Five years later: Redstone Room's opening charted new course for RME

2011-03-30T16:28:00Z 2011-03-31T15:09:12Z Five years later: Redstone Room's opening charted new course for RMEDavid Burke The Quad-City Times
March 30, 2011 4:28 pm  • 

The River Music Experience in downtown Davenport opened in June 2004 with its upper floor devoted to the history of music, including a River Wall that gave visitors information, audio and video about a performer with the wave of an electronic wand.

A radical change came five years ago as the River Wall was condensed and in its place came about a not-for-profit nightclub/performance space called the Redstone Room.

"The Redstone Room was the redemption of the RME because we didn't really have a revenue base for live talent besides the performance hall in the very beginning," said Ellis Kell, a longtime area musician who is the programming and education director for the RME. "And with everything we did in Mojo's (the cafe on the first floor of the building), it was hard to charge admission to a public coffeehouse."

The Redstone, he said, gave national, regional and local musicians a place to play for as many as 270 people, along with a state-of-the-art sound and video system.

"Now it's become the cornerstone of RME because we can do anything in there: educational events, private events beside the touring acts," he said. "It's an anchor for us and a revenue base we didn't have before."

Tom Swanson, the RME's general manager, said the Redstone is a better draw than asking the potential audience to revisit a museum concept.

"It gave the RME a more viable attraction for people to have repeat visits," said Swanson, who was appointed general manager three years ago. "It's put us on the map regionally and even nationally."

The Redstone Room celebrates its fifth anniversary Friday night with a concert by the Ragbirds.

From 2006 until now, the Redstone has tried to feature a variety of acts, with a breakdown of about 70 percent regional and national and the rest local performers. Many times, local acts open for the big names.

Kate Benson, the venue's entertainment director, said the blues, bluegrass, jam band, folk and roots music get the biggest response; jazz and classical, not as much.

She said the size is a selling point for the Redstone, where those 270 can stand or about 180 people can sit.

"There's only so many venues that can hold our capacity in our area," said Benson, who has been booking bands in the room for about a year. "We're kind of in the middle between a small bar that just has a small business and the Adler (Theatre) or the i wireless Center.

"It's a unique niche for some of these touring bands," she added.

The formula has continued to succeed, she said.

In 2010, eight shows sold out. In just the first quarter of 2011, there have been five capacity turnouts.

"It's a good indication for the rest of the year and things to come, we think," she said.

The Redstone has seen its share of longtime established acts on the stage - Blind Melon, Marty Stuart, Savoy Brown and Dave Mason, for example - and a growing number of acts who have increased their national reputation after their time on its stage. Those include Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, Gaelic Storm, Joe Bonamassa and Rock Island native Lissie.

Kell said the Redstone is now spoken of by musicians in the same breath as Chicago's House of Blues and Indianapolis' Slippery Noodle Inn.

Swanson said the hospitality provided by all of the staffers is another reason the Redstone gets such good word-of-mouth.

"We're very adamant about making sure that when the artists arrive that they feel like regular people and they're not going to get harassed by the public or even internal staff members who want to get autographs," he said.

Upcoming acts include folk singer Jen Chapin, bluegrass band Mountain Standard Time, folk-rocker Mason Jennings, blues singer Janiva Magness, rappers D-12, and rockers Marshall Crenshaw and Freedy Johnston.

Swanson said he's trying to find a way for the capacity of the Redstone to expand by 50 to 100 people, opening the door to some larger names. That could translate into acts who ask for up to $10,000 per show compared with the current $7,500.

"We've proven the operation can be sustainable," Swanson said of the RME, which is $30,000 ahead of its budget projections.

"We want to make sure that momentum translates into growth rather than backsliding," he added.

 

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