Open mic fight: Despite financial woes, offbeat venue will let anyone take the stage

Open mic fight: Despite financial woes, offbeat venue will let anyone take the stage
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

Times are tough at the quirky Bushwick music venue Goodbye Blue Monday, but the staff at the struggling performance hall refuses to say hello to a tried-and-true method of making money at a concert hall: booking bands that people want to see.

Workers at the quickly dilapidating venue are willing to try anything to fix the eight-year-old space — anything, that is, except altering the free-for-all booking policy, which keeps Goodbye Blue Monday bohemian and experimental, but not necessarily in the black.

Refusing to sell out — and, in turn, failing to sell out the venue — is better than caving to the citywide trend of only booking market-tested bands that are sure to bring in the bucks, says manager Kate Vandever.

“We’re a free-form music venue and we want to keep it like that,” she said.

Goodbye Blue Monday’s open mic policy, which went out of favor around the time Dylan went electric, allows anyone who wants to put on a show to call ahead and snag a time slot on any night of the week.

The staff doesn’t ask performers what kind of shows they are planning, if they can draw a crowd, or even if they know how to play their instruments.

“We don’t turn people away,” said Vandever. “If you need a stage to play on in New York, we offer that.”

Susan Hwang, the founder of the Bushwick Book Club, said it was Goodbye Blue Monday’s openness that allowed her experimental literary and music series — in which musicians read a book and then write songs relating to the text — to get off the ground.

“I don’t know if it would have come into existence in another venue,” said Hwang. “Other places want something that is already proven. When we started, I didn’t know if anyone would come out to see it.”

The club opened on Broadway in the heart of Bushwick back when the neighborhood was a cultural ghost town, and its liberal curatorial approach has given numerous acts a first chance, including preppy indie rockers Vampire Weekend.

But turning a profit has never been easy — especially because staffers refuse to charge a cover, instead allowing bands to pass a hat and play for tips.

“There was one weird summer where we tried to charge at the door for bigger names, but we didn’t take a dime from that. All the money went to the bands,” said Vandever. “But then we stopped. It compromises the integrity of what we are trying to do.”

Instead, the venue makes money on drink sales. Staffers are planning an online fund-raising drive and a series of benefit shows to shore up finances, and there’s a push to expand the kitchen and food offerings. That revenue will go to long-overdue repairs including the installation of a new roll gate that actually opens (replacing one that is perpetually closed) and a new window (fixing a pane that has had a hole in it for years). After that comes the installation of air conditioning and a second bathroom.

“Right now, we only have one bathroom and the lines get really long,” said Vandever, whose venue hosts live shows seven nights per week, and often in the afternoons as well. “And it gets really hot in here in the summer.”

Goodbye Blue Monday [1087 Broadway between Lawton and Dodworth streets in Bushwick, (718) 453–6343].

Reach reporter Danielle Furfaro at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-2511. Follow her at twitter.com/DanielleFurfaro.