What started as a way for bands to just get a place to play turned into a seven-year success story as a home for all-ages music in Springfield. Snuggled into one long room on the east side of 11th Street just north of South Grand Avenue, the Black Sheep Café does what no one else has done – remained open as an all-ages venue.
“We never expected this to last more than a year when we started it on a whim,” says Kevin Bradford. “After that year I was the only one still involved. I really felt dedicated to building a place to let everyone’s talents grow, to do something with what we have. There was no real set ideas, it was just forming itself.”
The proximity to local skateboarding and all-ages hangout Skank Skates helped immensely as did having George Sinclair, the owner of Skank’s (as the locals call it) as landlord and supporter of the venue – which is not actually a café at all, only a non-alcohol, all-ages music space. The café went through plenty of changes through the years just trying to stay afloat, but the fundamental idea remained.
“We didn’t have any five-year business plan and I’ve never made a dime,” Kevin says. “We’ve all got other jobs. There is absolutely no money to be made off this. We work together, everyone has gifts and we use grassroots ideas to get done what we need to do.”
With this notion in motion, others just pitch in to get the work done. As I was there for the interview, locals and patrons walked by offering to help out with painting and other chores. Functioning as a co-op type organization, the Black Sheep Café depends on dedicated volunteers to get things done. It continues booking 100 to 120 shows a year, each featuring at least two to three bands of varying stages in the music business.
“Our booking operates as a collective with all of us bringing ideas,” says Brian Galecki, Black Sheep volunteer and supporter. “Anyone that wants to come here and play just let’s us know, then we do the scheduling.”
“Lots of times it’s the bands that organize who’s playing. They trade off with groups from other parts of the country to get shows in their towns,” says Cory VanMeter, another key Black Sheep supporter. “We have mostly punk and indie bands but are open to other types of music too.”
This friendly way of music making tends to open up doors and builds a sense of togetherness not found in more competitive and cutthroat markets. In another community-based move, the venue recently established a website (www.blacksheepspringfield.com) to not only promote shows at the café, but to centralize band listings and schedules for all Springfield bands caring to use the service.
“Anyone that would like to be listed can have a page by contacting me,” says Brian, coordinator and designer of the site. “We’re trying not to duplicate any sites out there, but thought we needed to have a place for us to stay organized with our venue listing and help out others too.”
As the venue celebrates seven years of shows with concerts on Saturday and Sunday this weekend (the first was on Sept. 17, 2005) the founding attitude still remains.
“There’s not going to be a Black Sheep franchise. We are part of the community, a part of urban renewal in a DIY ideology that supports the communal aspect of accomplishing a good thing,” explains Kevin. “We do this because, to us, it’s just the right thing to do, building an organic place for art to grow together for all of the community.”
Contact Tom Irwin at firstname.lastname@example.org.