Chantelle Hylton has been everywhere in this town. As one of the most prolific bookers in Portland, she has moved bodies into the Medicine Hat, the Blackbird, Meow Meow, Satyricon and Loveland. Her money job, though, was as the in-house booker at Berbati's Pan for the past three years. Last month, Hylton was given the boot by the club because, according to owner Ted Papaioannou, "too much funds were being taken from the bar...and being put into the music venue." Without skipping a beat, she reinvented herself yet again, focusing her booking acumen on the Towne Lounge and building a promotions company, Blackbird Presents. I sat down with Hylton at the Towne Lounge to find out what happened and what's happenin'.
Riff City: What happened at Berbati's?
Chantelle Hylton: My understanding of what happened is that the winter didn't go well. And there's no communication, basically because the owners went out of town and left their kids in charge. And instead of addressing issues or problems, they changed things the way they are sort of known for changing things. They just sort of cleaned house and started over.
Is that something that, when you started the job, you understood that they did?
Oh yeah. Absolutely. After this all happened, I had people who I didn't even know worked there before come to me and say, "I feel for you because that happened to me, too." It's basically getting the news with no warning, no reason and no explanation. Everybody who works there has been fired five times. So I was warned about it, but I always thought I was exempt. I mean, I was their booking agent, I was getting great shows there. And I was really working hard to change the image of the place.
Do you feel you changed Berbati's image?
Absolutely. I know that a lot of people played there who wouldn't have played there if I wasn't booking, a lot of the more experimental, innovative bands in Portland.
But is it profitable to have those kind of bands play a room as large as Berbati's?
I think that if it's a theme night that happens once a month, and [you] advertise it as something where you don't know what you're going to get, it could work. But only once or twice a month; it could never be the bread and butter.
You've got a rough track record. Most of the clubs that you booked have shuttered. Do you think maybe you aren't cut out for the booking life?
No. Not at all. I know that I'm totally cut out for the job. Those clubs closing are the result of a difficult combination of things. A lot of people who choose to own clubs are either alcoholics or crazy or have the best intentions but have no business background. And again, it's about communication. I really feel like [the Towne Lounge] will do well. The expenses are low, there isn't a lot of hoopla, and it's small enough that, if you have 60 people here for a show, it's successful. At Berbati's, the kind of shows that I liked booking, the things that I brought that made the club unique, were the shows that wouldn't make any money. I think that my booking style is a little more suited to a place where experimentation is OK.
See Hylton's work in action at the Towne Lounge. She suggests Mi and L'au (Feb. 15), the Gris Gris (Feb. 17), and Pearls and Brass (Feb. 18).