Rumble at the Nile

I didn't know whom to believe.
Last week, I heard two such disparate stories about a booking gone awry at Nile Theater that I felt like Judge Wapner presiding over a surreal episode of The People's Court.

The plaintiff--Geoff Sanoff of the Washington, D.C., punk outfit Edsel--claims that Nile Theater promoter Corey Adams scammed his band when he canceled a confirmed concert at the last minute and refused to cough up the group's $250 guarantee. But that's not all. Edsel's bassist also says that when he argued with Adams, the promoter jumped him from behind and, flanked by two bouncers, beat the stuffing out of him.

Adams doesn't remember it that way. He says he canceled the Edsel show a week ahead of time to make room for a bigger act, and that the band's booking agent failed to tell his clients about it. Adams also denies that he or any other Nile employee fought or otherwise laid hands on Sanoff or any other member of Edsel or Silkworm, the other half of the canceled bill. He denies these allegations unequivocally.

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The stench of mendacity fouls the air. The question is: Who's the culprit? Here's the testimony I took and the evidence I dug up. Judge as you will:

Exhibit A: No-Go Show--The only thing Adams and Sanoff agree on is that, at one point, Edsel was scheduled to play with Silkworm at Nile Theater on September 22.

Adams says he decided to cancel that date to make room for Black Uhuru--a band with a considerably bigger draw. He says he contacted Joel Mark, Edsel's booking agent, on or before September 15 and told him the show was off.

Under the provisions of the bands' contract, if Adams canceled the show a week or more in advance, he only owed them $25 apiece. If Adams pulled the plug any later, however, he was obligated to pay the bands ten times that amount--a total of $500.

Mark directly contradicts Adams. An agent for Lovely Booking in Chicago, Mark says Adams never told him anything about canceling the concert. Furthermore, Mark says he talked to Adams four days before the show, a day before the show, and even the day of the show, and that the Nile promoter consistently told him everything was a go. "He was acting weird the last couple of times we talked, but he still assured me everything was fine," Mark said.

I asked Mark for a copy of his most recent long-distance bill, but he said the charges on it stopped three days before his first conversation with Adams. He called me the next day to say his phone company wouldn't give him an advance copy of his next bill, which would cover the time period in question.

Exhibit B: The Buildup--The members of Edsel and Silkworm realized something was amiss when they arrived at the Nile about an hour before showtime to find Black Uhuru sound-checking. Adams says he was surprised when the bands showed up, figuring they had revised their tour. "I didn't expect to see them at all," he says.

According to Sanoff, Adams told the musicians there was a problem with the show, and that he had been trying to reach their booking agent for a week without success. (Adams says he told the bands he had reached Joel Mark in plenty of time, and that evidently Mark had never contacted them.) The band members, Sanoff said, were immediately suspicious.

"Vicki from Silkworm told him [Adams] it seemed odd to her that both our bands were able to reach Joel every day while on tour, but that he had been unable to contact Joel throughout the course of an entire week. He responded that it didn't matter, and that no one calls him a liar," Sanoff says.According to Adams, he and the bands discussed the possibility of their playing in the Nile's basement between Black Uhuru sets for an unspecified amount. Silkworm bassist Tim Midget says he took one look at the downstairs space and decided against it. "There was no PA, there were wires sticking out of the walls and debris scattered around," Midget says.At that point, Sanoff says, he approached Adams and demanded the bands' guarantee fee of $250 each. He says the promoter suggested they discuss the matter in an alley behind the club rather than in front of the patrons. Soon thereafter, Sanoff says, things started to get ugly.

Exhibit C: Punch Drunk?--Here's where the accounts split like a wishbone.
Adams said that after he went outside and calmly told the bands he wasn't going to give them $500, they copped an attitude.

"They wouldn't leave and they were totally harassing our customers and a bunch of other crap, just being little punks," Adams says. "They were standing outside telling people, 'Don't go in this place, they ripped us off' and crap like that. They were out there talkin' trash for like three hours."

"We were outside for a while," Midget says. "And every once in a while, he would come out and there would be an argument. He was getting really agitated."

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