Dance Hall Days

Fitzgerald's Hits the Dirty 30

However, one of her main methods of discovering new talent is controversial, to say the least. Local bands new to Fitzgerald's must first play its monthly "Break Out Band Night," which means, among other things, they have to pay $50 up-front to get on the bill. Naturally, this rankles many musicians, who see the old "pay-to-play" bugaboo, but Fitzgerald defends it as a necessary part of doing business.

First of all, she says, the money helps ensure the band shows up at all. Second, if they're unable to draw 25 people — at which point Fitzgerald says they get their "deposit" back — the money goes to cover the cost of PA rental and sound engineer. Finally, Fitzgerald says some budding bands are so clueless the money basically buys them a few lessons in Rock 101. Both Clint Black and Blue October began rising through the ranks this way, she notes.

"Some bands don't even know how to set their own gear up," Fitzgerald says. "In that case, you get consulting — for $50, we show you how to set up a professional stage."

Sitting in the cluttered office she shares with booking agent Frances Tofte, in front of a calendar with about a dozen employee birthdays marked in red, she figures she's got more than enough material for a book — if only she'd written it all down.

"I wish I had kept a diary, but I never thought I'd stay," Fitzgerald admits. "That's been my whole thing all these years, was 'I'll just do this a little while longer.'"

And what about now?

"I still think that every year, when I have to renew my liquor license."

Fitzgerald's, 2706 White Oak, 713-862-3838, celebrates its 30th anniversary with Shake Russell on Thursday, Spoonfed Tribe on Friday and Brave Combo on Saturday.

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