A fight for the right

Dan Haugen

“Patience,” says Eclipse Records owner Joe Furth, summing up his battle plan to bring live music back to his store.

It’s a credo he’s carried for the past year and a half while slowly building his music inventory, getting word out about the store’s nightly all-ages shows and then dealing with city hall when neighbors and officials tried to end those shows.

The nightly showcases doubled as a radically open forum for new bands and an important outlet for more established local and national acts to play for an under-21 crowd. Eclipse proved even more vital after Minneapolis’ all-ages hub, the Foxfire Coffee Lounge, closed its doors in September 2000.

Furth didn’t pay any of the bands, and there was never any cover charge. But hundreds of bands still jumped at the opportunity to play, and Furth always welcomed them and the diverse crowds they drew into his store.

But Furth’s dream of creating a free and friendly place where bands could play has become the subject of scrutiny for a handful of complaining neighbors and St. Paul city officials.

In May, the city of St. Paul ordered Eclipse Records to immediately halt all live performances after city officials received a neighborhood petition calling for an end to the live music with nine signatures on it.

To this day, Furth hasn’t learned the identities of those nine people, and therefore he has not been able to have any open dialogue with the petitioners. Instead, he’s been forced to take a less direct route, using the city as an intermediary. Following initial talks with both the city licensing board and the mayor’s office, Furth is now left waiting for the city to make up its mind.

The city’s licensing board appears unwilling to compromise.

“There are no exceptions. In the city of St. Paul, you need to have a cabaret license before you can have live entertainment,” said Roger Curtis, director of License, Inspections and Environmental Protection. “In order to have a cabaret license, you need to serve food or liquor.”

But Eclipse appears to have an open ear in the city’s office of Planning and Economic Development. Director of Cultural Development Jeff Nelson said the city is nearing completion of a “pretty thorough analysis of the situation.” He expects to announce some sort of resolution within the next week, which will likely call for a meeting between Furth and the store’s neighbors. From there, Nelson hopes both sides “can find some kind of middle ground.”

The goal of the meeting would be to establish a new set of guidelines under which Eclipse could resume shows on a trial basis, he added.

“Anytime you deal with a bureaucratic government, it takes time,” Furth said. “Especially with the small guy. I don’t have the big dollars. I don’t have the corporate money to move things along.”

But Furth does have support from the local music community. Fifteen hundred people recently signed a counter-petition in favor of the store’s live music. And earlier this month at nearby Big V’s Saloon, six St. Paul bands raised nearly $600 to help soundproof the performance space. Furth is betting that soundproofing will be one of his neighbor’s terms if and when the city negotiates a compromise.

Once soundproofing is completed, Furth intends to wait for a green light from the city before starting up the live music again.

“I’m going to hold off for as long as it takes. I want this to get up and rolling as quickly as possible,” he said. “But at the same time, I don’t want us as a community or me as a store owner ever to have to deal with this issue again. I want everything to have the stamp of approval. Let’s do this and then we can work on doing it better than we did it before.”

Should St. Paul give an OK “it’s going to be the same type of attitude that we had before,” Furth said, “where all bands get to play. Our philosophy is that everybody gets booked. Everybody gets a shot.”

 

Dan Haugen is The Lens music editor. He welcomes comments at [email protected]