Concert promoters can struggle with discerning their own successes. Crowd sizes don’t tell the whole story, and ticket sales alone miss out on the human metric. Luckily for Tato Caraveo, the long-time booker at Lost Leaf, there's a far better indicator.
"One of the wildest shows we had was a band from Amsterdam called Caspian Hat Dance," he says. "It was one of the nights where we're actually worried because all of our display beers that are hanging up on the wall (those used to actually be full) were just falling off."
He adds, "Cascabel was another of those bands that had a set that was just such a madhouse. People were dancing so much, and more bottles were falling off the wall."
It's ironic that some of Caraveo's best memories surround such rowdy sets. With scores of craft beers and an intimate ambiance, Lost Leaf seems more likely to host quiet acoustic evenings. Not the case, though.
"Singer-songwriter stuff just doesn't go over so well," Caraveo says. "I have no problem with singer-songwriters. I just get so many emails. Even ones that are like, 'But we have a cajon.' No, sorry, that's the same thing."
In fact, volume always has been a consistent issue for the venue. But rather than have it work against his efforts, Caraveo's responded in kind to continuously extend Lost Leaf’s cultural imprint. Like when he rented the building that would become Jobot to offer up to traveling artists.
"We had a neighbor there that would call the cops [with noise complaints], so I pretty much just took it as an art studio," he says of the space just north of Lost Leaf. "I would let the bands that I personally knew or that I really liked stay there. We'd try to help them out as much as we could."
Engaging with bands, getting a solid idea of their creative potential, is essential for Caraveo. It helps him decide just what kinds of acts deserve his time and investments.
"I've had some bands that sound great on the audio they'll send me," he says. "Then they're completely amazing live, some of the best bands I've heard. But there'll be maybe five or 10 people in there. And I'm just like, 'Oh my God, why isn't anybody here for this?' But when they return, you'll see those same people are there again and I start seeing them promote the show for the band."
It's all part of a much more "organic" promotional approach, as Caraveo explains, and a way to empower bands deserving that extended support. It’s often these little gestures that are reflective of Lost Leaf's larger commitment to local and touring bands alike.
"The other band that was amazing was New York's Rosewood Thieves," he says. "No surprises, but there was hardly anybody at their show. These guys were so fucking amazing. Sometimes we'll pay them more, even if we're doing a percentage base just because of how great they are. Me and Eric [Dahl, the owner] are both musicians. We've played some shows where there's absolutely no one there."
He adds, "We understand that touring bands more likely don't have a draw in Phoenix to try and establish themselves. We get mostly full-on underground bands that aren't big enough to play Crescent Ballroom. So a lot of these bands have returned every few months and you'll see they've built a following."
That's not to say that Caraveo and Lost Leaf still aren't business savvy. As much as they want to follow their creative aspirations, he says their support has its limitations.
"We're not going to continue to put a local band after three or four shows and they barely get five or six people in the door," he says. "I'm always giving people a reasonable level of chances and I want to work with them as best I can until it's just not fruitful."
However, he quickly adds, "We won't completely shut them out for life. We might say, 'It's been maybe nine months since we booked these guys. Let's give it another shot.'"
Caraveo may be giving, but he's still running an independent business. When dealing with one local band ("I won't name them because I became friends"), he thought he'd set a guaranteed payout. "And then they think they're worth more than that," he says. "That's not the way you do shows." Caraveo’s approach is a throwback to the days of handshake deals and community-centric promoting.
Even still, a lot of what makes Caraveo an effective booker can also be left to pure happenstance.
"Once, Arizona [a New Jersey electropop outfit] was playing outside," he says. "In the middle of the day in the summertime. I just walked over there and I was like, 'Hey, why don't you guys come play over here later? You know, maybe there'll be some people in there.'"
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With any luck — and once venues open up post-coronavirus — there’ll be even more outside shows. While there’s no firm date, the venue’s backyard space is being renovated to host a variety of events. It’s a huge leap forward considering the venue didn’t even have a social media presence until just a couple of years ago.
"I feel more comfortable now, so we can bring back more punk rock bands," he says. "That way, we can actually promote the shows and people will know it's going to be loud tonight."
Caraveo says he has other "loud" genres on his wish list, including "grungy stoner rock stuff" and more hip-hop. It seems that the future is wide open for even more structure-shaking musical displays.
"If it's a really unique guitar style, it's something we're always going to book," he says.