Will Jaxx's new owners honor true metal?
- In January, Jaxx will change owners. Photo by Metal Chris of DCHeavyMetal.com.
Nedry used the connections he forged in the Roadducks to book shows at Jaxx. "The drummer from Molly Hatchett and I went to military school together; we've been friends since we were teenagers," he explains. "When they made it big, they took us out on the road with them as their opening act. That's how we got hooked up with the Outlaws and Marshall Tucker and Blackfoot and all the Southern rock bands and how I got them to start playing for me. Then one thing led to another, and a lot of the agents involved with those ’80s Southern rock bands also represented the California bands, so we got them to play. When I opened the place, the opening show was Bad Company and the second show was Great White, so we came out of the blocks really strong."
Jaxx has a lot to offer fans: it's an all-ages venue, allowing those under 21 the opportunity to see live music in sections of the club that don't allow alcoholic drinks. The venue has several raised sections around the main floor, giving multiple lines of sight, even for shorter fans. "The sight lines are great, the sound quality is better than average, [and] the back bar is nice for casual conversation while you wait for some lame prima donna band to get off the stage," says Roderick Rose of Durham, N.C., who says he makes the four-hour drive to Jaxx at least twice a year. "I might be unusual in that I like the age-segregation during all-ages shows, but it is especially nice on crowded nights — the underage side tends to be less crowded."
Jaxx has also fostered a community among local metal fans and artists, a closeknit group in a region more known for punk and go-go. "I have been attending metal shows at Jaxx for the better part of a decade,” said Kim Dylla, a fan and singer based in Charlottesville who drives to shows at Jaxx monthly. “I cannot begin to explain how positively formative the people and bands I saw there were for my younger adult years. I have seen so many bands play that I never thought I'd get to see, and beyond that, the setup of Jaxx allowed me to meet and befriend many of them, as both fans and bands often drink at the back bar after [shows]."
Still, for local bands, Jaxx isn’t exactly welcoming at first. One of Nedry’s most controversial policies is his requirement that local opening acts sell a certain number tickets in advance of a concert. "They basically give you a stack of tickets ahead of time and a contract, and you agree to show up with $X on the day of the show," says Chris Grimm of the local metal band To the Teeth. This "pay to play" policy means that many bands unable to sell their full allotment of tickets have to pay the difference out of their own pockets to play the gig.
A pay-to-play policy is not uncommon at many of the area venues that regularly host metal shows — Sonar and the Ottobar in Baltimore have both required local openers to presell tickets to shows. Venues known more for indie rock shows — such as the Black Cat, Rock & Roll Hotel, Red Palace, and Jammin' Java — do not have this requirement.
"Any club wants their opening acts to draw, and they expect their opening acts to promote and work hard to get people out to the show," says Dante Ferrando, co-owner of the Black Cat. "So it seems like the pay-to-play thing is a very easy way to ensure that the band has to do that. [But] we've never done it that way. We just [book] a band, and we expect them to draw a certain amount of people. If we discover that a band that we work with has no ability to draw people, we're less likely to book them again."
Bands, understandably, are generally not huge fans of Jaxx's policy. "'Pay to play' puts a lot of unnecessary pressure on the bands to get people in the door," says Grimm. "You would think that's what promoters were for."
"I hate it," says Mace of the local death metal band Apothys. "It builds in an automatic totemic system and relegates a band's pay to being no more than the number of people they personally wrangled out to a show, despite whatever performance they gave to the entire audience. I understand it's fair (but unkind) to use ticket sales as a barometer of a band's business acumen, but that tends to only lead to survival of the jaded."
Nedry is quick to defend the club's requirement for local bands. "I'm certainly not asking [bands] to do something I haven't already done or didn't already do repeatedly," he says, citing his experience preselling tickets when his band played at the now-closed Georgetown club the Bayou. "If you can't bring something to the table other than a burning desire to play, why should I put you in there? If you're going to be doing original music, and you haven't got a record deal, and you want to be able to play on a stage like that with a sound system that costs $300,000, with the lights and the reputation of the place, you've got to bring something to the table. You've got to be able to participate in what's going on."
Nedry points out that most other local venues don't regularly host metal shows. "So if you want to play this particular niche of music," he continues, "you've got to be able to help participate."
Nedry says playing with a national act is an opportunity for local bands. "Most people in the audience couldn't care less about local bands! So [if] I'm going to have to take up two or three hours of my stage time with my crew and my building to let these guys play, they damn well better be able to bring some of their friends and have them spend some money. This is how a place like mine is able to keep the lights on."
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