I'm relatively new to town, and therefore just absorbing the news of Matthew Gray's Denton County Proper booking woes. So at first I wasn't going to even bother with this story, because a lot of other folks already have.
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized after a decade-plus of covering and writing about live music, there's one thing I really cant stand: A shitty promoter. It's one thing if you're a nutcase, and many promoters are, as long as you get your job done. Sometimes a promoter needs to be intimidating, but that can also mean efficiency.
I've dealt with a full spectrum of shady, egotistical, vain and straight-up crazy characters in my musical travels. I think you have to have a touch of ego to be an artist, or want to hang out with them or write about them. But a promoter who is also a musician who is fucking other musicians out of money? Well, when you shit where you eat, you end up with a mouthful of shit, don't you?
I noticed no one's actually gotten Gray's side of the story, which is another puzzling factor. I've never met the guy, so I wanted to be fair. A cold call to him yesterday revealed his voicemail box to be tellingly full. An email went unanswered. And what of the Akron/Family and Low show scheduled for this past weekend in Denton? The invite had disappeared from Facebook. Carter Adams, Low's booking agent, simply stated: "We canceled the show because Gray went AWOL."
Then Mike Kinsella contacted me about a show his band Owen played in Denton back in November. One that Gray booked though, as seems to be the pattern here, they never got their full guarantee. Kinsella, who's been active in the Chicago music community for two decades with his brother Tim, in bands like Cap'n Jazz and Joan of Arc, thought it smelled fishy, but he also wanted to make money.
"He contacted my agent out of the blue with a ridiculous offer," Kinsella says. "And I remember thinking, 'That's weird. I'm not that popular in Denton.' I had my agent email him to be sure. He said, 'Oh, it's a benefit of sorts.' I thought, 'Then why not give money to the cause?'"
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So Kinsella booked a few other shows in Texas that same weekend to make a little extra money and make it worth his while. The night of the Denton show, Gray didn't show up until after it was over.
"And we totally bro-ed down," Kinsella says. "We had a drink and he gave me $700 cash and said he'd wire me the rest tomorrow."
Kinsella's still waiting for that $1,800 he was promised three months ago.
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"Then I was looking around the Internet and saw that his band had done a Daytrotter session, and it made me really mad that this guy is on tour and wants people to support his group. I had chalked it up to maybe he was a musician and now he's booking shows and got in over his head, but when I saw that he was a traveling musician, I got more mad about it."
He did finally get in touch with Gray after posting something on his Facebook about a month ago, and he offered to get things straightened out. But that led nowhere.
"I've been playing in unsuccessful bands for 20 years," Kinsella adds. "I'm basically a stay-at-home dad who does music part-time, and there's been times when we just don't make the door. But for someone to sort of walk away and not finish what he started ...
"I'm not a tough guy at all, but if his band comes to Chicago and I notice, I'm gonna punch him in the stomach. Then I'll be like, 'This is for Low,' and give him another one."