November 23rd, 2010 | by CASEY JARMAN Music | Posted In: Local Cut

WHAT HAPPENED? Alicia Rose and Jim Brunberg on Rose's Exit from Mississippi Studios

alicia rose

Alicia Rose, the former Doug Fir promoter who became Mississippi Studios' primary booker after the club's expansion in 2009, was fired on Friday. Rose, who was also one of five club co-owners (she was given "a very generous severance package," according to Mississippi Studios founder Jim Brunberg), blamed a bad economy and a change in direction from the club when she met with WW at Northeast Portland bar Beulahland on Monday. "As a booker, you're either exalted or vilified," Rose says of her time at the club. "I worked my ass off. It's not an easy task to try to turn something like Mississippi Studios into a nationally regarded venue."

Rose's impact on the Portland music scene has been well-documented. Doug Fir changed the way local venues did business—from the prime sound system to the slick presentation and strict, on-time set schedules—and Rose was a big part of that change. A robust Rolodex and a self-described "aggressive" business sense helped put the venue at the forefront of Portland's music scene. When she signed on to Mississippi Studios, there were similarly lofty expectations. The club, for the most part, lived up to them: Rose grabbed national acts, made smart local bookings and the club expanded again in July, opening a separate bar and patio area—and upping the number of owners from two to five. From a show-goers perspective, things appeared to be going well. Attendance is down "for everybody," Rose says, but creatively the club was thriving.

So the news of Rose's departure seemed a sudden and unceremonious—even, she says, to her. But after initially sending a polite-but-confrontational email to the Portland Mercury and WW ("In my opinion, the ownership group of Mississippi Studios made a short-sighted business decision due to their limited experience in the music industry and a lack of understanding about the creative capital required to develop a sustainable business in today's technological and economic climates," she wrote—scroll down the the bottom of this post to read the full text), Rose was clear that she wanted the best for the venue when we sat down with her on Monday over hot toddies. "I'm sad I can't keep doing it, but if we don't share a vision, we don't share a vision...I didn't know that we didn't share this vision until—really, until Friday."

"Times are tough, I think, for all clubs," Rose said. "And there are many solutions and many ways that I think this could have been avoided, but they made a choice they felt needed to be made. It's not the choice I would have made, but so be it." As for her initial written response, Rose says she was just being honest and getting it out of her system. "Everything I stated that was factual was factual, and everything that was my opinion was my opinion," she said. "It wasn't meant to defame them or do anything negative to them, I just have my opinion. I've voiced it to them a hundred times. But I wish them well. I hope that they continue and it succeeds. The effort I put into that place, and the work, I'd like it to be for something. When you sweat that much for a business, you want it to succeed."

"I think this is all going to work out in a positive way," Mississippi's founding co-owner Jim Brunberg told WW this morning via phone. "I'm pretty sure this is going to work out nicely for her and for us and for Portland music. We want it to be an amicable thing." Brunberg says he didn't think the ousting should have shocked Rose. "Everything she says in her letter is factually correct—but in previous [business] meetings she had said that it didn't feel right for her because we were demanding that she make some changes. She said 'if you have to, vote me out'...so it's not as if we shocked her." The firing was less about Rose's style—which Brunberg lauded—and more about her communication skills with bands, he said. "We don't want to change anything about the way we present music," he said. "The only thing we want to change is the type of deals we make with bands...the words 'new direction' aren't quite accurate, but we're excited about the way we're going to do business."

When asked about some of Rose's specific claims—that the venue now held the attitude that "everyone is replaceable"—Brunberg was dismissive. "That's not the attitude over there at all," Brunberg says. "We still have the same staffers we've had since I opened it. Three of the same sound guys, all of the same bartenders...there's no corporate climate over there." Brunberg was careful not to disparage Rose herself. "I really don't want there to be drama around this. We think she's incredibly talented, and that this is going to benefit her." When asked if he thought Rose would be better suited in a different environment, Brunberg said: "She has a huge personality, as you know. She's super smart and talented. In a way, and this will sound like faux-humility, but it's not—I think in a way this venue is too small for her. In a way, Portland is too small for Alicia—for her aspirations."

The venue is commencing a national search for a new talent buyer, and it will honor all of the Rose-booked shows currently on the calendar. Brunberg and Rose's former assistant, Stephanie Ryan, will work to promote and facilitate those shows until a new booker comes on board.

As for her future plans, Rose isn't so sure. She has a variety of projects—photography and music video gigs among them—in the mix, but while she says music will always be a part of her life, she's not certain what role it'll take in the near future. "I'll be unemployed for the first time since I was 15," she says. "It's kind of exciting."

According to Brunberg, the five-owner business model hasn't confused Mississippi Studios' artistic or economic vision. "We're moving in the right direction," he insists. That doesn't mean he doesn't occasionally long for the days when his venue was a one-room, 85-capacity facility with less complexities to fret over. "I miss it all the time. I love intimate music. I love to go see bands in people's houses...where there's just a couple amps and drums and microphones going through a shitty PA. I think that's where the magic happens. I miss that, but that's still out there. We give the bands who develop a need for production in their show—we keep it real on that level."

Alica Rose's original email below:
On Friday at 5pm I was asked to an impromptu off-site meeting with 2 of the 5 Mississippi Studios partners where I was summarily fired from my position and unexpectedly given a strong-handed offer to sell my ownership interest back to the other partners. In the five months since Mississippi Studios added three new partners, a more corporate business model has emerged that revolves around the core concept that everyone is “replaceable”. My dismissal is the latest application of this new ethos.

For the past 2 years I have worked heart and soul to develop Mississippi Studios into a well respected music venue that maintains a reputation of high regard in both the Portland and National music communities. As its sole curator/promoter I am proud to have nurtured countless professional relationships and the amazing variety of unique expression we are blessed to have in this region, both in terms of talent and the large and diverse community of music fans, of which I am one. For a long time, it has been a personal mission to help put Portland on the map for the greater music business, and over the past 7 years — both at Mississippi Studios and during my almost 5 year tenure at Doug Fir Lounge, I am confident that I accomplished that.

In my opinion, the ownership group of Mississippi Studios made a short-sighted business decision due to their limited experience in the music industry and a lack of understanding about the creative capital required to develop a sustainable business in today's technological and economic climates. They wish to take the venue into a “different direction,” but have not disclosed to me what direction that is or who will be taking over booking, pr, marketing and oversight of the venue in my wake.

It was not my choice to leave Mississippi Studios mid-stream, I was actually in the middle of booking an awesome Winter and Spring, and whether those shows or others in the works will be honored, I have not been informed.

On the flip side of this, I am staying positive with the support of friends and family and am excited to pursue new creative and professional opportunities in both music and my other main passions — photography and directing. When one door shuts, another opens, I keep hearing from my pals, and I can't help but look forward to applying my varied skill set to new challenges of all kinds in the future. I am grateful for all of the amazing performers, industry folk and humans that I have been so lucky to work with, I hope to have another reason to talk with you soon.
 
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