The Tiny Bar at Black Iris is one of our favorite places in town to catch a show. A bit elusive, it’s one of those places that many locals haven’t even yet discovered. Black Iris is a music production company and gallery space located at 321 W Broad St. When Black Iris moved in to their space several years back, they did a top to bottom renovation that is truly impressive – they’ve managed to create a space where folks feel just as comfortable hanging as they do working. No matter what time of day we head over to their space for a meeting, there’s always an offer of a local brew on draft, and most times, peanut butter filled pretzels – who Dave Jackson (Founding Partner) will tell you is best served with a dab of sriracha. The admirable generosity of their crew is ever-present. While there are a lot of really great things happening at Black Iris and in the gallery, 321 West Broad, the Tiny Bar Shows are really special, intimate experiences for audience and performer alike. We talked with several members of their team — Justin Bailey (ECD/Partner), Dave Jackson (Founding Partner), Amanda Patterson (Senior Producer), Rich Stine (Creative Director), and Benjamin Thorp (Gallery Curator/Programmer) — to learn more about how Tiny Bar shows came about, what’s next for Tiny Bar, and of course, their votes for best Black Iris bartender.
What do you hope to achieve with the Tiny Bar series?
BENJAMIN: One of the most amazing things about the Tiny Bar is being able to facilitate a really intimate cultural exchange between artist and audience. We’ve seen such positive reactions to the shows we’ve presented so far, and there is a great word-of-mouth about the space that is growing our audience organically. I’m really happy about this and want to continue to provide a space that people can trust, and to present interesting and challenging shows that cross genres.
What do you find most charming about Tiny Bar?
JUSTIN: It’s a premium experience that doesn’t mirror that of the general path of gauging musical success. Whereas conventional wisdom says that a better band plays in bigger venues and to a larger audience, I don’t necessarily agree. What I find charming about Tiny Bar is that it celebrates good music and intentionally steers away from the metrics of sell-out crowds and instead focuses on the appreciation of music in an incredibly intimate way. It’s back to basics. It’s the songs without all of the production.
BENJAMIN: The sound of acoustic instruments in that space is stunning due in large part to the custom wood paneling created by Steven Boehling. The lighting is perfect and the decorations by The Odd Couple are great. All of that contributes to the ambiance… but I guess the most charming aspect of all of it is the amazing painting that Duncan Roberts created for us. It’s Moby Dick meets 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea with David Bowie as Captain Ahab and David Byrne as Captain Nemo. Beautiful color palette done in a style reminiscent of Japanese wood block prints.
What’s next for Tiny Bar? Audio/Video components?
AMANDA: We always love it when we can have a photographer come in – it’s such a great space to capture a small, intimate show. Rich has been working on recording the sets – we like the idea of one day being able to video and share these publicly one day. But we also are into keeping it simple and want to let the music and the memory of being present at a show speak for itself.
With capacity, Tiny Bar shows can only grow to be so big. How do you see it growing?
DAVE: I see it growing with a desire to be in here. It becomes more exclusive, more desirable to actually make it in. That’s kind of the charm for me. And the idea is to run it without any kind of elitist-type situation — to maintain that friendly attitude of, “We’re out here to just witness and be a part of something very intimate and very special.” We try to mix up the people who are allowed in as much as possible, depending on the genre of the person playing.
There’s not really anything else like this going on in the city. The closest thing I would relate it to would be – they don’t do this anymore – but would be when they were doing “The Listening Room” at the Firehouse. The one rule was there was no talking during the sets.
BENJAMIN: Yeah, I think that was over by the time I got into town. But I had heard really good things about it. The nice thing about this space, I don’t know if it’s the architecture or just the people that come out, but that’s just implied. Like nobody talks.
JUSTIN: It’s all about enhancing this space, too. The building itself – I’m not sure how much you know about it – but it has such a rich history of music. When Brian Hoffa played the other night, he was literally sitting basically where he sat for years in this building when this room used to be Sound of Music’s A Control Room. And he was, a lot of times, the engineer at the helm of records.
DAVE: There is something magical about this room. We do mic vocals and things like that. But when we’ve had people be completely mic-less, the sound of this room – the acoustics of this room…I think somehow because the sound can bounce around in here but it can also travel up and escape – it sounds so good in here.
RICH: We’ve also kind of created our own reverb chamber that goes all the way up to the third floor when you think about it. It helps out the natural acoustics.
Any upcoming acts booked?
BENJAMIN: We have a lot in the works, but this month for the Tiny Bar we have Daniel Bachman (whose music is incredibly beautiful) as well as Dogs on Main Street and Jonathan Vasser which we’re really excited about. I also just got back from a three week trip to Copenhagen on a grant as an International Music Curator, where I completely immersed myself in the Danish Jazz scene. We’re working on bringing in some of those incredible artists and continuing to work with the Barefoot Records Collective, but that’s a little further down the road.
What’s your favorite area in the Black Iris building – why?
BENJAMIN: That’s really hard… I love the whole first floor, Tiny Bar included, because we have a lot of great experiences there, but the second floor lounge is where Justin and I are a lot of the time and so much brain and creation energy is there. It’s really fun and exciting to work with him so… JB’s brain is definitely one of my favorite areas in Black Iris.
AMANDA: Oh great question. As the senior producer, my desk is up on the third floor. We have an open production space and it leads to great brainstorming and conversations. The building has these large beautiful windows throughout, so it’s filled with natural light up there too. I love that.
JUSTIN: Despite all of the beautiful rooms in the building, my favorite room is my studio control room. I’m always there with a purpose, and that feels really good. Being able to make music for a living is a blessing, so my studio is one of my best friends. I love being nestled close to my microphone. I have this Neumann U87 mic that just sounds great on anything you put in front of it. As awkward as it sounds, I love huddling over it. The room becomes inconsequential at that point.
Which Black Iris team member is the best bartender?
BENJAMIN: Nic Clinch. Hands down. He’s always interested in the music and the artists as people. He’s also funny, with a quick wit and absolutely no nonsense. He’s perfect.
AMANDA: Me. I’m a generous pourer. But really, Nic most often tends bar at our events and he’s great. And he does it for free. So tip your bartender!
JUSTIN: Nic is our go-to bartender. He balances the books at BI and he doesn’t take any shit. He’s a great bartender for the exact same reasons he is a great business manager. I’m a better bartender, though you’ll rarely see me behind the bar. Sorry, Nic.
RICH: Nic is of course, but I’m a strong second. 😉
From the Proust Questionnaire
What is your greatest extravagance?
RICH: Sleeping in till whenever
What is your motto?
JUSTIN: Give a lot.
BENJAMIN: Don’t tell me what do.
What is your most treasured possession?
JUSTIN: My grandfather’s glass eye comes to mind. (They don’t make them like they used to.) From a practical standpoint, my iron skillet.
AMANDA: My dog Charley. She’s not really a possession but…OI treasure her. She’s been with me for a long time. I rescued her from a pound over 12 years ago and she’s been my copilot ever since.
RICH: A $2 dollar bill that my mom gave me as a child for good luck
Who are your heroes in real life?
BENJAMIN: Bill Ayers was a professor of mine in Chicago, his teaching opened me up to the possibility of art to impact everyday life in a way that up to that point had only been theory. His teachings on pedagogy, his generosity of spirit and his belief in the ability for all of us to contribute to the bettering of the collective human condition, changed the way I thought, taught made art and, in a very real way, approach curating and programming at Black Iris.
Which word or phrases do you most overuse?
DAVE: Are you kidding me?
AMANDA: Benjamin, stop feeding Charley meatballs.
To hear about the next Tiny Bar show, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos of The Head and The Heart at Black Iris Tiny Bar, taken by Nick Ghobashi.