This Saturday marked the fifth annual Black Sheep Art Show held at the longstanding independent music venue Black Sheep Café, usually associated more with raucous punk rock concerts than visual art. This is the third year Black Sheep Café co-owner Clare Frachey has acted as primary coordinator for the show. “This year is the most interactive so far in terms of the space,” she said.
Emphasizing the venue’s mission of providing a space for young and inexperienced creators, Frachey sent out a general call for artists – as opposed to the past few years, when she reached out to specific artists already familiar to her. “I didn’t say no to anyone. If you have art and you want to show it, then you can.” This year’s show attracted both seasoned and beginning artists, including Kristin B. Walker, Mckenzie Michelle Dukett, Michael LaFrance, Ted Keylon, Will Redwood, Kate Turasky Ridge and many others. Synthesizer whiz Eric Rogers and singer-songwriter Mike Fitzgibbon provided live music. “The Black Sheep is a place where people can get their sea legs, so to speak,” Frachey said.
Last year, things were looking a little shaky for the scrappy venue, which celebrated its 12th anniversary in 2017. Black Sheep acts as the centerpiece of a complex of youth-oriented small businesses at the corner of South Grand Ave. and Eleventh St., which also includes Dumb Records, Boof City Skate Shop, the SouthTown Sound recording studio and Skank Skates skateboard ramp. Last September a call for help went out via social media in which venue owners admitted that they were not sure how long they would be able to keep the doors open. “A lot of people saw that and are now wondering if our call was heard,” said Frachey. “It was! Show attendance, interest and circulation have all been getting better.” She acknowledged that any DIY music venue is always going to struggle, but says morale has improved greatly. “We are super-thankful for everyone who has supported us. I see people responding really well when we do more variety. We had a comedy show this past month and a lot of people came out for that.”
There has also been positive response to recent hip-hop showcases and poetry readings, further demonstrating the space’s versatility. Crucial to the survival of an all-ages venue, Black Sheep has recently been successful in attracting a new generation of youngsters. “There is a bunch of high-schoolers who are starting to come out and get really into the punk shows. That’s fun to watch and it’s encouraging to see all these kids taking an interest.”
Another expansion of the Southtown scene’s reach will come on April 20, when Black Sheep and Southtown Studio co-owner BJ Pearce will present a unique show at the Dana-Thomas House. “I was formerly a tour guide there for about two years,” Pearce said. “I gave tours to thousands of people and ever since then I thought it would be very interesting to have a musical performance there.” The Frank Lloyd Wright-designed building has hosted a few musical events previously, but nothing like the upcoming show, which will feature new material from Pearce’s “Pretend I’m Not There” project as well as performances by FM (a/k/a Brandon Carnes of Looming) and Kate Laine. “Justin Blandford (superintendent of state historic sites in Springfield) was very helpful and willing to accommodate me in the space,” said Pearce. The show will only be able to accommodate 40 seats with advance tickets available by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me to play in a place that I’ve really fallen in love with,” said Pearce.
Scott Faingold can be reached at email@example.com.