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Case in point: Darwin's requires a cover charge for weekend night admission ($5 for local bands like Delta Moon, $12 for someone like Bob Margolin), while most other Marietta clubs that feature blues do not.
And, in a controversial move that has split the insular community of local blues musicians, Rowedder has established a policy that in order to play at Darwin's, bands cannot play a free-admission gig in Cobb County within a month before or after the Darwin's gig.
Her logic is technically sound: Why should fans pay to see an act at Darwin's that they can see for free at a nearby venue? Conversely, why should she pay more money to bands that will work for less elsewhere?
Logic notwithstanding, a number of local bands have rejected Darwin's policy and some resent the way she presented it to them.
"I told Kay I didn't want to do business that way, and that I thought it was not a smart business decision," says Josh Ford, whose band, Motor City Josh & the Big 3, performs frequently at Popper's, the Blue Raccoon, the Blue Pig and other local venues, but does not play Darwin's.
Bandleader Frankie Moates is another local player whom you won't see at Darwin's.
"I'm glad Darwin's is there, and I'm glad it's doing well, but I don't get along with Kay," says Moates, who played Darwin's twice and was booked to play again before Rowedder called and canceled the gig.
"She said, 'You're a local yokel and I don't think people are going to pay to see you when you play across town [with no cover charge].' So I wrote that one off. I'm happy to play my little cheeseball gigs," he adds, with a laugh.
However, Rowedder says her policy became necessary, particularly after representatives of other local clubs were "cruising" her venue and booking acts that played there. The decision has not hurt her ability to book quality acts, she adds.
Rowedder's policy does not extend to free-admission gigs outside of Cobb County.
"I really want people to see something more exclusive in our place than what they can see down the street. However, if bands play [for free] in Atlanta, they're far enough away that they'd still be exclusive to me in Cobb County," Rowedder explains. "Most of the groups that we book don't play many free places around Atlanta anyway."
The whole issue might seem like a small point to outsiders, but it's one that has driven a wedge into the Marietta blues scene and underscores the stiff competition that's developed between clubs. It divides those who play at Darwin's and those who play at other nearby venues, such as the Blue Raccoon and the Blue Pig, both of which feature blues exclusively. Popper's, which, like Darwin's, has a cover charge on weekend nights, also includes blues in its music menu.
The Blue Raccoon opened on Garrison Road in June. Like Darwin's, the club is designed around the music. Anita Volpe, founder and co-owner of the business, says she launched the Blue Raccoon because she had seen too many bands compete with wide-screen TVs and other distractions. "I was tired of hearing live music in places where music was not the focus," she says. "There was no place in west Marietta where music was what it was all about."
Volpe ignored naysayers who suggested the location, which had been vacant, was in a bad neighborhood. In justifying her decision, she pointed to the success of Northside Tavern, also in a tough neighborhood.
The Blue Raccoon's performance calendar includes Bill Sheffield's Ringtail Rounders, Moates and his trio, Motor City Josh & the Big 3, Chicago Joe Jones, Cathy Carlisle and others.
Sheffield and Co. anchor the rotation, performing most Fridays. The bandleader's career dates to the '70s when, he recalls, there were virtually no blues bands or venues anywhere around Atlanta, much less Marietta.
"Blues wasn't so popular back then," says Sheffield. "Whenever there was a blues [concert or festival], we'd be on it, because there were so few bands."
Sheffield spent most of the 1980s as a member of the XLs, an electric blues band that toured the East Coast, playing gigs from New York to Key West, he says. Locally, the band played the Harvestmoon Saloon and the Moon-shadow, both long-since defunct but top venues of the day.
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