A Phantom Union
Two tribes of the Capital city’s original music scene are getting booked at premium venues
By Christie MathernePosted Feb 9, 2011
There are two sides to every coin, and sometimes, one side is way more shiny and awesome than the other. In the last issue of Dig, we presented the struggle of new rock bands trying to get booked in Baton Rouge. We found that inexperience on-stage was a major reason why booking was such a struggle. Like any industry, a musician must first prove that he or she can be successful, and accessible, before anyone gives him or her a shot.
Only a few hours after press time, comments from indignant musicians and fans flooded the new Dig website. The majority of the rebuttals came from two distinct points of origin: Phantom Party Records and the Baton Rouge Organization of Original Musicians. They let us know that they’ve been unionizing, and that it’s working.
Cohen Hartman is a familiar name in the city. When Hartman’s band (Cohen and the Ghost) split up several years ago, he took inspiration from Connor Oberst’s Omaha-based record label, Saddle Creek, and started up a similar grassroots venture in Baton Rouge. The resulting project, Phantom Party Records, has been successfully booking new bands at major venues in Baton Rouge, signing the likes of Prom Date, The Widowers, Monsters Will, and Royal Teeth, among others.
“We were definitely influenced by Saddle Creek,” Hartman said of Oberst’s label. “This little label in this little town, in the middle of nowhere, that had no other competition, and all of a sudden it rose up and did its thing.”
Phantom Party bands sound like all sorts of things. There’s no criteria or genre. The only requirement, it seems, is that a band has a clear vision of what they want to do, and they must be willing to help each other.
“I was going to shows, and seeing all these guys…and it was almost like a community already,” said Matthew Sigur, the Public Relations man of Phantom Party, and part of the Bone Machine. “You play a show with a band, and you see them a month later and they’re all buddy-buddy, but no one was trying to help each other. No one would post anything about going to each others’ shows, stuff like that. And I just felt like, well why not?”
The community mentality proved more persuasive to venues than a shiny new PA in the hands of a 15- year-old Fender-owner. They’ve made a point of gathering musicians, who have years of combined stage experience, and creating a communal pot of knowledge they share with the bands on their label.
Similarly, the Baton Rouge Organization of Original Musicians, or BROOM, has only been around since September of 2010, but some of the bands on their roster have been bumping around town for a hot minute. Think Gris Gris, State Street Survivors, Erin Miley, and Broken Rubber Band, to name just a few (the latter are the founders of BROOM). While the organization isn’t a record label, they offer their members a free agent and a home-built recording studio run by The Dizzy Records.
They’ve even managed to book an all-local show at the Varsity on February 17, after being organized for only five months.
BROOM developed because “the majority of venues in Baton Rouge only hire cover bands, leaving little to no way for original musicians to share their music with the community,” wrote Randall Head, founder of the organization, in an e-mail. “Playing the Varsity was a goal we set for ourselves when we started this organization, but we had no idea it would happen this fast.”
Another successful idea behind both Phantom Party and BROOM is the “crowd-trade.” The reason bands started going on tour together in the first place was the exposure to potential new fans. Within the Phantom Party community, the more experienced bands book those less-so as openers for their own shows, and all of a sudden, there’s a packed venue.
“The crowd is gonna be feeding off these bands they’ve never seen,” said Chris DiBenedetto of the band Gris-Gris and member of BROOM.
The Phantom Party bands are booking shows at tricky venues, too: the Varsity has booked a Phantom Party Compilation Release Show in March, and two Phantom bands are playing at the Spanish Moon with Sun Hotel on February 12th. And some of the bands haven’t been around for that long – rock outfit Monsters Will is a baby band at one year old, and their first show was at none other than the Spanish Moon.
Hartman started up a new band shortly after disbanding Cohen and the Ghost, and he’s got a good sense for marketing himself: he named his new band Cohen Hartman and the Bone Machine, so that the fans he’d amassed with the Ghost would know it was a Hartman incarnation. That could be one reason the Spanish Moon continually books Phantom Party bands, and why the Varsity has taken them on as a package deal in early March.
“It’s gonna be just The Bone Machine soon, hopefully,” Hartman said. “My friends kinda make fun of me about it. I just didn’t want to lose anyone.”
Your Unionized Local Music Calendar
February 12: Phantom Party bands Monsters Will and Cohen and the Bone Machine, plus Sun Hotel @ the Spanish Moon, 9pm, $7
February 17: Sweep The Floor: A Local Music Showcase with Erin Miley, the Broken Rubber Band, Pushing Pandas, Urbane, Deuces and Gris-Gris @ the Varsity, doors @ 8pm, $10
**March 4: **Phantom Party Records Album Release Party with England in 1819, Cohen and the Bone Machine, Royal Teeth and He Bleeds Fireman @ the Varsity, doors @ 8pm, $10
- The Broken Rubber Band
- Pushing Pandas
- Onion Loaf
- State Street Survivors
- Days Deft
- The Veritas Cycle
Phantom Party Records artists
- He Bleeds Fireman
- Monsters Will
- Royal Teeth
- Gypsy Space Caravan
- Prom Date
- England in 1819
- The Widowers
- Cohen Hartman and the Bone Machine
- Kozmic Nod
- The Have-Nauts