by LUKE BAUMGARTEN & r & & r & Cater Leaves Casbah & lt;BR & & lt;BR & It came out like an afterthought, or a footnote: "BTW - I resigned at the Casbah," Ben Cater wrote me on Oct. 27. About 10 days after the much-ballyhooed club had opened, its much-ballyhooed booker had resigned.
Despite an opening two weeks that saw more than 700 people through the door to see Rough Congress and just over 600 for a Halloween night featuring James Pants, Cater left citing what he and owner Dennis Henderson both characterize as differing priorities.
Speaking at the Mayfair (which was an experience in itself) last Thursday, Cater said he'd expected the opportunity to host more out-of-town shows. A couple a month, he said: "I was looking at the grand slams." Out-of-town shows, though, come with risk. When bands tour, they often want money up front, which requires charging a cover, which potentially means driving people away from the bar. Cater, says Henderson, "was real ambitious on the boutique side of what we wanted to do." ("Boutique" here is meant to mean "of questionable profitability.")
Though the more lucrative club side is going "better than we ever expected," Henderson isn't ready for "boutique" yet, choosing to stay with local bands and club DJs for the moment. "Right now, I'm in this macro mindset, to hit the benchmarks," he says, "We're still trying to figure out how to be a really well-run machine." That mindset, though, left Cater feeling like an underutilized cog. Henderson, says Cater, "doesn't need me to book club DJs. I have no value there."
Henderson says he wishes he were ready to gamble on those grand-slam gigs. "I think the world of [Cater]," Henderson says. "I'm disappointed we're not ready to do everything he wants to do." The obvious worry for music fans going forward should be that, with such great turnout for club nights and the difficult economics of touring artists, the truly amazing performance space of the Casbah's Ballroom will be all dance floor and no concert venue.
It'll certainly be that way for a while. Henderson believes, though, that clubs can have a great show and a horrid turnout, which leaves him stuck in a debate with himself. "Can we lose money that night and justify it?" Henderson asks. It's clear, at this point, that he hasn't decided on an answer.