Alela Diane stood with her acoustic guitar in front of about 45 people inside a small, dimly lit art gallery that was doubling as a concert venue. She passionately sang folk songs about her tired feet and being alone to a crowd that silently and admiringly watched her. Afterwards, she graciously spoke with fans and sold her album that was recorded in her father’s studio.
This was a typical show for Pocket Productions, an independent booking agency, promoter and production company run by theatre senior Michele Tondreau and journalism junior Graham Culbertson.
This month alone, it has provided venues in San Luis Obispo for independent artists like Pit Er Pat, Priestbird, Port O’Brien, Black Shirts and more.
“It is really important to keep arts and community events strong in this town because without (them), it just becomes a bare skeleton of just students going to school and not appreciating what’s going on,” said Tondreau, a DJ at KCPR, the Cal Poly radio station.
As a booking agency, Pocket Productions works with bands, other booking agents and venues to coordinate dates and negotiate overhead.
Finding a date where a band and a venue are available is the most difficult part of the process, Tondreau said. And since thousands of dollars can be on the line with larger shows, it can be financially burdensome.
“You just kind of assume you’re going to lose money every night but it’s not a big deal,” said Culbertson, who is KCPR general manager. “It’s only a big deal when it’s a lot of money but that doesn’t happen too much. Usually, it is like spending 20 bucks or something that night.”
Pocket Productions also promotes its shows using the online social networks MySpace.com and facebook.com, Tondreau said. But the most important form of promotion is through posters because it is part of Pocket Productions’ aesthetic as being independent and all about the music rather than the business.
On the day of a show, Culbertson and Tondreau, with some help from KCPR DJs and other volunteers, haul sound equipment from KCPR to the venue at around 5 p.m. to prepare for the show that usually starts around 8 p.m.
In the past, Pocket Productions held shows at Downtown Brewing Co. and other venues. Now, most shows are held at the Steynberg Gallery, an art gallery located at 1531 Monterey St. because it best fits the production company’s needs.
“Downtown Brew is way too big for us to do shows at . you got to be doing something where you know that you are going to have 150 to 200 people there,” Culbertson said. “So, I mean, for us, that can be hard,”
After the venue is set up and ticket money is collected at the door, the rest is up to the bands, Tondreau said.
Often times, Tondreau or Culbertson have the bands stay at one of their houses and they will also provide the band with food and beer, Tondreau said.
Tondreau and Culbertson agreed that one of the best parts of running Pocket Productions is interacting with the bands.
“Just having a really short dialogue with them for that night and learning about what they do and seeing them live . it’s really fun to be around,” Tondreau said.
Culbertson’s favorite memory of hanging out with a band was with Dungen, a Swedish folk rock band that had performed for Pocket Productions the night before it would perform at the Coachella music festival in Indio.
Culbertson and the lead singer were walking on Broad Street towards an afterparty when an SUV with some women in it pulled up. The lead singer jumped on top of the car and went “surfing” down Broad Street. When he jumped down, he got in the car and drove off with the women.
“We were kind of like, ‘well, he doesn’t have a cell phone, he’s from Sweden and he doesn’t know where he is here and they are supposed to be playing at Coachella the next day, which is a huge break for them,’” Culbertson said.
He added: “We found him at 3 in the morning on Pismo Street with face paint all over him.”
Pocket Productions was started in early 2006 by Sarah Fox, a former Cal Poly student and KCPR DJ, after the closing of a local venue called The Dwelling started a drought in the local underground music scene.
“She’s an intrepid woman who really wanted to bring music back into the community,” Tondreau said.
Fox began contacting booking agents and telling them about San Luis Obispo. For the first few months of producing shows, Fox mostly lost money. It was not until about April of its first year when Dungen performed that the production company started breaking even for shows and started gaining attention.
In May 2006, Fox left for Alaska and asked Tondreau to continue Pocket Productions. She started producing shows over the summer along with Culbertson, and the two have been bringing music to San Luis Obispo ever since.
A show that Tondreau is looking forward to will feature Lucky Dragons, a “laptop” artist that interacts with the audience using a blanket that makes music depending on where it is touched, she said. Lucky Dragons will perform at the Steynberg Gallery on June 8 or 9.
Culbertson hopes that when he graduates, someone else will step up and continue Pocket Productions, he said.
“You have to really care about doing it or else there’s no way that it’s worth it,” he said.
For more information, visit www.pocketproductions.net.