Anniversary show marks end of era

Chris Morris waves good-bye to Rock Crew after four years of concerts

Chris Morris stands in front of Elixir, the venue for most of Rock Crew’s shows
Chris Morris stands in front of Elixir, the venue for most of Rock Crew’s shows

Sometimes it is better to fade away than burn out. At least, Chris Morris seems to think so. After four years heading up local concert booking company Rock Crew Productions, he’s retiring from the rock and roll lifestyle—or rather, its hours—to go into real estate.

“It’s pretty much a case of, ‘I think I’ve done about as much as I can do.’ I’ve got two kids and ... I’m often out until three in the morning and up at seven again, and it gets very hard to recover the sleep and still be a reasonable parent,” Morris said, speaking to the Journal from Elixir before a Danny Michel soundcheck.

Anyone who regularly attends live music in Kingston has likely found themselves at a number of Rock Crew shows, from Metric to the New Music Night series that used to take place at Elixir on Tuesdays, to Kalan Porter’s sold-out date at the Grand Theatre. For his last official production, Morris is throwing himself an anniversary/retirement party with The Golden Dogs, Slaves of Spanky and several more local acts, including A Day For Kites (see review below).

“The Golden Dogs just made the most sense, just because they’re probably the band that I’ve tried to champion the most. Them, and Slaves of Spanky; I don’t think there’s any better live bands in the country than those two. And for the rest of the show ... I wanted to get a bunch of my favourite local bands on too, and that sort of brought it full circle, because I started doing local bands.”

Morris began booking shows at Loyalist Collegiate and Vocational Institute in Kingston, where he and a few friends often played at a lunch hour folk club run by a teacher. When the teacher became too busy, he asked Morris and his friends to handle things. After spending the next few years running the club and organizing once-a-semester evening showcases, Morris went on to Loyalist College in Belleville, where he graduated with a radio diploma in 2000. While playing in a few Belleville bands himself, Morris became involved in choosing and promoting their opening acts. A few friends asked him to help out with a hard rock showcase at the now-defunct Cocamo when he moved back to Kingston, and he eventually took over.

“Me and my friend Drew were sort of running things and it was going well, and we thought, ‘Hey, we should start a business, because then we can go out for a beer and write it off.’ That was honestly our logic. So we did. He was only with me for a year or so.

“I caught wind that Tegan and Sara were going to be in the area, and I was a pretty big fan, so ... I sent them an e-mail and said ‘I’ve put on shows in Kingston. Come play.’ Their agent called a couple days later and said ‘Hey, let’s do it,’ so he walked me through it ... and it went from there. That was November 2002.”

One of Rock Crew’s most notorious shows was Arcade Fire’s September 2004 date at Clark Hall Pub, just after the release of Funeral. “I paid them less than 500 bucks, and turned away a couple hundred people [at the door]. But I booked them about a month before their album came out, and there hadn’t been a whole lot of hype yet. So when the album came out a couple weeks before the show and the shit hit the fan, so to speak, I already had a deal in place. So people got to see the Arcade Fire for $7 in a tiny venue.

“They were so late, and it was their first night with a new sound guy, Clark was yelling at me for capacity and Arcade Fire were bringing all these people in from the line-up to carry their gear and get them in for free. Everything about that show was a nightmare—except the end result.”

Booking “about 275” shows with Rock Crew has given Morris ample time to consider changes in the music scene and market.

“Fans aren’t taking as much chance with a show as they used to ... Back in the old Scherzo days, when the Scherzo was doing a whole week of live music, you’d see the same people a lot of those nights who would always go to check out bands.

“There’s very little of that anymore ... so when bands are coming through town now, they have to have their fan base already established, because we’re not getting those walk-off-the-street, curious folks.

“When I started, the jam band scene was still kind of healthy ... Obviously now the indie rock thing is really big, but even that market is becoming really, really saturated.”

Morris also has advice for bands dealing with promoters: “Usually, I make a pretty good opinion on a band by the e-mail I get sent. A lot of them say, ‘We need to get paid this much,’ or that sort of thing. No one really does that. You don’t send a resumé into a job and say, ‘This is how much you need to pay me.’ That part comes after. There are a lot of bars that pay the same no matter what band it is, so if they ask lower, they’re screwing themselves.

“A lot of bands just don’t know how to negotiate their fee, and a lot of bands tend to over-promise what they can do in terms of draw ... They don’t get asked back.”

Morris plans to sell the company or have someone take over the operation. He may continue booking some shows into the fall if he can’t find a replacement.

Also appearing July 13 at Elixir: Mississippi Grover, Mark Wilson and more.

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