The closing of two of Louisville's oldest music venues, the Phoenix Hill Tavern and Jim Porter's, on April 1, was abrupt but, in truth, hardly a surprise, given the recent ferocity of competition in the live music scene in Louisville recently. Porter's was already set to be closed, after being purchased by the Metropolitan Sewer District, and business at PHT had been down for some time. Still, the suddenness was stunning to the community and left performs scrambling for other gigs.
That was followed, of course, by the announcement of the closing of the venerable Rudyard Kipling, the long-time stalwart venue for acoustic solos to small ensembles, playing all sorts of styles of music. It was also open to other groups, including theatre troupes.
It has also been clearly the case that the addition of the Mercury Ballroom, combined with more aggressive booking at the Palace, plus the continuing financial need for the KFC Yum! Center to book major shows, has impacted the scene in a very serious way, with many clubs booking fewer shows.
Add to all that, the continuing growth in music festivals of various sorts, from small to large. Mostly recently, the Kentucky Speedway announced the brand-new NiFi Music Festival, which has scheduled a number of major – though second- and third-tier – acts. That's scheduled for August 28-30.
There are only so many entertainment dollars to go around in the Kentuckiana area, and, while the festivals do bring in additionally dollars from out of the area, many local music fans chose to spend their money at festivals, where they can see and hear many different acts, rather than in local night spots. The difficulty is that most local bands don't get slots on the festivals, so there's no income being replaced, assuming that they would be paid to play the festival.
This has an effect on down the food chain: music stores continue to struggle; instrument repair businesses have less work; lessons don't fill in the lost income and, on the club side, fewer patrons means less consumption and fewer staff needed. Meanwhile, much of the money continues to leave the area.
To some degree, smaller festivals help some, but start-up festivals don't usually pay the bands and/or are often benefits, such as the Poorcastle Festival, which expands this year to three days. All revenue from that event benefits Crescent Hill Radio. [Full Disclosure: I serve on the Board of Crescent Hill Radio but have no direct role in Poorcastle, other than volunteering.]
Where does it all end? Nobody knows, of course; everybody is just trying to find something that will work. It is to be hoped that the result isn't the diminishing of the live music scene here in the River City.
Mattingly, Donald, 36, died in Louisville on June 10, 2015. He was a rapper who performed under the name of Wreck D. Mic.