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Brass Rail's Shift From Dive Bar to Music Haven
By Ben Larson
Fort Wayne Reader
Last summer I wrote an article about a string of shows that happened at The Brass Rail. Since then, things have changed around there. What was once a bar that also hosted shows seems to have moved up a level, and is now a serious music venue that also happens to be a bar. Evidence for this comes in the form of recent appearances from the likes of Marah, The Devil Makes Three, and a sold-out performance by Tallest Man on Earth.
Right now, The Brass Rail is in the midst of another string of great shows, and this is what I’d like to talk about this time around. The difference from last year is that, while 2009 saw many “roots” acts coming to town, in 2010 there is a much more diverse array of performers, with everything from outlaw country to rap and even riot grrrl acts coming to the stage. I asked co-owners Corey Rader and John Commorato about how this all came to be, and Rader said simply “we just stopped turning down shows, and it kind of snowballed from there.” Something told me there was a little more to it than that, so I went through the list of upcoming shows with them, and had them tell me how each one came to be, in the hopes that I would learn how a tiny dive bar on the edge of downtown could become one the premier venues in Fort Wayne.
“It was definitely a conscious choice to have more shows here,” Rader told me at the beginning of our conversation. “What’s different now is that [John and I] only have to book a quarter to thirty percent of them, and the rest are coming on a silver platter from promoters.” With that as a jumping off point, I we started discussing each show, with Jeff Anderson of Hillgrass Bluebilly Entertainment sitting in to talk about the shows that he is involved in.
7/16: Two Man Gentleman Band w/ The End Times Spasm Band
“That’s Anthony [Fanger] from Chain Smoking Records,” Rader said. “It’s one of his biggest and best acts that he’s brought through here.” Since first coming to town, TMGB has now made Fort Wayne a regular tour stop, and this is because of the great reception they’ve received every time they have been here.
7/17: Black Label Summer w/ Lee Miles & Church Shoes
Standard Recording Co. artist Josh Hall is best known by his main band, Thunderhawk, but will be in town to play with his side project, Black Label Summer. Rader had this to say about Hall: “This one’s a Josh Hall production. We like Josh Hall; he’s a talent that’s made a lot of friends in this town. He did us a big favor by opening for Marah on a Sunday, so we wanted to make sure we got him a Saturday date.”
7/18: The Killigans w/ The Staggerers & Destroy Nate Allen
“Back when I was paying more attention I would’ve bought their CD on its release,” Commorato told me. “Fortunately Tom McSod [from The Staggerers] did, and he gave it to me.” Based on that, they booked this show through Tom. “He’s got a lot of good contacts, and brings a lot of good bands to town,” Rader said about McSod.
7/19: The Coathangers w/ Predator & TIMBER!!!
Again, Rader: “[The Coathangers’] booking agent contacted me for that one. I didn’t know them by name so I looked them up online, and realized I had seen them on an episode of that ‘LA Ink’ tattoo show, so it was kind of life imitating art.” When I asked him if he knew how The Coathangers had become aware of The Rail, he said “I don’t know and I don’t press them.” He then explained that the reason the late Jay Reatard booked a show here was because his agent got the bar confused with a different Brass Rail. Since then he and Commorato have learned to not ask questions. (btw: the first act on the bill, TIMBER!!!, features a guy who may or may not be FWR music columnist Ben Larson — ed.)
7/21: Vic Ruggiero w/ Chris Murray, The Forthrights, & Broadway Shottas
This show happened because of a keyboard. According to Commorato, “Scotty from The Forthrights was playing here and was having serious trouble with his keyboard, and I was looking at it and I said ‘man, the last time I had this much trouble with a keyboard was with Vic Ruggiero up in Lansing,’ to which Scotty said ‘that’s funny because I bought this keyboard off Vic and he’s my landlord.’” This led to a conversation about how The Forthrights and Ruggiero were planning a tour, and the show pretty much booked itself.
7/31: J.B. Beverly & the Wayward Drifters, Most Beautiful Losers, & The Staggerers
“This is one of those things that makes you feel really good; we’re blessed,” said Commorato. “I got a call from his booking agent looking for dates, and within ten minutes we had the show booked.” Beverly shares the same booking agent, and often tours, with Hank III. So when Commorato said that they are blessed to have him come, it’s because, frankly, The Rail is a much smaller venue than Beverly usually plays, and the fact that they sought out The Rail for a show is a minor miracle.
8/1: Bob Log III w/ Left Lane Cruiser
“Bob actually requested to come back to The Rail,” Anderson told me. “His booking agent called Brenn [Beck, of LLC and co-owner of the local chapter of Hillgrass Bluebilly along with Anderson] and said ‘we want to do it again.’ This is his kind of place.” As to why Anderson and Beck are able to bring such acts like Bob Log III and Scott H. Biram, who are both major heavyweights in their genre, to town with such ease, Anderson said “they know by now that, when they come to town, they’ll be well taken care of. With all the shows we’ve had in the past, our reputation pretty much precedes us at this point.”
There are many other shows coming to The Rail between now and the end of the month, including Goddamn Gallows on 7/22, Scott H. Biram on 7/23, Jookabox on 7/24, Highlonesome on 7/26, Uncle John on 7/29, and Andy D on 7/30, but frankly I’m out of room for this article, so I couldn’t include the details for those shows here. However, the bottom line on how and why The Brass Rail has seen such a change in the number and caliber of musicians coming through is this, according to Rader: “We haven’t been the business students with the acumen of trying to make a big bottom line. Some other places have tried our same model and discovered there’s not a lot of money in it. We love music, and we love to have shows rather than sitting around doing nothing, so that’s about it.”