Arnel Reynon Illustration
Last month I received an email from a band promoter, asking me if I wanted to be on the list for a show at "Nike." I thought, "Hmm, is that a new club I didn't know about? Or perhaps … an illegal club?"
What then? Do I write a little post for the Richmond magazine website, mentioning Nike and possibly exposing it to a shutdown, or just keep the secret? The point was moot when I checked the address and realized the venue was Nile, the Ethiopian restaurant on Laurel Street. But it made me wonder: What is the journalist's responsibility regarding underground venues?
I'd say very few of us want to be known as the stick in the mud who spoils the fun of an illegal music club, but our jobs, by definition, are to bring information to readers.
Style Weekly dealt with this issue earlier this year, and the writer — Don Harrison — got his fair share of grief from commenters after giving the address of the Hospital, an underground music venue, in a story about the Cute Lepers, who were scheduled to play there. Instead, the place got shut down by the city, incurring a fine for the renters.
I know that Don, who (full disclosure) is married to Richmond magazine senior editor Tina Eshleman, is not the enemy of fun. He confesses that he's played and even organized illegal house concerts in the past.
"I'm all for these secret places, by the way," says Harrison, Style's arts and culture editor and former Save Richmond blogger. He's taken on the city for its "war on fun" for several years, and he understands why Richmond's climate of restrictions and antiquated laws regarding dancing, music performances and alcohol use breeds illegal clubs. Harrison doesn't publish some events he hears about because he doesn't want to shut every music venue down.
But in the case of the Hospital, it was unclear to Harrison that it was an illegal club because he saw its address and even a photo of the building all over the Internet, including on Pollstar, a major concert website.
"They really wanted it both ways," he says of the folks who ran the Hospital. They wanted a cool underground club, but they also wanted to publicize shows. The Cute Lepers and their publicist, who emailed Harrison a press release, weren't aware of the Hospital's illegal status.
"We're not your enemy," Harrison says of the underground clubs and their organizers. "If the worst sin I have is wanting everyone to know about a great band who's coming through town, I'll take it." He suggests that if someone wants to run a secret club, make sure no one tweets, blogs or otherwise posts the location on the Web.
I wouldn't launch a crusade to out every secret club, but I'm pretty sure I would have gone ahead and written about the Cute Lepers show. If the people who ran the Hospital — risking fines or worse — were OK with publicizing shows online, then why in the world should I worry?