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.
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."
Eventually, Adams says, he had to call the police to escort the bands off the premises. According to a report filed by Officer Heivilin of the Mesa Police Department, however, it was Edsel guitarist Steve Raskin who called the police that night, not Adams. According to that report, Raskin called the police to report that Sanoff had been assaulted by Adams.
Sanoff says Adams attacked him from behind after a heated exchange of words.
"I told him, 'You just sold your reputation for 500 bucks, I hope it was worth it.' And he was like, 'Oh, I'm really scared,'" Sanoff says. "We continued to argue, and at one point, he got right up in my face and told me, 'Get the fuck out of here, you fuckin' punk.'
"At that point, I decided to leave. Enough was enough. But as I left, Adams and two bouncers followed me out," Sanoff says.
As he and Edsel member Sohrab Habibion walked away, Sanoff claims, Adams called them "homos." Sanoff says he responded with a crude comment about Adams' mother and grandmother. The next thing Sanoff knew, he claims, he was shoved from behind and fell down, losing his glasses. He got up, woozy and partially blinded, and Adams started to come at him. Habibion tried to restrain the promoter, Sanoff says, but the bouncers pulled him off and held him. Then Adams hit Sanoff twice in the jaw, according to Sanoff. "I went down hard and began bleeding from my mouth and shoulder."
Not true, says Adams. "I argued with them several times, but I never pushed or hit any of them. I'd go out every 15 minutes or so to see if they'd left yet, and I got in several verbal arguments with them, but I never physically did anything."
Nevertheless, somebody messed up Sanoff that night. Hospital records show he was admitted to the Mesa Lutheran Hospital emergency room just after midnight on September 23, and released at 4:52a.m. after being treated for multiple contusions and abrasions.
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And furthermore, Officer Heivilin reported that there had been a fight between Adams and Sanoff, and that Sanoff was freshly injured when he arrived on the scene. Heivilin didn't return a message I left for him before he went on shift on October 5. Sanoff says he didn't press charges against Adams because police told him that because Adams had claimed self-defense, both he and Adams would have been cited.
I didn't get the details of the police report until Monday afternoon, and was unable to reach Adams for additional comment before deadline. It's possible that he took out Sanoff in self-defense, but his claims about calling the police and not laying a hand on anyone appear to contradict the police report.
In any case, Joel Mark, the bands' booking agent, said Nile's promoter has cut his own throat.
"This business is about trust. We fax contracts back and forth, but they're just pieces of paper. Who's ever going to sue somebody over a $500 band fee? In reality, all you have is the promoter's word. But when the promoter's word is no good, we put the word out on him and take care of it our Rown way."--David Holthouse