It's that time of the month again, the time when Pittsburghers start wondering where they'll go to see live rock and pop shows next month. Ahh, for the optimism and hope of the blissful pre-Act 47 days of April, 2004, when one local music journalist went so far as to say, "... Pittsburgh in general may have reason to tap its fingers together and say, 'Exx-cellent.'" (OK, that was me, in this space.)
That was because Jon Rinaldo of Joker Productions, promoter of local mid-sized music events, was about to open The World, a new live-music club in the old Rosebud space in the Strip District. It was to be a 1,000-seat club bent on correcting the mistakes of Rosebud, Metropol and Rinaldo's old stomping grounds, Club Laga, to become Pittsburgh's first "true showcase venue," as Rinaldo said at the time.
Now it is almost certain that, as of July 18, that club will close its doors, and Joker Productions will move its hefty stable of upcoming gigs to established venues such as Nick's Fat City and Club Café, for which Joker already books most national acts.
According to Rinaldo, the club is yet another victim of the concert-season drought hitting the likes of Lollapalooza (tour cancelled due to poor sales), Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears (tours cancelled for health reasons -- although few in the music biz are buying that excuse).
"I thought at first it was just that fans from Laga weren't familiar with the room," Rinaldo says, since Rosebud hadn't been known as an all-ages venue, and many of Joker's punk and alternative shows are aimed at a younger audience. "But the whole industry had just crashed in on itself, and it trickled down to our level. Artists that in the past had sold out [Club Laga] were doing half the [ticket sales] they had."
Overall, it comes down to a live-music audience that simply isn't buying tickets this summer: Even summer-tour stalwarts like Dave Matthews Band and the Ozzfest tour aren't guaranteed sell-outs. But as usual for Pittsburgh-area venues, it wasn't just ticket sales: Wrangling over the liquor license kept the venue dry longer than had been expected, and disputes with both the landlord and Joker's insurance agency proved time-consuming and costly.
"When [our insurance carrier] dropped us, it was like, 'What else can happen here?' I looked at the fall schedule, and there were a lot of really good shows that aren't confirmed yet -- but this was gonna put me in bankruptcy [before then], and then, would we have gotten them?"
So The World will close as a triage maneuver to save Joker Productions, one month ago named one of Pittsburgh's top-six "cultural forces" by the Post-Gazette. To Pittsburgh, it's just another in a rapid series of mid-sized venue musical chairs that goes back at least to the closing of Graffiti four years ago. This time, there's no true replacement on the horizon: Nick's Fat City holds only around 600, leaving Millvale's Mr. Small's Funhouse virtually the only larger mid-sized space in the region. To Jon Rinaldo, however, it's a swift end to a five-year dream of a promoter-owned venue.
"It's heartbreaking to me to have to do this," says Rinaldo. "I've waited the last five years to get into my own place. I can't even go into the pain in my head over having to go."
As Rinaldo has discovered, the obvious pun is also now painfully true: "It really looks like the world is ending."