City Paper is not for tourists
After 10 years booking music at the well-known rock club on 14th Street NW, Vicki Savoula is leaving Black Cat, effective Aug. 3.
She’s not abandoning her perch for another club—-Savoula, 33, is leaving the music business entirely, embarking on a new career in education. (When asked where she’s headed, she declined to give specifics.) She says club owner Dante Ferrando will be taking over booking, at least temporarily. (Ferrando is away and could not be reached in time for deadline.)
“It’s been nearly 10 years of great shows, great customers, and working with a great staff, so it’s bittersweet to leave,” says Savoula, “but I just decided it was time to take on a new chapter for myself.”
Savoula has booked Black Cat throughout a period of dramatic change on 14th Street NW. In 2001, the club moved from a smaller space up the street to a roomier, two-story building at 1811 14th St. NW. Over the years, the block has gone from slightly seedy to utterly upscale: Now surrounded by trendy restaurants and pricey furniture shops, Black Cat is one of the last vestiges of punk rock on that strip. But Savoula says neighborhood change hasn’t significantly impacted the club’s bookings.
Running a profitable alternative venue is “always a struggle,” she says. “The changing of the neighborhood didn’t really change any of that because that’s something that’s sort of inherent to running a business that’s focused on arts and entertainment.”
The last decade also brought a wave of new competition for Black Cat when businessman Joe Englert began throwing buckets of money at building up seven new clubs and bars on H Street NE. In 2006, Englert opened the Rock & Roll Hotel and the Red and The Black (now a part of Red Palace), two venues that, along with his 9th Street NW club DC9, seemed to threaten Black Cat’s hold on the midlevel indie-rock market.
Savoula says the Cat took it in stride, relying on longstanding relationships with bands and agents to keep its stages booked. “I inherited a role that has always thrived on good relationships and building those relationships,” she says. “So those relationships become more and more important… the more competition that you have.”
Did some bands jump ship to play Englert’s clubs instead? “Well, yeah, that always is going to happen. I mean that’s something that we dealt with with Metro Cafe, we dealt with it with 9:30 Club…There might have been some local bands who, you know, chose to play more shows than they used to, but it’s not like they didn’t play Black Cat anymore.”
Update: Ferrando writes in an email, “I have always been actively involved with booking the club, but in recent years Vicki has taken care of filling most of the calendar and I have worked with her primarily on the largest shows and some weirder stuff. For the near term I’ll be taking care of all of the touring acts including the smaller shows. Lindsay [last name not provided] will be handling most of the local acts and support slots. We will probably add someone to the team at some point, but I still have not decided what type of position I’m looking to fill. I’m trying to keep an open mind about it.”
Photo courtesy Black Cat