Mike Amari began booking music shows at BSP on Wall Street in Kingston in early 2012, not long after the club came under the control of it new managers, who were friends of Amari’s from their days at SUNY-Oneonta. At first, Amari managed only the Thursday-night Revue series. That night commanded a lot of attention and respect locally. The Revue took risks and featured kinds of music that hadn’t received much hospitality around here before.
Amari also quickly became known for his poster-design skills and his savvy event promotion. By April 2012, Amari had taken over as the head “talent buyer” at BSP. Signature early shows included the husband-and-wife team of Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby and the first of several events known as Soul Clap: dance party bacchanalia hosted by the famous deejay Jonathan Toubin.
Since then, Amari and company have positioned BSP as one of the four or five major music clubs in the region (others include Club Helsinki in Hudson, the Bearsville Theater, the Falcon in Marlboro and the newly reopened Towne Crier in Beacon) and the only one routinely to feature experimental, alternative, ambient and all manner of indie acts. The success of BSP has made it a flagship business in the resurgence of uptown Kingston. Recent bookings have included Sean Lennon, Kurt Vile, Man Man, Lucius, Richard Buckner and many more national notables, as well as a steady stream of sympathetic local acts.
Amari has also emerged as a highly visible regional musician, both as a drummer with his partner Shana Falana and as the songwriter/frontman of the garage-rock band Lovesick. During the weeks in which Amari and I conducted the following conversation, BSP experienced what Amari regards as a breakthrough with a nearly sold-out Tuesday-night show featuring the up-and-coming band Future Islands.
“This one felt like a real turning point,” he said. “A year ago, this could not have happened. Our network of people, our relationship with local stores, promotional alleys and general ‘prestige’ really showed itself with that show. A lot of kids from Bard, young Woodstockers and Kingston/Rosendale’s 25-to-40 year olds came out in force for the first time on a weekday night. It was really something.”
Almanac Weekly’s John Burdick: Mike, you are the author of what I’d call some of the most intentional booking I have seen around here: booking with a purpose and with a point. It is always hard to balance a sense of cultural purpose with filling houses and selling drinks, and in my opinion BSP faces an even more complex identity problem than most Hudson Valley venues. You didn’t inherit an audience or a default style or demographic. Your BSP is a pioneering thing – carved out of the virgin forest, as it were.
The other prominent “from nothing” music club in the Hudson Valley is the Falcon in Marlboro, and that’s a special case because it all came from Tony’s connections in the jazz world and his love of very specific kinds of music. The Falcon is an expression of one person’s tastes in a way that most venues could never afford to be. What you have learned about balancing cultural purpose with the realities of business and with the audiences available to you? Do you view yourself as someone who is cultivating an audience, not just tapping one that already existed here?
Mike Amari: I moved to the area [Woodstock] a little over three years ago, and while I loved what the area offered, it was apparent very early on that there was a void. I was living with two friends who are about my age, mid-20s, and in Woodstock especially, we were more likely to frequent parties in the middle of the woods or stay at home than to go see a show… Every now and then something would come together somewhere and it would be cool, but there wasn’t a consistent place to go where you knew it would be quality, it wouldn’t be expensive and, most importantly, where it would be peopled by other 20-somethings.
Not inheriting an audience gave me a lot of freedom to book stuff that wasn’t happening anywhere else: mainly ambient, experimental and electronic music, which became the nexus of my Thursday-night Revue series. The success of that was important; when I took over all of the booking at BSP in July ’12, I came into it with a confidence in my approach. I didn’t feel a need to bend to the trends of the area (mainly classic/roots rock bands, reggae and straight-up jam/funk bands) because I had already experienced a strong response from people regarding the Revue. What’s really special is that my partners at the venue are supportive of my “style” of booking, so putting the brand first when it comes to booking has been easy.
… I came into booking with almost no connections whatsoever. The success we have built as a venue has come solely from our authenticity – meaning we book what we know and know what we book. We research every band that we are considering bringing in, and meet weekly to recap the recent shows and work on upcoming ones. We make our own posters, we are very active on social media and we’re all musicians and under 30. Those are significant differences from other local venues.
Of course, there is a magic to booking a venue. Sometimes things fall into place and bills come together that no one could have planned, but are just perfect. The William Tyler/Richard Buckner show happened totally randomly, but was a very powerful and successful show, and the musicians themselves were excited to play together.
To answer your question, though, I think we are tapping into an audience that has been in the Hudson Valley for a long time, and it’s more about ethos than any particular bands. Kingston itself has a rich group of DIY-ers: people who put on warehouse shows with Jon Spencer and who would go on to create the O+ Festival, which is a major part of why my partners and I ended up in BSP. We look to that group of people as mentors, and they’ve embraced us as protégés. Being centrally located in the mid-Hudson region helps, being in such a cool neighborhood (historically and architecturally) helps, and making major inroads with two nearby art-minded colleges doesn’t hurt either.