I recently had the pleasure of grabbing a coffee with Dan Carswell, resident booker at Charlie’s Kitchen and soon to be guardian of the newest venue in Cambridge: Hong Kong in Harvard Square. Now Hong Kong has always had comedy shows upstairs, but they’ve never really had live bands before. Dan and I have shared a number of live music experiences so I wanted his perspective as the man on the other side of the stage. We talk to musicians all the time, but the promoters never really get enough of a voice. This was our conversation:
Nicholas Panagakos: Daniel, you’re currently the booker and promoter for Charlie’s Kitchen and soon to be booker and promoter for Hong Kong in Harvard Square, is that correct?
Dan Carswell: Yes, I would also put down sound engineer on that resume as well.
NP: So just doing double duty or just can’t find the help?
DC: A very good balance of both. But I like to be involved with everything as much as I can. Bend till you break.
NP: How long have you been doing this? Promoting bands and putting shows together?
DC: I want to say it’s been about five years, but if it’s been shorter than that then I have to do it till its five years. Just to commit to it. But yeah, I had always booked my bands. And there’s always that band that you want to play with, so just ask them. I’ve always made shows that I wanted to go to. And then it got to the point where I got my band out of it and just did it without them. Um, far too long. (laughs) I mean, at least once a week I’ve been booking shows for that time. It’s been cool. Definitely had rooms come and go since then.
NP: Where did you start booking shows? Was Charlie’s the first place?
DC: I did a couple of one-offs before Charlie’s. I did one at All-Asia, if you want a good laugh.
NP: Rest in Peace
DC: Rest in Peace. Yeah, that one actually ended up getting double booked so they gave me a bunch of porter stouts so I wouldn’t get angry with them. And when TT the Bears had a room when you walked in, on the left side of the bar where you would stash your coat, they would have shows in that nook. Jim Keeney of The Appreciation Post ran sound for them. I did a couple shows there. But Charlie’s was the one where I had to commit to one a week. That was the kick I needed to be less lazy and do something. Ryan the Terrible from O’Brien’s graciously helped me
out. I worked under him for about six months or so and then he gave me the whole, “You got this,” and patted me on the back. Then I just got scared.
NP: That sounds about right. I mean, Ryan is one of the greatest human beings to have ever lived.
DC: I know! Nobody does it like him. That’s why I tried to model…well, I tried to rip him off as best I can. But everything he does is so thought out and so smooth. He’s makes it look so effortless and that made me want to book shows. I have so much love and respect for the guy.
NP: What is the single-most worst experience you’ve had booking shows? Give me a Hindenburg.
DC: Oh, man…my “favorite” least-favorite moment…I had walked outside for a real quick second to smoke a butt and Zach (Wilson), who was helping me at Charlies, looked like he had seen a ghost. I was like, “What’s up, dude?” and he said that one of the performers had attempted to shave their pubes during their set. I guess I’m not well versed in performance art. That was just something I hadn’t seen before, but we’re a restaurant! You don’t have to know a lot about restaurants to know that you can’t shave yourself openly in a restaurant.
NP: “Sir, you can’t shave here.”
DC: Yeah! So I was just…”Oh, bud…god…” ‘cause I never want to be someone who censors art or doesn’t allow art. I want everyone to feel welcome and feel like a part of something. Just shave at home? Yeah, that was a tough one. Also whenever we have to call an ambulance, really sucks absolutely.
NP: Does that happen frequently?
DC: No, maybe a couple of times? The one that really sticks out in my mind was a super sold-out show. We had Weather Box at Charlie’s and it sold out just as the doors opened. We had 100 something people, so I sent the door person home. We’re done. We’re capped. I was just hanging out, it was super easy and their drummer broke their crash cymbal with one hit and the next hit sliced his wrist. Just, blood everywhere. He must have hit a vein. So I had to call an ambulance and get the police involved and get everybody out of there. It was just crazy having a room full of people. I mean, a lot of people can’t move quickly, but c’mon. Get out of the way! Now if that happens again it’s like second nature, but your first time is always goofy no matter what it is. When you start with shaving and ambulances, its just….always fucking something.
NP: As a performer and a booker, you’ve seen both sides of the fence now. Would you have any advice for people looking to book their bands that don’t have a lot of exposure or experience?
DC: We need bands as much as bands need venues. It’s a back-and-forth community, absolutely. Sometimes for me, with my band, I feel a little shy e-mailing people to try to ask for things. But I don’t even think that when I flip it around. I’m accepting and welcoming of everybody e-mailing
me for shows. It’s weird because it’s the opposite of how I work sometimes. It can be quick easy and painless. A lot of the time I’ll get e-mails and reach-outs that just don’t have any information. Like, what’s your band? For real though, what’s your band like? What do you sound like? What date are you looking for? I’ll help, I just need to know how. It seems like it’s super easy, but it’s weird, y’know? The amount of E-mails without a band name is wild. Fucking wild. Just be honest with what you’re looking for. One of my favorite e-mails I got a while ago, young Boston band, said, “Yeah, we can draw ten people.” And that’s super honest. It’s not a lot of people, but now I know what to expect. That means I’ll have you first, you’ll probably bring a couple of people, maybe more. It helps me paint the picture for the show I’m going to build. Just be honest. And send me your band’s name!
Dan Carswell is the primary booker and promoter at Charlie’s Kitchen in Harvard Square and soon to be Johnny-on-the-spot at Hong Kong in Harvard Square. Charlie’s has shows every Monday starting at 9PM and the cover is always $5. Shoot them an e-mail if you want to play a show but give them details, ya fink!
Nicholas Panagakos is a writer based out of Cambridge, MA. He has published one book of poems and illustrations titled Laughter You See and plays in bands regularly. Soon to open a home for adult orphans. Buy him a drink.
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