September 30, 2010


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Putting the muse back into local music
Original talent has a space to thrive at the Jam Factory

By Michael Witthaus

In fits and starts, an artistic force is asserting itself in Manchester. Folk singers at Boynton’s Taproom, Rocko’s perennial metal scene, and recent renegade one-offs at Jillian’s Billiards and the “Old and Bold” show at Milly’s Tavern are all indicators of a growing trend.

The muse is returning to local music. Most recently, it’s happening at a downtown Manchester pool hall.

At Raxx Billiards, the turn toward original talent started in the spring, when Friday and Sunday open-mike sessions began at the Manchester establishment. By summer, the effort had a name — The Jam Factory — and was also offering regular feature act shows on Saturdays. A new music venue began to blossom in what had previously been ancillary space, and sound and lighting improvements got underway.

In short order, the Saturday shows were booked out into November. This weekend’s lineup features blues from the Mighty Bad Habits along with soulful singer Kay Biggs. Future shows include the Zachs and Threadweaver (Saturday, Oct. 9), Tuna Fish Discrepancy with Potsy and American Bred (Saturday, Oct. 16) and an all-female double with No Jack and Kristen Marlo (Saturday, Oct. 23).

Yet calls from bands continued to pour in. Spurred by this interest, the organizers expanded concert nights, replacing the Friday open mikes. The first Friday show, featuring A Simple Complex and three other acts, is set for Oct. 29. Additionally, the Sunday afternoon open-mike gatherings now include an occasional feature act.

The catalyst for all of this is Sadi Khan, an earnest and enthusiastic singer/guitarist who, frustrated with the local music scene, decided to take matters into his own hands. Khan, who also fronts the band Threadweaver, was a frequent denizen of downtown clubs that allow bands to squeeze at most one or two original songs into their sets. “We’ve got a lot of really good talent here,” Khan said recently. “I thought there really should be a place where … a local band would be able to play their original music and feel like that’s going to be the focus.”

It’s been an uphill climb. The first show on July 24 drew a respectable crowd of 50, but since then attendance has fluctuated from 15 on the low end, up to 35 on a good night. But Khan believes there’s more to the effort than filling the room. “I began to realize that there weren’t many places for people to actually do gigs,” he says. Bands aren’t charged to use the room, and proceeds from the modest $5 cover charge are split evenly between Khan and the performers.

“I have a personal belief that music is valuable, so I wanted to make it so people wouldn’t have to do it completely for free,” Khan says. “Hopefully, they get their gas money covered at least, and maybe a little bit more than that.”

Khan manages the Jam Factory website, along with Facebook and Reverb Nation pages. An inveterate networker, he incessantly talks up the club to anyone who’ll listen.

“It takes a lot for people to get used to the fact that we’re here and to be reminded to go to concerts — for so long, it really wasn’t about that,” Khan says. “So I wonder how long it’s going to take for people to get used to that. But the bands themselves are bringing their fan bases and I’ve been working with them to get the word out.”

He’s personally enjoyed shows by Drifting Sun and Leddy Jackson (“rock with a funk groove, you know what I’m saying?”), as well as 23 Riddles (“a punky, hard to define beat”). Ultimately, however, “when it comes down to doing a concert I want to know what the fans like,” he says. “I already knew before I did this that there was a lot of talent in the area, and that wasn’t the problem. For any kind of endeavor to work, you need three things: talent, motivation and focus. If a band has talent and motivation, I can provide the focus with a space to play.”

The billiard club takes a hands-off approach to the endeavor.

“Raxx lets me use the room, and lets me take charge of everything that goes on in the room, which is all the support I need at this point,” Khan says. The space has been expanded from its original opening configuration, with a house PA and spotlights now available for performers. Khan, who’s also a sound engineer, will record a band’s set if they wish.

“There’s a synergy,” says Khan, who also occasionally helps performers with their website design. “I try to foster bands in every way; it’s not just about me giving them a place to play.”

Khan expects A Simple Complex to be the club’s hardest-rocking band yet. Says Khan, “it’s boulders-smashing-into-your-skull hard. I’m pretty sure the room can take it; I’m hoping that the fans will hold up as well.”

Jam Factory
Who: The Mighty Bad Habits with Kay Biggs
Where: The Jam Factory, Elm Street in Manchester
When: Saturday, Oct. 2, at 8 p.m.
Tickets: $5

Upcoming shows at The Jam Factory:
Acoustic open mike hosted by Tajoura Davis and Sadi Khan (of Threadweaver) on Sunday, Oct. 3, at 1 p.m.
The Zachs and Threadweaver on Saturday, Oct. 9, at 8 p.m.
Tuna Fish Discrepancy with Potsy and American Bred on Saturday, Oct. 16, at 8 p.m.
No Jack with Kristen Marlo and TBA on Saturday, Oct. 23, at 8 p.m.
A Simple Complex, Forego Famine, East Is East and Tajoura on Friday, Oct. 29, at 8 p.m.