Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Interveniew! Behind the Scenes at Rock & Roll Hotel

Name: Steve Lambert
Official Position: Booking Manager
At Rock + Roll Hotel since: October 2006
Favorite Shows: “I saw Phoenix play about a year ago, when they were still kind of under the radar for some reason. They’re definitely one of the best live bands – incredibly accessible to their audience.”
Excited about: the new Liars record, the Crime in Stereo concert at DC9 in May, the fact that people like Mayer Hawthorne can produce throwback stuff that younger generations are getting into

              I wish I could say that I didn’t go to the Rock and Roll Hotel for my interview with Steve Lambert fresh off a Chinatown bus from Philadelphia, but, well, that’s what happened. Still wearing last night’s clothing and frustrated by the perils of cheap transportation, I was definitely not as prepared as I would have liked to be standing outside and trying to figure out how to work the intercom buzzer. But the girl who puts me out of my misery by opening the door shoots me a friendly smile as she leads the way to Steve Lambert, and I feel a little bit of the tension dissipate.
              In the middle of the afternoon, the Rock and Roll Hotel is eerily empty – most of the lights are off, the doors to the main stage area are closed and foreboding, and the stairs creak as we climb to the second level of the club. The office is tucked away in a hall just past the upstairs bar area, cozy but not cramped, and littered with fliers promoting both past and future shows. Lambert himself fits in well with the environment, dressed comfortably in jeans and a t-shirt that displays his fondness for tattoos. He rises to shake my hand with a quiet smile before settling back into his obviously well used desk chair.
              “So,” he begins, “what would you like to know?” And with that, we’re off. Lambert works as the booking manager for two DC venues in addition to Rock and Roll Hotel: The Red and the Black, which tends to support the smallest local and touring bands, and DC9, whose manager I spoke with earlier in the month. He began his career as an industry professional in 2000, working his way up from booking underground acts for parties, alternative space shows and bars to his current position booking the acts with the some of the greatest momentum. (more after the jump!)
              “There isn’t really much of an underground to speak of anymore,” he notes, adding that the possible exception might be electronic music and the work of independent DJs. But the underground scene was where he started developing an ear for the kinds of acts that will be popular enough to sell tickets. Lambert has moved from working with bands directly to keeping abreast of press releases and media responses to rising stars. He cites the usefulness of music festivals throughout the year, particularly Austin’s annual South by Southwest event, in getting an even more accurate feel for how bands are going to do in terms of popular success.
              And from the looks of the Rock and Roll Hotel’s schedule, he’s pretty damn good at his job. Lambert booked Local Natives for the smaller DC9 before the band suddenly blew up and sold out the show, which will now be played on Rock and Roll Hotel’s main stage for an additionally sold-out crowd on May 5. Currently, he has his eyes on M.I.A.-approved duo Sleigh Bells, whose SXSW performance put them on several critics’ top-ten lists. There’s no aggressive booking battle to speak of yet, but it will be interesting to see Lambert’s venue duke it out with its main competitor, Black Cat.
              Lambert laughs at that particular phrasing.
              “It’s definitely a mutual respect thing with the guys over at Black Cat,” he clarifies. “We’re not going at each other’s throats or anything like that.” The two venues are strikingly similar, however, at least in terms of services provided. In addition to scheduling accessible and entertaining all-ages shows, the Rock and Roll Hotel has an upstairs bar and dance floor that is always 21+. With no cover charge and some of the district’s most talented DJs, it is almost always packed with people who are thrilled to have somewhere to “drink their faces off” and have a good time.
              Our conversation continues through the realm of music – the DJs tend to play remixes indie crowd pleasers, in case you were wondering – before I finally have no choice but to ask the question I know that Steve Lambert probably hates more than anything in the world.
“No, the Rock and Roll Hotel is not actually a hotel,” he sighs, running a hand over his face. “You would not believe how many times I’ve had to say that.” But the name does have a story behind it, even if it isn’t terribly exciting. As it turns out, credit goes to a few of the venue’s key investors. They wanted to call to mind the New York City hotels that garnered their fame through the rock stars that frequently inhabited them. It’s more of a cultural reference than anything specific to the location – a location which, interestingly enough, used to be a funeral home.
That’s right. For roughly fifty years, the Rock and Roll Hotel housed deceased residents of the district. Something to keep in mind next time you’re there for a show and the light in the women’s bathroom flickers, or the ticket booth rattles for no apparent reason. But the rumors of haunting may be precisely that – don’t let them stop you from what will undoubtedly be an awesome time with the coolest people in DC. They can’t put you up for the night, but they can definitely give you a night to remember. 

-- Emily Simpson
Host, "Don't You Wish We Were NPR," Mondays 8-10 AM on WGTB


Charlotte Japp said...

Rock and roll hotel is probably one of the coolest venues I've been to see a small gig...it's like youre in luigi's mansion or something. so many nondescript doors. that's a nintendo reference, you nerds.

Caroline said...

I like this venue too because its so small and you can always hang out with the artists afterwards, but it is SO HARD TO GET TO from gtown