When Seattle's branch of the Hard Rock Cafe opened in downtown Seattle back in February, it had an image problem; to a town that prides itself on independent music, the corporate restaurant chain seemed less about music than opportunity — those optics were seemingly insurmountable, no matter how much Mudhoney memorabilia they could tack on the wall.
But the dining behemoth made a go at it. Hard Rock included a medium-sized live music space in its plans, giving downtown Seattle a rock club that up-and-coming bands with modest draws could play without inducing an echo. Corporate also looked into the local music community to staff that club, hiring former Loveless Records employee Amy Bauer to fill the stage with bands and, they hoped, the dance-floor with music fans. Bauer had some success at both — most notably landing the very corporate-weary Thermals to play the club's grand opening party. She also initiated a regular month-long residency for local bands, a novel idea that would serve the community well — and one that barely got off the ground before Bauer was canned earlier this summer.
Bauer says she isn't mad. Actually, seeing her making the rounds at Bumbershoot this last weekend, I couldn't help but notice how relieved she seemed. So, I took her aside and asked her a few questions about it.
You were let go by Hard Rock a few weeks ago. Sorry to hear that, but it sounds like you have landed in a good spot. Could you just give a basic rundown of what happened and where you landed?
One of the reasons I was hired by Hard Rock as the marketing manager-slash-talent buyer was because of my strong ties in the local music community. Since before the doors opened until the day I was walked out the door, the focus shifted from wanting to be a part of the music scene to corporate sales. Two sales managers replaced me and to my knowledge, there are no plans to hire a talent buyer, which is the person who books all of the live music shows.
After a few weeks of soaking up the Seattle summer sun, I decided that I might want to start looking for another job. As a testament to my close music connections, I posted on my Facebook page that I was looking for a job. Within a half hour, I received a phone call from my friends at Sarathan Records about a new division of their label. After meeting to discuss this opportunity, I was offered the position as VP of Marketing and happily accepted!
Before Hard Rock, I was the general manager of Loveless Records, so I feel right at home working for a label again. And I’m really excited about the new project I’m starting … stayed tuned for more info on this in the upcoming months as we get this off the ground!
Are you mad?
When something like this happens, you instinctively go through a roller-coaster of emotions. I would say that I was more disappointed and hurt by the way I was treated after I gave so much of my heart and soul. I gave up a lot of my life working endless hours to help make the live music venue a reputable room in Seattle. When I look back at it now, I’m in a much better situation personally and professionally, so I don’t hold a grudge.
What is the most difficult aspect of booking a new room in this town?
For most venues, their livelihood revolves around people coming out to seeing shows. For Hard Rock, their success does not revolve around live music, as they are a restaurant, retail store and private venue first. The live music venue is last in their line of importance.
People in Seattle did not trust the Hard Rock name because it was a corporate brand. However, many people know and trusted me, so they gave the venue a chance because of my personal level of integrity and dedication to the local music community. So trying to get people to look past the corporate brand in an indie music city was probably one of the biggest struggles I had to deal with.
What does the Hard Rock need to do, in your eyes, to survive as a music venue in this market?
They need to care about music again. And I say again because while I was there, I did everything one person could possibly do to bring legitimacy to a venue that many people dismissed.
If a company that prides itself on creating “authentic experiences that rock” can’t figure out how to run a music venue in the “City of Music,” then maybe they’re not really a live music venue … or maybe they don’t want to be?
What was your fondest memory of your short time at the Hard Rock?
The employees at the Seattle Cafe and the people I met from traveling to other Hard Rocks are what really made my memories there. I have cultivated life long friendships from working for Hard Rock and for that, I am most grateful.
Did you ever try on Jimi Hendrix's fur coat?
Ha, that’s Elvis’ fur coat if you can believe it! I’ve never tried it on, but I did get to strum Andrew Wood’s guitar from Mother Love Bone and Malfunkshun that’s hanging on the wall. I worked closely with his brother Kevin to make sure Andrew’s memory was remembered as an integral part of Seattle music scene. And I wish Hard Rock the best of luck in trying to become a part of that scene … if they want to be.
Photo by Josh Lovseth for Sound on the Sound
Stay tuned for comment from Hard Rock Cafe, and more on the future of the venue.