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Comma Concerts at Comma Coffee
“I’m a guitarist, so I have an affinity for guitarists,” says promoter Doug Reynolds, by way of explaining the string of world-class guitarist for whom he has booked shows at a small coffee shop in Carson City.
“Here at tiny little Comma Coffee we’re having two Grammy winners in two months,” Reynolds says. He is referring to Laurence Juber (formerly of Wings), who played at Comma in February, and Ed Gerhardt, who will perform on April 15. Both guitarists won Grammy Awards for Pink Guitar, a disc of various guitarists performing Henry Mancini compositions. To be completely accurate, Comma Coffee is hosting two Grammy award winners and a Grammy Award nominee—guitarist Alex deGrassi—in just over a month.
The idea of offering small-venue shows to touring musicians was actually suggested to Reynolds by his former guitar teacher David Lindley, the eccentric guitarist whose playing has graced records by Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, Warren Zevon and many others. Reynolds’ and Lindley’s student/teacher relationship ended in 1967—Lindley reportedly told Reynolds “I’m not going to be here anymore; I’m going to New York to be a rock star,” and was spotted by Reynolds years later on stage with Jackson Browne—but the two have since reestablished contact. Reynolds brought Lindley’s idea to June Joplin, owner of Comma Coffee, and Comma Concerts was born.
Guitarist John Jorgenson, who has played with Elton John, The Desert Rose Band, and The Hellecasters (and if you happened to see the film “Head in the Clouds,” he was the guy made up like Django Reinhardt playing guitar in the dance-club band), is one of several artists who have called and asked for shows on fairly short notice.
When Jorgenson inquired about booking a show, Reynolds told him “I don’t have any money for advertisement; we’re just trying to break even … and I can’t even give you a guarantee,” says Reynolds. And how did Jorgenson, who’s played many-thousand seat venues, respond to the prospect of playing a coffee shop for door money?
He accepted. And after treating an audience of 60 to some hot gypsy jazz, he said, according to Reynolds, “This is the best crowd we’ve had on our tour.”
Though it may not sound like it, the idea of playing an 85-seat venue in Carson City on a weeknight with little or no advertisement is actually pretty attractive to many touring musicians, who often have 1,000-mile, showless stretches between the West Coast and the Midwest.
“It’s a weeknight gig you wouldn’t have otherwise,” says Reynolds.
Though Comma Concerts is maintaining a pace of only about two shows per month, Salsa dance lessons, drum workshops, open mic nights and performances by local musicians fill out the calendar at Comma Coffee. Reynolds is hoping the coffee shop, housed in a 19th-century building across the street from the State Capitol, will be at the heart of a downtown renaissance that transforms that section of Carson City into something comparable to Old Sacramento.
“Maybe downtown can come alive again," he says hopefully.