201 Worthington Street, Springfield, MA
For the last three decades, there has really been only one place in Springfield MA that is serving a combination of soul food and soul enriching blues, rock and funk. Virtually any night of the week you can wander into Theodore’s and catch some amazing music while sampling from a menu that has authentic southern soul cuisine. From traditional blues to their new found tastes in everything from funk to bluegrass, americana to rock, Theodore’s is minting a new tradition of music in a city that has not been known for live music of late. We spent some time with Shannon Plaquet, who along with his team members at company Wicked Cool Productions, is providing some of the new music that is gracing Theodore’s, and standing alongside is long standing tradition of blues music in New England.
In addition to lending his talents in this arena, Plaquet has his hands in a variety of aspects of promotion and entertainment in the northeast. Talk about some sort of service, and Plaquet is likely to eventually say that he can get you that- from business cards to talent buying to flier printing to website hosting to design and execution- he has built up a list of services that are useful to musicians, festivals, promoters and clubs alike. He was gracious enough to take our questions and shed some light on a scene he has been attempting to nurture both in Springfield and throughout the region.
Live Music News and Review: Tell us a bit about the history of Theodores?
Shannon Plaquet: Theodores’, or Theos’ for short, has a pretty decent history attached with the venue. Although I’m not 100% familiar with its history, I know enough to share with old fans and new fans alike. 29 years ago Theos’ started off as only one of the rooms that it now is. The main entrance brings you into that original room. I was told that they had music in the very back of that bar way back then.
I’m not exactly sure when the other two rooms were acquired, but that’s the Theodores’ that most people are familiar with. It currently holds just under 300 people. Personally I feel that it’s an amazing venue to be a part of. So many musical greats have graced the stage. Blues greats like Taj Majal and younger musicians such as John Mayer. As small as Theodores’ is, it was named “Best Blues Club in the Country” a KBA award (Keeping the Blues Alive) from the Blues Foundation back in 2004.
As of recent the bar has been more receptive to diversifying their musical calendar. They’ve also extended the nights that have music, presenting the opportunity that I am now involved in.
Live Music News and Review: So we noticed that the menu and club vibe are being promoted as a “Soul Kitchen.” How does this fit into the type of music that you are booking there?
Theos ‘music brand’ truly is, and always will be, represented by the music of the deep south. ‘Nawleens’ style to be more specific. If I had to be more specific, I’d say that most traditional to the bar would be blues, zydeco and funk. With the music in mind, we now have the cuisines that are served locally around this music. Southern style BBQ chicken n ribs, there’s crawfish etouffet and jambalaya. You’ll even find fried pickles, a southern favorite and also one of mine.
Live Music News and Review: We have also noticed that you are getting into some more progressive music than the traditional blues roots of Theo’s past. Explain.
Well personally I feel that although you can give credit all day long to blues and the groundwork that it’s laid for ALL of the music of the USA today. With that being said, I don’t have many friends that I socialize that are die hard blues fans. They do exist in cult followings, but they aren’t getting much younger. I’m watching the crowd coming out to support specific blues bands, but the crowd isn’t coming out night after night, like our scene does more often. Theodores’ has such an amazing and diverse audience that I really wanted to offer more music that would interest everyone a little bit. Back in August we schedule a month full of groove rock bands and the place was on fire! Tons of new faces, lots of great new music, and people talked about it for a long time afterwards. In 2011 we’re booking many more nights of the week and we’re hoping to really offer a more diverse (national) musical lineup that’s going to appeal to all audiences. Our goal is to provide a musical environment in which any patron of the club would walk in the door and have a 50%+ chance of enjoying the music. Either way you look at it, the talent as *always* worth the free admission at the door!
Live Music News and Review: New England has long been a great musical market for bands, but Springfield is usually skipped. Why is that?
Well I’ve come to a few ideas on why that is, as it truly is obvious that’s the case. For one, It’s a little difficult having the ‘artsy kid’ colleges up in North County around Northampton. Having a social environment and as many venues as Northampton does really makes for a sure shot on finding random things to do. Springfield, not so much. There are its local nooks, but they’re just that, local nooks. I’m working with a few friends on exposing these local nooks to the masses. We do have a few colleges with great kids as well, but we also have less music venues that are 18+ that can be supported by the college crowd. All in all, the answer is ‘we’re working on it’. We do have a great collection of music aficionados in the Springfield area and a lot of them would rather stay local than drive to Hartford or NoHo. If Theos’ continues to get the new blood and great tunes then I feel that we may earn ourselves another spot on the map in the not too distant future.
Live Music News and Review: What makes Springfield unique for musicians and fans?
Springfield is great for musicians and fans for a lot of the same reasons as other cities. Having a city population just produces more musicians to jam with or more fans to carpool with. As far as being unique… well we have an ARENA! That’s pretty cool… if we could just get some cool bands to tour through. We also have 2 amazing theatres that can house some amazing talent. There’s been a lot of musical history to Springfield over the years, but that’s another story. Ultimately, if the people start supporting the music in Springfield again then there’s no reason why we can’t have everyone from Phish to Reba Macintyre down the road.
Live Music News and Review: What are some of your favorite musical memories that have happened at Theodore’s?
Being a drummer and organizing the open mic down there has placed me in some amazing musical scenarios with some local legends. We’ve had some amazing times musically on that stage. I get the fortune of playing with Jeff King and Mark Morris, two amazing musicians and local legends and Scott Guberman & Jeff Bujak, both from their own musical merits. We record most of these shows and post them online for everyone to sit back and reflect upon. www.facebook.com/juanitamic
I also have very fond memories of seeing Electric Blue and The Kozmik Truth down there. Shoulder to shoulder, fist pumping action! (tables removed of course) Eric Sardinias was another down there that totally rocked my world years ago. Recently I had a chance to catch Lucky Peterson down there. That was probably my fondest, most recent memory.
Live Music News and Review: Your work outside of Theo’s seems to have you working with festivals and other events. How are you working to try and bring that vibe into a club year round?
Well, people need something to do the rest of the year, right? Snow or rain, the advantage of having an inside venue just doesn’t leave the margin for much random error. Honestly the only real advantage that I can see with having the festival experience and knowledge is getting exposed to things at the festival that I can bring back to the locals. Good talent most importantly. It’s really easy to forget how much really good talent there is out there these days. Every great rock star had to start somewhere! A lot of festivals these days are having local stages that feature some up and coming local talent. There’s nothing like a band of 14 year olds blowing your mind, ya know?!
Live Music News and Review: How is the modern world of social networking and technology being brought in to your marketing efforts for shows?
I try and use facebook as much as possible these days. I use to use them all, but at this point I don’t bother using anything else… as everyone seems to be on facebook. I still find no accurate way to verify the people that say that they’re coming to an event vs the people who actually come to an event. I really like using the event feature and inviting people, but there’s so many events out there it’s hard to say who sees what. Our music is usually more of an experience than something you can put into words on facebook anyhow. I’d like to believe that if everyone just brought a new friend the next time they came then we’d be all good! ….oh, and grab a flyer while you’re there as well 😉
Live Music News and Review: What are some of the challenges here in the new millennium in terms of promoting club shows?
I never did any of this before then, so I honestly don’t know. I’m sure it was a lot more work and a lot more stamps though!
Live Music News and Review: If you had the ability to book anyone ever into Theodore’s, what would your dream show be?
If I could book anyone ever at Theos… well I’d really love to see the original Guns-N-Roses on that stage to an invite only performance there. Yeah… Ya know, check that… I’d rather see an invite only performance of Tom Petty down there. I think that’d be the bees knees!
Live Music News and Review: Springfield seems to be an urban environment tucked into a suburban region in general. How do you balance those suburban vs urban needs?
20 mins your in the woods, 10 mins you can get food 24/7, bus/train/taxi service 24/7. It’s the advantages of a city without the craziness of NYC or Boston or Hartford even. The opportunity throughout the area presents itself to me kind of like the best of both worlds.
Live Music News and Review: What about your personal history and work history has brought you to this job at Theodores?
Honestly my personal history is probably what brought me the job ultimately. Not growing up in the immediate area, I didn’t really know anyone down there my age. Over time and frequenting the bar, watching music and meeting people, I think they finally realized that a lot of the crazy stuff that I talk about is true. I’m privileged and proud to live and have the life that I do, especially regarding work. I feel that a lot of ‘it’d be really great to see X band’ and ‘are we there yet, are we there yet’ finally made the stir that enabled this. It’s sad to say, but I feel that if The Rock Café (where we originally had the open mic) never closed then I’d never really be doing this to the degree that I am now. The owner allowed us to have Open Mic at Theos’ for the time being while we figured things out. We ultimately figured out that Theos was the best place for the displaced Open Mic and it’s attendees. Now we get nearly 100 people down there throughout the course of the night. A Wednesday night at that!
Live Music News and Review: In your opinion, what are some of the things that you have seen bands do that really made their shows succeed at Theo’s? What are some of the things that bands should definitely avoid doing to make their shows more successful?
I feel that the main ingredient for a successful show down at Theos is to bring a handful of your own fans. The bar has some degree of a built in audience, but they’re not the type that’ll usually get up and dance unless they can immediately associate with the music. Having a fan base up and dancing creates that familiarity with the locals and they always end up magically up and dancing. There are infectious grooves down there at the club!
The piece of advice that I’d give to any band playing down there is to *play an extended first set*. Time after time you’ll see a band take a set break and all of a sudden the entire Theos dinner crowd gets up and takes off for the night. Although I haven’t found to total solution to this problem yet, an extended first set seems to do the trick 😉