Covering all the bases

With good intentions and high hopes, Balliceaux begins charging covers for live music, putting their free-shows-only policy on hold.

The live music destination, nightlife hotspot, and critically acclaimed restaurant Balliceaux is putting its free-shows-only policy on hold, charging covers likely ranging from only $3-5 for upcoming performances in July and beyond.

The nearly-year-old restaurant, bar, and lounge has built its reputation of putting on some great shows. It’s partly the legacy of the space: the old back room at Bogart’s used to see performances by jazz greats like the Marsalis family, local favorites like Devils Workshop Big Band, and plenty of artists just stopping through. Balliceaux, with the help of Chris Bopst, has made sure that live music continues to thrive there.

Bopst — who books only music that he personally likes, music with “some bite,” as we reported when the place opened in August — is all about not charging a cover for these shows. He wrote in his Brick column in June, which was devoted to the subject, “It puts everybody on the same hook. We all sink or swim together.” The band has a responsibility for bringing plenty of people in, and the venue has a responsibility of paying the band accordingly. Furthermore, he wrote, charging a cover for admittance would make the venue seem more like a bar that serves food, and not a restaurant that has live music.

He closes his article by saying, “When I hear people thoroughly befuddled by the fact that they are seeing a band they normally would never see in a place that is breathtakingly beautiful for free and still make a profit for everyone concerned, I know we must be doing something right.”

Co-owner Lainie Gratz agrees with Bopst, but, she says, “he also knows we have to try and cover our overhead as much as possible during the slow months.”

“Booking the bands, the cost of paying the bands themselves, advertising fees, bar/food tabs, and having to pay people to work the doors ended up being too much to continue free shows for now,” she says.

Summer slowed down business slightly, and this will help get them through it. Also, she believes it will control the crowd size — which, for big shows, tend to fill the room uncomfortably — to manageable levels.

They hope to upgrade the room with a stage, lighting, and reworking the back table to make more space available, but can’t put money toward those investments since it’s being spent paying bands their guarantees. The door charge would help pay the bands and allow the venue to start making the upgrades.

“Finally,” she says, “it allows and prepares us for bigger acts that we couldn’t afford without a cover.”

They plan on still having the occasional free show, or a full month of free shows, and DJ nights will always be free.

Griping about a $3 cover seems ridiculous and petty, but it will take some training on Balliceaux’s part to make their clientele used to paying to get in. Bands like Fight the Big Bull — who play every two weeks — and No BS! Brass — who just secured a monthly slot to offset their all-ages monthly show with a cover at The Camel — thrive under current free conditions. They’re regularly getting exposed to new potential fans, and if the chatter of the patrons who didn’t come for the music gets loud like it tends to do, these bands don’t usually have a problem drowning it out, or at least matching it in volume.

The one time I did pay for a cover to hear music at Balliceaux was a show in the style of the shows that Bopst was known for putting on at Millie’s or Lulu’s: pay an absurdly low $5-10 for a show and an all-you-can-eat buffet. A seafood dinner and a performance by Fuzzy Baby on a Sunday evening seemed too good to be true, and the packed house that night confirmed that others felt the same way.

In a city where it seems to be hip to complain about paying a cover that amounts to the cost of one beer, Balliceaux may see a drastic shift in audience size for shows. Or, their upscale clientele won’t mind the extra charge tacked on to their night out. It’s hard to predict what the effect will be.

The discussion of switching from free to cover-charged shows hits on a larger point: the question should never be if the musicians will get paid, but by whom they will be paid. Musicians — like the food servers or the cooks — have to be paid, and a free concert is practically a gift from the venue to the audience, paying the band so you don’t have to.

It’s impolite not to thank the gift giver for their thoughtfulness.

Balliceaux is located at 203 N. Lombardy St. Upcoming shows in July: (6th) Amazing Ghost, $3; (13th) The Recliners, $5; (14th) Ombak, $3; (26th) Glows in the Dark, $3; (27th) Bio Ritmo, $5; (29th) No BS! Brass, $5; with DJ nights interspersed throughout. Visit them online at

Photo by Nrbelex

  • error

    Report an error

Dean Christesen

Notice: Comments that are not conducive to an interesting and thoughtful conversation may be removed at the editor’s discretion.

  1. lindsey on said:

    i for one don’t mind paying a three dollar cover, but that means i’ll definitely be drinking pbr’s instead of $10 cocktails!

  2. Matt on said:

    I second that!

  3. BOPST on said:

    it’s all about making money…

  4. No, it’s not. But it’s what this article is about.

  5. Restaurants have to deal with this all the time. I think with Bopst and company in charge, it should work out just fine.

    The toughest adjustment for the band’s will be fewer diners hanging around in the back, because the cover will probably drive them to the front room.

  6. BOPST on said:

    @Dean: Oh but it is…

  7. Bob M. on said:

    Hey, Bopst, why do you have to be such a condescending ass? Maybe that’s why your section here never gets any comments. People don’t feel like being ridiculed.

  8. I’m with Scott B. on this one. I think keeping the guarantee system in place will make sure the bands get compensated adequately. However, I worry that people *might* choose to go elsewhere if they have to pay for something they used to get for free. Can someone tell me what the official capacity of the back room is? It would be interesting to work out the math on the cover charge vs guarantee vs number of attendees.

    I will say Bopst has been fighting the good fight here. I do not believe that any restaurant/venue is obligated to subsidize music by losing money. I guess our best hope is that people continue to come out to support their local businesses and musicians. Some of this smacks of the run-up to Cous Cous’ bailing on live music. I hope that’s not the endgame here.

  9. Tommy on said:

    Of course Balliceaux has every right to charge a cover, especially if it’s cheap. But the guarantee needs to remain.

    Now, personally, I’m not sure if this will drive me away. The last few shows I’ve been to there (Amazing Ghost, D-Shultz) have been so CROWDED that I could barely hear the music. The bar is replete with Cougars, Hipsters, Psuedo-Hipsters and people who got too drunk at home to go down to the Bottom on weekend nights. It’s really become a shit-show in there and that sucks when you want to hear some music. On weeknights it is a little better, especially when I want to hear some FTBB or Glows in the Dark or something.

    But, at least 60 percent of the time I’ve ended up at Balliceaux it has been because I’ve said “well if it’s going to be free, I may as well check it out”

    I appreciated the Fight the Big Bull and Ombak gigs at Cous Cous and now FTBB at Balliceaux (Although my recent attendance has been lackluster) because I feel like I’ve ‘grown up’ a little bit with those bands. Going to see them for free a bunch of times in a row is like sitting in on their rehearsals. I got to see them get good, or get better, fine-tune new tunes or play old favorites. Going to a free show is like getting away with something. I will always buy a couple of beers or some french fries, but somehow I feel ‘closer’ to the band if I haven’t paid to get in.

    I guess I’m cool with cover charges for the bigger one-off shows, as long as a HUGE percentage of the money is going to the band and to improving what I think is a terrible/weird sounding room (even worse than the Camel *Gasp!) with better PA and maybe a stage. I’m not sure how Matt feels about this but I think Fight the Big Bull’s twice monthly gig being free is more a matter of tradition at this point.

  10. BOPST on said:

    jesus Bob. I had no idea.

  11. BOPST on said:

    Anyway, it really is all about the money. The free show only works if people come and spend their money. Otherwise, it is just charity. I’ve had club owners/promoters look at me like I’m an idiot when I tell them the arrangement at Balliceaux. Not that I care, but the cold hard reality is that they do have a point. Why pay a band more than they would get if you charged admission?

    When I played music in town, nobody ever gave me a guarantee. We made what we brought in. It was a fair deal as long as I (or someone I trusted) ran the door. Before we started doing it, we’d make 100 or 200 bucks tops. The first time we controlled the door, we made 1200 after expenses. After that, nobody ever ran our door if we were playing in town but us.

    To me, that is the fairest deal; the band gets 100% of the door (minus the 7% admissions tax & doorman). Problem is if a band only brings in a handful of people, they aren’t going to make a whole lot of money. It’s not the venues fault that nobody comes to see your band. I think a lot of musicians need to realize that.

    What I find funny is that people have actually complained to me about the free shows at Balliceaux. It’s like listening to the queen bitch about having to be in the same room as peasants. It really is baffling because that is what I like about the free show; it is open to everybody. Sure, humanity can be annoying, but damn, people have become mighty pussified when it comes to seeing live music. They don’t want anybody to talk, they don’t want anybody obstructing their view, they don’t want the place to be too packed blah, blah, blah. What a bunch of whiny pussies.

    When Louis Barabbas played (an excellent show by the way), a lot of people were talking and not paying attention to him during his performance. It sort of pissed me off and I told him I’d tell them to shut up but he stopped me and said it was his job to win them over. That was refreshing thing to hear from a musician. When I saw the Bad Livers years ago at Moondance, they stopped playing until people shut up. I thought that was brilliant too. Either way, I leave that decision on how to treat an audience to the performers.

    And with a free show, you are almost always guaranteed the most important thing in the business of music; an audience.

    There will always be free shows at Balliceaux as long as I’m booking shows there. The only difference is that not all of them will be free.

  12. Liberty on said:

    I dont get it, if the crowd is talking too much during the show cant the band just CRANK IT UP!

    Regarding paying for music, you have to pay for something of value, theres a reason some things are free, because there not worth anything

  13. CSB on said:

    “Sure, humanity can be annoying, but damn, people have become mighty pussified when it comes to seeing live music. They don’t want anybody to talk, they don’t want anybody obstructing their view, they don’t want the place to be too packed blah, blah, blah. What a bunch of whiny pussies.” <—Bopst, I love you man.

  14. bob miller on said:

    chris – matt white just pointed this out to me. i had not seen it and i am not the bob m that called you a condescending ass. i just happen to share the same first name and first letter of my last name. you and me – we’re cool. i hope you didn’t think that was me because apparently everyone else did. my fault for having such a common name. i, for one, have never had a problem paying to see a band play, as long as my money is going to the band. :)

  15. BOPST on said:

    I thought it was Bob Marley…

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with an asterisk (*).

Or report an error instead