It must be a sign of success when you’re selling out music events – even without patrons knowing whose music they’ll be listening to, or exactly when the concert will be.
Yet that’s the situation well-known Peninsula musician Randy Schultz (of Mojo Zydeco fame) and Kathie Buote and Sym Thiele, co-owners of the Sunflower Café in Crescent Beach, have found themselves in with their ongoing series of monthly dinner and music nights at the venue.
With minimal fanfare or pre-advertising for each show, they’ve found they’ve been able to pack the premises – and provide reasonable pay for a single or duo act.
“The secret has been doing things as simply as possible,” said Schultz, who notes the little stage he built only accommodates three at the outside – with no room for a full drum kit.
It’s been a win-win situation all round, with customers able to enjoy an evening featuring Buote’s culinary skills, plus an intimate post-dinner concert experience.
Performers are pleasantly surprised at playing to an attentive, ultra-supportive crowd that doesn’t treat them like so much musical wallpaper, noted Schultz.
At $10-$13 per ticket cover charge, plus entrees never higher than $17, it’s also an affordable night out, Schultz, Buote and Thiele said.
They’ve just completed their 11th event since June of last year, and the music has varied stylistically from singer-songwriter Jason Mitchell, to duos Tony and Kat, Pancho and Sal, Robin and Riley and Three Pound Cloud, to the Tip Top Trio (jazz), Mark Fortin (folk/ballads) and David ‘Boxcar’ Gates (blues).
It’s a performance window that suits new acts that are ready for wider exposure, as well as established acts that are capable of travelling light, said Schultz, who carefully vets the talent for each evening.
The most recent event – with old school country-roots champions the Sumner Brothers – was the event’s first double-nighter, an expansion driven purely by popular demand.
In fact, popular demand has been so good they’ve had to take some steps to fine tune their process so that people who haven’t made it to one of the music nights can get a look in.
Given the limited space of the café, bookings for tables of two and four have given way to long tables, democratically bunching people together – some of whom know each other, some of whom are complete strangers. This, in itself, has become part of the fun of the evenings, Thiele and Buote say.
“People have been enjoying the experience so much they’ve been pre-buying tickets without knowing who the artist is,” said Thiele.
“A lot of times they’d be up front paying for the evening and they’d say ‘put us down for the next one,’” Buote added.
It’s led them to take steps to avoid selling out too far ahead, they said, agreeing that they don’t want the evenings to become “an exclusive social club.”
Even so, observed Schultz, “there are always new faces at every one.”
They’re taking another brave step on Aug. 4 with a special celebratory concert featuring Schultz’ own Mojo Zydeco.
How is the whole band going to fit the premises? New Orleans-style, Schultz said, pointing out that in a lot of establishments in the hometown of jazz and Zydeco, small venues take out their tables later in the evening to allow room for a band and a floor full of listeners/dancers.
“We’ve expanded our garden this year so we can have around 60 people,” Thiele said. “We’ll have a buffet set up in the restaurant and then, after dinner, we’ll get rid of the buffet and get the band set up – and then we’ll have a party.”
Adding to what should be a phenomenal atmosphere, there’s a rumour that New Orleans Zydeco and blues artist Bruce ‘Sunpie’ Barnes – previous collaborator with Mojo Zydeco, may be in town and available as a special guest.
“If he can make it, that would be amazing,” Schultz said.
The New Orleans influence is what originally led him to suggest the idea of the music series to Thiele and Buote, he recalls.
The Sunflower Café was a favourite breakfast spot for him and his late wife, Jane, reminding them of some of the eclectic little venues they loved in Louisiana.
“These places in New Orleans would usually have a piano and somebody playing it,” he said.
“The piano is out, here, but it’s the same idea of having music as part of the atmosphere.”