.
Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to tell the community or fans of the place?
Chad: Thanks. A big thanks. Thanks to any band that played the Café, any fan that bought a ticket, anyone that posted a bulletin, passed out a handbill or hung a poster. Thanks. We started this because we loved music and loved people. I’m happy we never made any money. I’m happy we gave away what little money we did make. Thanks for everything. Thanks for putting up with all our mistakes. There are lots of people that wrote us off or didn’t take us seriously. Thanks to those of you who did.
Gavin: Finally, is there anything you’d like to plug or promote?
Chad: Please buy a ticket to Denison Witmer. He’s amazing and we’ll have to sell our cars to pay him off if no one goes! You’ll be glad you went though. It’ll be our last chance to say hi and thanks so personally I’d love for the place to be packed. Kilby Court is the best. Go there for shows. Slowtrain is the best place to buy CD’s. They’re amazing.