Since opening Crosstown Station in December of '07, 30-year-old Chip Mitchell has upped the bar on quality local music venues and added fresh competition to the game. In the still new-seeming Crossroads venue, I talked with Mitchell about running a "destination bar," the shitty economy and the mantra, "predict, plan, promote."
The Pitch: Did you grow up in KC?
Chip Mitchell: Yes, born and raised. Grew up in the Lenexa-Overland Park area.
What was your vision for this place when it first opened?
My vision of this place was a place where local bands would be able to step up and get recognized as some of the superior emerging talent in Kansas City, I guess, and that hopefully this place would start to draw in national acts that I perceived were constantly skipping over Kansas City for Columbia and Lawrence, or whichever direction they were heading.
We felt there wasn't an appropriate-sized room for a lot of this emerging national talent. It just seems like before we were around, most of the rooms were either too small or too big. We were kind of trying to fill that middle void, thinking that I've been to a hundred shows at larger venues where there is a great band but it's a third full or only half full because it's a band playing in a room that's too big. I'm a believer in production and the energy of a show and the experience you leave with at the end of the night, and I felt like when those bands that put out high quality music are playing in those rooms that are too big for them, a lot of that energy just escapes, and it ends up giving the customer or somebody that's really less in tune to how the industry works to have perception that this band really isn't that good or that not that many people care about them. But you take a band that can sell 400 tickets and put them in our room and it's packed to the gills, and everybody thinks that this band has made it in this market.
What are some big shows that you have either booked or that are coming to play here that you are excited about?
On a personal level, the best performance I saw all last year was Martin Sexton. I've known about him and listened to his CDs but never seen a concert of his and was just sort of blown away. He has an effect where he does all the soloing through a talkbox. I just like interesting stuff like that, I guess.
We were lucky to get the
Tigers before they really started to move onto the national scene and to have some of their shows come through. We are still hoping that we catch a couple even though they are maybe surpassing the number of tickets that they can sell here now.
Grace Potter and the Nocturnals was a great show. I was blown away that night by the diversity of the crowd. I think she's on the coattails of Bonnie Raitt. She doesn't have a true hippie following or a true country following, but she definitely has some crossover, and I think that she end up being the biggest star that's been through here someday.
I'm a big fan of bluegrass, and I've definitely been to some String Cheese Incident shows. A lot of those guys have been through here and with their side projects. It's personal fanfare, I guess, to see someone that you've seen at 10-to-15,000-person venues.
What direction are you taking this place?
I think, long-term, we are focused on being an event venue, so having events like the Rock n' Fashion Show, benefits and things that we can incorporate concerts into. And major concerts. I just don't see how this place is going to survive on a steady 40 people a week. We've got to pop the big one at least once during the week and have steady weekends to kind of make it. In the meantime, we definitely are trying to get the word out to everybody in Kansas City that we have a lot to offer. We have the kitchen going again now and have had really good response on the food from customers. I think that we're just a very versatile place and it's hard to tag us just as a music venue because I think it's pigeonholing us. We've got the event space upstairs and so we really have the capacity for a 600-person event in here, and in the meantime, we're filling the nights and staying the course. But eventually, I think we'll be focused on big events, private events and things like that that are easier to predict and plan and promote. All those things.