The kid is alright
Local music promoter Eli Perry comes into his own as a champion for the Sacramento scene
The great hope of Sacramento music promoters rolls up to Harlow’s Nightclub & Restaurant on his skateboard, a tussle of green hair peeking out from his baseball cap on a recent Saturday afternoon. Along with the backpack he plops behind the ticket booth, he carries one of Sacramento music’s most legendary surnames: Perry.
A hoot comes from the members of the band Californios as they soundcheck on the stage: “Eliiiiiiiiiii!”
These local Americana musicians are shouting for Eli Perry, the 26-year-old son of Jerry Perry. Long-time Sacramentans probably recognize Eli from scurrying around at gigs over the past two decades, while his pops was booking shows at the Cattle Club, Crest Theatre and other venues. But now, as his father recovers from a major stroke, the kid has stepped into the promoter role that defines the family name.
At this moment, he keeps his eye on the door, scratching names off the guest list and stamping wrists after he’s collected the $15 cover charge.
“Maybe it’s in my blood,” says Perry, as the crowd trickles into Harlow’s. “I’ve been around so many bands that I’ve seen go nowhere and deserve so much more, and I want to be a good stepping stone to help people get their music out there.”
It hasn’t been easy.
Last year, following the elder Perry’s stroke, Eli Perry stepped in to finish booking one of his dad’s annual projects, the three-day Chalk It Up! Festival. The event features bands and artists as part of an ongoing education program that awards grants and sponsors youth arts programs in the region.
He might as well be thrown into the deep end. He’d never booked a show before.
Now, he’s taking another shot this weekend as the primary booker for this year’s festival, Aug. 31-Sept. 2 at Fremont Park. It has been a massive undertaking, the kind of scheduling and logistical puzzle that’s a guaranteed anxiety attack. But Perry presses on, championing local bands. In addition to Chalk It Up!, he also spends time working the door at venues. Someday he hopes to give bands a stage of their own.
“The big dream for me right now is to open a small venue, a Luigi’s Fun Garden kind of thing where it’s 150 people,” says Perry, referencing the Midtown indie rock venue that closed in 2014. “It’s a good place to build up smaller musicians and send them to someplace like Harlow’s.”
Born into music
Perry was born in 1992, a time that could be called Peak Cattle Club. Along with Brian McKenna and others, Jerry Perry built the legendary venue into perhaps Sacramento’s definitive spot for live music.
The building on Folsom Boulevard was a dump, but the décor never mattered. Before closing in the mid-1990s, it became a janky home for such local bands as Deftones and Cake before they inked major-label deals. It was also a stage for Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins and No Doubt as they clawed from the underground to alt-rock superstardom.
Eli Perry is too young to remember those nights, but just about every Sacramento musician and scenester older than 40 does. They also remember Jerry Perry’s work at Concerts In the Park, the SAMMIES awards show and countless gigs in between.
Now, his dad’s shadow remains inescapable as he charts his own promoter’s path.
“I always compare myself to him as to what he was doing at this point age-wise,” Perry says. “At this point, he was in the second half of the Cattle Club. He’d been through multiple clubs. He’d done the Vortex, all kinds of things. It kind of freaks me out sometimes.”
On this night at the Harlow’s show, Perry wears a Go-Go’s T-shirt he scored last year at Stockton’s Fox Theater. It was the last show he saw with his dad before the stroke, which happened just weeks before Chalk it Up!
With his dad in rehabilitation, Perry insisted that the responsibility fall on his shoulders, even if he barely had experience. In high school, his senior project involved booking bands to play the quad at McClatchy High School (though dad helped guide him as well). Later, he and his mom, Linda Perry, also earned a certificate in event planning at Sacramento State.
But nothing measured up to the crunch of booking nearly three dozen bands with just about a month’s notice for the 2018 Chalk It Up! Perry didn’t have much to go on, just some notes of bands his dad wanted to contact.
Growing up in the midst of Sacramento’s music scene helped guide him. He knew which calls to make, which bands might provide the right vibe and mix for an outdoor festival.
“It was his baptism in the fire to cover like that for his dad,” says Mike Blanchard of the Californios, one of the bands that played at last year’s festival. “He’s someone who’s come off as confident, very talented and very competent. He learned a lot from his dad and mom.”
The music promoting game isn’t for the meek. You tend to live and die by the small cut of ticket sales taken at the door. And because musicians are involved, just about anything can happen: a blown tire on the touring van, a drummer who flakes at the last minute. More than anything, you just pray people show up and everything runs like it should.
“It’s one of the scariest things,” Perry says. “I don’t care if there’s 30 people already in line. Sometimes I’ll take a [financial] hit, but I want to make sure the bands go home with something.”
Like father, like son
His mom, Linda Perry, keeps the faith. She has been by her husband’s side for nearly 30 years, through the years working the Cattle Club’s door, through the ups and downs of the music scene, through the stroke that’s kept him out of action for over a year.
She says she sees that same devotion to local music—and all the anxiety that goes with it—in her son. He is definitely a Perry, a chatterbox about local bands one minute and a bundle of nerves as show times approach.
“He’s taken up some of Jerry’s mannerisms,” she says. “You see him on the phone outside [a venue] and then going on a walk. There’s a lot of juggling to do. But he definitely knows a good band when he sees it, and then rallies around it.”
Jerry Perry continues to recover. He’s still a fixture at local shows, all the while working to improve his mobility and speech. The love for live music is definitely still there.
“A normal five minute conversation takes 15 minutes with him, but you can see it’s totally still my dad,” Eli Perry says. “It’s Jerry Perry. He still has a sense of humor and his memories are there.”
Eli Perry says there’s no Plan B for him. Local music is his everything and he looks for opportunities to branch out. Along with growing his promoter role, he hosts “Listen Up! Sacramento,” a live music show on Public Access TV that his dad previously hosted.
But as Californios strum the first notes of its set, it’s back to work. The kid with the green hair and great promise keeps his eye toward the door, ready to collect another $15 and apply a hand stamp on the wrist.
“There’s so many great small musicians, I love those guys,” says Perry. “Music’s always been there for me, so I want to be there for it.”