Small Town Booking Agent: An Interview With Black Bear's Raphael Morales

Fashion Bath, pictured, are booking agent Raphael Morales favorite band

By Alex Brown

In examining the industry side of the Asheville music scene I sat down with booking agent Raphael Morales. Veteran of several bands himself, Raph books bands and does the sound engineering for bar and coffee shop Black Bear. Situated in Hendersonville, a small satellite of Asheville, we discuss what its like working as a booking agent and the difficulties of working in a small town.

Alex Brown: How did you first get into booking bands?

Raphael Morales: Well [Black Bear] is a coffee shop I’ve been going to since High school… Eventually the owner, he got older, had a lot of expenses that he couldn’t pay for and he had to sell the shop. The new owner was a music lover and I knew they had a stage in there, and my girlfriend at the time told me he wanted to use the stage and turn it into a jazz bar. I had had the idea all along of turning that place into a venue, like a listening room. I sat down one day and said, “I’m going to do this, I’m going to make something out of this situation.”

I came up with a plan and budget and outline of how to bring music to a pretty well known staple of Hendersonville, Black Bear Coffee Company. I knew a lot of people in the area and I knew once I put the word out there I could find the acts and there would be no problem getting support.

So I told my girlfriend and the people who worked there “hey name drop me to this guy.” I eventually got his name and number and I sat down with him. I had a piece of paper I handed out, I had a whole presentation, a whole outline, and he said, “alright lets do this”.

I got a budget, and I got a sound system with it. Did some stage remodelling. A lot of sound checking before we even had any music in there. And I refined my band selection.

AB: What advice would you give to anyone who wanted to get into booking bands?

RM: It’s the most hapless job you can have in music. Don’t expect to get any credit and don’t be in it for anything except your love of music, because I make barely any fucking money.

AB: How do you select the acts you book?

RM: Forty per cent of the time they come to me and the other sixty per cent of the time I have to look for them. And what’s cool about Hendersonville is it’s starved, not like Asheville our crazy neighbour. Hendersonville doesn’t have that much shit going on, so a coffee shop with a stage is a good place to attempt to force shit to go on.

I have the rare ability right now that I wont have for the rest of my life, to pick weird shit and have it in a place where weird shit doesn’t happen. And I can put it under their nose; I can put it on the radar because it’s just a coffee shop. It’s not like a main stage event on Main Street where all these people are going to throw a tissy, because all these alternative kids are coming out of the shadows and ruining their community. So I get to hint that this culture is apparent and its here. That, I kinda get a little bit of a rise out of that. So when I can I book bands that I know people go, “Ooh wow, that’s really cool” and turn their head a little.

AB: So that sixty per cent how do you find them, how do you scout them out?

RM: I call it venue poaching. I basically will go through a lot of surrounding areas; I go through their bills and see who’s playing. And if there’s something that catches my ear or my eye I’ll contact them, or the people who are managing them, and see how much they are. Then ya, I reach out to them, there are ways, email and Reverb Nation and shitty ass Facebook.

AB: When you were performing you had a reputation for some pretty lewd behaviour, some stripping, how would you feel about an act you booked doing that?

RM: I would love it. I think especially because I have the owner that I have, that he would love it too. But once again I would feel the need to tell people that that’s the kind of group that was playing. I would feel the need to tell someone, “Hey this band is crazy!” Because I know that in a place like this, if something like that just happened people wont come in. It’s like we’re in the fucking fifties or something.

AB: What would you say is the main challenge in your work?

RM: The biggest challenge I would say would be making people care. Convincing people, by people I mean the average person on the street, that there’s someone who’s spent probably their entire life, or at least their adult life, just pouring their guts out into something and its just twenty feet away from them. And I’m standing on the street, and its starting to rain a little bit, I might have a little flier or something, and it took all my experience to get me here, and it took all their experience to get them there and you’re just somebody walking by.

That’s the hardest part because they wont even fucking go in there. Just seeing that total like, it’s like a slip stream of perspective, they don’t even know that whole world is right there. And you just want to show them maybe there’s a song in there that’ll do this, maybe they’ll see somebody and feel this… But [the hardest part is] the fact that there are people in there that have spent at least years and years putting together what’s happening and getting people to care about that, because people don’t.

At least around here, and that’s what I envy about Asheville. I wish people’s attitude towards music were the same. I mean people do care, but not on the same scale, and small scales don’t pay bills.

AB: And finally what is your favourite act that you have booked?

RM: I hope that they read this interview so I get more free shit. Definitely Fashion Bath… Those guys are a youthful explosion. It’s like if Radiohead wrote the soundtrack to every nickelodeon show.

If you are interested in grabbing a craft beer or coffee and listening to some music you can find Black Bear’s set list here. 

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