1 Year of Filament with Gerard Cox

With the end of the year upon us, it’s a good time to look back on the events of 2018. And since Franklinton venue Filament at the Vanderelli Room opened one year ago, multi-instrumentalist, promoter, and venue operator Gerard Cox seized the moment to share some year-end reflections and thoughts on the year ahead. Filament will celebrate the occasion with “Filament Fest” on Saturday, December 29th, from 7pm to 1am. This blockbuster 5 band bill includes primary characters from Filament’s opening act: The Brandon Scott Coleman Quartet, Waves De Ache, Josh Kline-Tom Buckley Duo, Nick Weckman with Mario Bosca and Gerard Cox (with live painting by AJ Vanderelli and Dale Johnson), LA Jenkins, and Fatal Gaze. More details here. Keep reading to learn much more about what’s going on at this intimate art space. Congrats Gerard!

“Filament Fest” is the one-year anniversary party for Filament, which had its first official show on December 29th, 2017. What can you tell us about this event?

Gerard Cox (GC): It’s meant as a celebration of that first basic milestone and of the musicians who in the past year really defined the shape of the venue. The musicians on the bill have all played in some real highlight shows of the past year and it’s an opportunity for people to hear them who may have missed any of them the first time; it’s also just a good representative sample of the things that are happening here. We’ve got some modern jazz, some Latin jazz, some free jazz, some electronic music. It’s a mixed bill but there will be a sequence to the evening that I think will really build momentum from one thing to the next. A $10 suggested donation for 5 bands is a total steal I might add.

So how do you feel at this point with one year nearly in the books now?

GC: I feel pretty good about what we were able to do and where we’re headed. The quality of the music has been consistently high, we’ve done a nice variety of things, and we were pretty active overall (though we can certainly be more active in 2019). I love how Phil Maneri has been an anchor keeping the flame going week after week with his series (Phil@Filament). It’s hard to have perfectly spaced, even activity so it’s good to have some constants like that. Moreover I legit think we have some actual momentum heading into the new year with audience interest, which is what I would have hoped for above all. It’s funny to me because there are some people whose only experience of the room is when it was busy and lively, and others whose only experience is when it was ill-attended and kind of a sleepy scene. Both sets of people naturally tend to come away assuming it’s like that “all the time” when it’s been all over the map. We’ve had some packed rooms, some practically-empty rooms, and plenty of rooms where it was right about the number of people you could reasonably expect for the nature of the music. I’m learning what will draw and what doesn’t, and what’s worth doing for its own sake even if it doesn’t pull many people out. We are slowly but surely gathering regulars too, people who come to a majority of the shows. I’m aware that there are a lot of venues that have quickly come and gone here in town so I think there’s a certain hurdle to get over where people are no longer waiting for the other shoe to drop. I hope people can tell at this point we’re in it to win it, that we’re serious about building something and having a steady presence.

What were some of your favorite moments from the past year?

GC: You know, I don’t even consider myself that much of a jazz fusion fan but I was truly blown away by the Spherical Agenda/Zakk Jones Trio double-bill a month back. Spherical Agenda had such a fun, infectious energy and just played so comfortably in their own skin. Their stage presence and whole performance attitude just had a swing to it that couldn’t help but make you smile. Zakk had this really great troubador energy happening in his set; I think he was feeling some extra confidence coming off his tour. The audience was great too though and the room just felt so right that night, like everything aligned at that time and place in the perfect way and no one in that room would have wanted to be anywhere else. It’s nights like those that make the whole thing totally worthwhile. I like the whole energy of musicians from different cities playing for each other too; I think it kinda raises the stakes. All of these cities scenes have their own kind of wavelength and the differences are often subtle but they’re fascinating. I think when you get a dialogue happening you get a lot of great observations taking place about how musical DIALECT is a thing and it’s actually a very cool thing. A lot of guitar players here seem to love Brandon Scott Coleman and what he and his comrades do and I’m certain they hear things in the Columbus musicians way of playing that they find compelling too.

It was also both humbling and exciting to have had a few “international” moments in the room. Lebanese drummer Ayman Abi Kheir playing his first public gig in the U.S. A Colombian woman who’s heard a ton of Latin music being really excited with what she heard from Waves de Ache. A man from Belgium who told me that he hadn’t heard jazz like this since he saw Dewey Redman back in the 70s. Of course, having the amazing German saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock in for a show was a bright moment. She is a really kind, warm person and both she and Stephan Crump were super-encouraging of what we’re doing with the space.

In general, I just love how there’s a culture evolving for not only tuned-in and appreciative listening but also for really great hangs between sets and after shows. Filament doesn’t really have any kind of clique appeal so there are a lot of conversations happening and different kinds of people meeting each other that might not readily happen elsewhere. AJ Vanderelli has done a great job facilitating this with the gallery and I’m proud that Filament is fulfilling the same ideal with live music. I think a lot of people here are quietly tired of cliques and scenesterism, and want to be involved with something that’s more socially fluid and open. Not to get too deep on you but after the last Presidential election and all the polarization and anger here I think more people are questioning the idea of being in these social comfort zones and not having any real idea how people that are different from you are thinking. I feel like the one positive about that election is that it’s forced us to reckon with the wisdom of standing in our own corners and not engaging each other. It creates huge blind spots and makes empathy more abstract.

What have been the biggest challenges thus far?

GC: Well the main challenge is just keeping a solid, active calendar going when there aren’t really a lot of touring bands coming through to have a hook and when local musicians often need to take bigger money gigs on Fridays and Saturdays. It can be kinda tricky and while I would have preferred to have been a little more active this past year, I think we learned what the center of gravity is for the room- namely, what kind of music we can present often enough that it has a real presence there and which people will actually come out for. As it stands now we seem to be best set up to present younger jazz musicians and their various projects– people like Will Strickler, Brandon Scott Coleman, Zakk Jones…We’re open to doing other things and we don’t want to cut ourselves off or put any walls up, but at the same time having some kind of musical center brings some identity and continuity where we don’t find ourselves just sort of blowing in the wind. I said at the outset I didn’t think Filament would serve musicians best if it just played host to a bunch of a la carte offerings. Being an incubator space for recurring bands and artists is really the highest way the space can function, because musicians need that stability and continuity to grow and develop too. Thankfully the younger musicians who’ve taken the reins thus far are not only playing some fresh stuff but have been really easy to work with too.

Other challenges come in the form of simply having to wear so many hats to make the thing go. When this first began I had some notion that the programming would be collaboratively undertaken (having different curators) but that has not at all been the case. Presenter friends in other cities and I have joked about how you can get a group of people together and hatch all kinds of great ideas and plans, but that invariably one or two people end up doing all the work anyway. It’s not a “woe is me” or martyr thing either; it really just is what it is. It’s such a common scenario that it doesn’t make any sense to take it personally. So I keep at it and I don’t resent carrying the weight because I do enjoy the work and the really magical, transcendent nights absolutely make it all worthwhile. I think it’s just kind of in my blood at this point to do shows; if I didn’t I would really feel like something was missing in my life.

What about your own music? Does that factor into programming at Filament in any conscious way?

GC: I told myself from the beginning that I wouldn’t be “that guy” who uses their venue as some kind of personal vanity showcase. At the same time I don’t want to be so self-conscious about this that I don’t allow myself any chance to perform there. I think it’s really just a matter of there being a context where it can be an organic choice; for example, if I need to round out a bill I might play as an opener. I do love performing but I want to make sure that when I play there’s some specificity of intent, that it’s not just being done to fulfill some imaginary quota of how often I should be playing there.

What can we look forward to in 2019 from Filament?

GC: Well for one we’re gonna continue building with our core artists. I think there’s a really solid core in place and while there’s room for more I feel good about the horses we have to run with one year in. I want to make sure they get the opportunity to play there at a regular enough interval that they can legitimately feel like it’s building toward something. To this end Zakk Jones will be an artist-in-residence for all of 2019. We’re also going to continue doing some special nights and mini-festivals. We have a festival coming up in early Feb that is all solo and duo acts, “Let’s Roll Snake Eyes.” It ranges from jazz to experimental synth music. We also plan to have more touring act shows in 2019. The word is getting out more now that we exist as we’re getting references from musicians who’ve already played there. One show that’s confirmed for sure is pianist Michael Malis’ trio with Jaribu Shahid. That should be really special. We’re also incorporating as a 501 c3 and trying to get some grants this year, not only to provide musicians with more substantial fees but also to do some specific programming with musicians who have disabilities and with kids and senior citizens. I think Filament can fulfill some higher goals than just being a cool place to check out shows. I’d like to be able to provide opportunities for people to perform and to listen to live music that don’t really have that opportunity. We’re going to be doing some teenage band bills, and I’d love for Filament to host a jam session for seniors.

Anything else you’d like to let people know?

GC: Yes! While I don’t mind carrying the weight with making this thing go I’m also not too proud to ask for help. I honestly would appreciate any help with programming, hosting, documenting (photography/video/recording), and promotion. I’m a teacher and a basketball coach and while I manage alright I do feel like the venue can be more active and hit another level with some extra help. It occurs to me that there might be someone reading this who’s actually been looking to get more involved with jazz or a live music venue. We don’t document things nearly as much as we should so if nothing else, we could really use a volunteer for photography or recording. So if you like the kind of programming we’re doing at Filament and want to help me in any of these areas please get in touch. I can’t pay anything but I am willing to trade rehearsal/practice time in the space. It also might be a really good opportunity for a music business major to get some practical experience in different aspects of production and promotion. because we’ve got all the basic elements of operation- just on a more direct, hands-on scale than say, somewhere like The Newport of Express Live.

Lastly, just as a general message to everybody– Filament is a pretty rare situation as far as how/why it was able to come about. I looked for many years to find a room somewhere and the rents are just too high or if affordable, the locations are too out-of-the-way. I also looked for some kind of mutually-beneficial shared space situation and had no luck. Being inside the Vanderelli Room gallery is a complementary shared-space situation and the rent is such that we’re not forced to do lowest common-denominator stuff in order to pay for it. The reality though is that we are in a neighborhood that’s undergoing a lot of change (read: gentrification) and so I want to make sure everyone knows there’s no guarantee for how long it will last. I tell everyone “let’s just have as good of a run as we possibly can”, meaning that there is no time like the present to play at and patronize the venue. I would like to think I’ll continue on somewhere else if/when that building gets redeveloped, but I know it will be pretty hard to find another situation like this. This isn’t meant as some kind of warning or dark cloud overhead; it’s just a simple acknowledgment that it’s hard to tell how long we’ll be around. It could be 5 years, it could end up being 2 or 3. So anyone with an interest in the space– let’s absolutely milk it for all the fun, memories, and great live music that it can provide. I’m going to throw all the weight and energy into that I can into it and I like to think that anyone who really comes along for the ride will be glad that they did.

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