By SCOTT WEISSER
THE GOSHEN NEWS
Hanging on the east wall is a framed poster advertising a long-ago Paul Butterfield Blues Band gig.
New, used and re-issued vinyl LPs are massed in racks. A quick scan of the room yields a used copy of Triumph’s “Rock and Roll Machine,” not far from a used Bobbie Gentry/Glen Campbell release. Across the room, the vaguely imposing, still plastic-wrapped cover of Black Flag’s “My War” draws the eye.
CDs and stereo equipment are on display, too, here inside Ignition Music, 120 E. Washington St., Goshen. It’s a music store, the kind of place where people can get special orders, where the proprietor asks, “What do you want to hear?” For music fans, it feels like home.
This is a place where aficionados gather to shop for, listen to and talk about music. They also come here to watch and hear it performed live.
Ignition founder Steve Martin knows the type of people who make up his clientele. On the late afternoon of Jan. 27, he stood in front of roughly 120 of them.
Ignition Garage — the name a tip-of-the-hat to the building’s past life as an auto repair shop — is the venture’s live music component. Last month, Martin welcomed the people who’d come to experience The Steel Wheels’ blend of tight musicianship and stunning vocal harmonies.
Ignition was nearing its one-year anniversary then. That first year was one in which Ignition became a downtown destination spot, joining the ranks of established live venues that included Constant Spring, Goshen Theater and The Electric Brew.
How did that happen? Credit environment — setting the right vibe, if you will — and creating an ideal experience for both performer and consumer. Also factor in the symbiotic relationship between Ignition and WGCS 91.1 The Globe, the Goshen College radio station.
In keeping with tradition
“I have not been shy at all in saying none of this would have happened if 91.1 The Globe had not changed formats in 2007,” said Martin, still not shy.
That’s when the station shifted to a largely Americana format, and Martin credits The Globe with introducing an audience to artists outside what he termed narrow commercial constraints.
Americana? It’s a big tent. In Martin’s estimation, it’s any music that draws from the traditional American roots music of country, folk, blues, jazz and rhythm and blues. Americana, Martin added, is also populated by musicians who write their own music, in contrast to what he described as “beautiful faces and decent voices that play someone else’s songs.”
In its first year, Ignition’s concert roster included some of Americana’s up-and-comers.
The Spring Standards appeared on NBC’s “Conan” twice before their Ignition show. Will Hoge is the co-writer of “Even If It Breaks Your Heart,” a country chart-topper for the Eli Young Band. Marc Scibilia’s single “How Bad We Need Each Other” was featured on the TV show “Bones” last year.
They’re artists who have been part of Ignition’s lift-off. And artists, Martin feels, have gotten the short shrift in discussions about the music industry, streaming, and the collapse of the record label and commercial radio system.
“The person who gets left out of that equation is the artist,” he said. “Because the assumption is, there are going to be so many artists desperate to become famous that the cream will rise to the top and the best artists will magically win the commercial version of ‘American Idol.’ And the reality is that’s not true.
“Because the changes in the industry, particularly in radio, have made it almost impossible for these acts to get heard. The collapse of retail has hurt them especially in a bitter way because they have no retail distribution channel. And digital hasn’t come close to making up the gap.”
Martin recalled attending an American Music Association festival and seeing “one of the finest singer/songwriter/guitarists in North America wearing the same clothes for three days because he was sleeping in his van.”
“It just said to me, there’s got to be a different way,” he said.
Martin said The Globe has always done its part to introduce those artists to the station audience. Jason Samuel is the WGCS station manager. He thought there should be a different way, too.
A new direction
Around the time of WGCS’ re-vamping, Samuel knew that people his age (currently early 40s) made up the largest listening demographic leaving radio behind. He wanted the kind of station that would bring them back. Enter The Globe.
WGCS is half of a two-fer musicians get when they pull into town for an Ignition gig: A station playing their music. Ignition is the performance venue and retail outlet.
In Samuel’s view, there’s also such a thing as taking care of the artists.
“We understand that this is what they do for a living, and they’re doing this professionally, so we want to treat them as professionals,” he said. “We look at them like rock stars.”
Martin believes that bands have a good experience when they come to Ignition because they are treated that way and they have an audience that’s listening.
“That translates into a better show,” he said. “The audience has a better experience. They can see the band. They can hear it through a great sound system. That leads to merchandise sales afterwards.”
When booking Ignition performers, discretion comes into play.
“If we just said yes to everybody (artists), we’d have to shut this place down,” Samuel said. “Because you’d lose money. It’s a dance, OK? A balance.
“At this level, when Steve’s on the phone with somebody or I’m talking to somebody down in Nashville or New York or LA or wherever we’re talking to people, we have to choose people that A.) aren’t so big that they will dump us for a bigger room to make more money, B.) fit in our schedule, C.) that we can actually have the time to introduce and educate our audience. And that audience is either people who have already been here, or people that come here for the retail experience, or people that we can reach through The Globe.”
A certain weight, too, rests on quality performances by the artists.
“The shows have to be excellent,” Samuel said. “...It has to be awesome or you might as well put a bullet in this building.”
“We were very careful about that that first year, so that the experience was consistent,” Martin said. “So we could get away from this, ‘Well, I’ve never heard of that band.’ Well, of course you haven’t heard of that band. If you’ve heard of that band, they’re not going to be playing a 120-seat room in Goshen, Indiana.”
Sense of community
Both Martin and Samuel are Goshen College graduates who hail from elsewhere — Martin from Orrville, Ohio, and Samuel from Philadelphia. They’re undertaking a musical experiment in Goshen together and Martin said he wouldn’t have done it anywhere else.
There’s a community of “cultural creatives” in the Goshen area, according to Martin. They are people who are into art, are pro-environment and health and who respond to quality of life issues.
“They know what they like, and they try to support what they like,” Martin said of his clientele. “My sense is there’s more appreciation for and support of the arts in Goshen than anywhere else.”
Samuel touted the sense of community in Goshen.
“People value the relational aspect of living here,” he said. “On Saturdays, you can stop in here and see people you know, or go to Better World Books or the art gallery or over to the Farmers’ Market or over to The Electric Brew or go down to Maple City Market or up to Gutierrez bakery, or across the street to get a bite to eat...
“Goshen, in a big way, takes care of its own,” Samuel said. “And I’m happy to be able to contribute to my own quality of life.”