“Let’s hear it for Carey Driscoll,” says singer Tom Russell from the stage of a Methodist church in Normal Heights. “Carey Driscoll, my favorite promoter, tryin’ to keep folk music alive. Man! Some of those emails he sends are ROUGH!” The audience laughs. “But ya gotta be able to take it if you’re a friend. Ya gotta be drinkin’ to read those emails. ’Cause he doesn’t give a shit!” More laughter. “Carey Driscollllll!”
Driscoll, a retired salesman and a former folk musician himself, has produced over 350 concerts in the past six and a half years as part of his Acoustic Music San Diego series.
“I assume Tom was referring to my occasional — although it’s been quite a while since I’ve sent one — rants about people on my mailing list coming to a show once in a while or getting off the damn mailing list,” Driscoll writes in response.
AMSD is essentially one person — Driscoll, who books the acts, writes publicity, and handles ticket orders. He says he has accumulated thousands of email addresses over the years at his shows. With no advertising budget, he takes the direct approach, by promoting AMSD shows via email. “All I can count on are the 2200 people on my mailing list being aware of my concerts. I don’t know in advance if the concert’s going to get any kind of a write-up in a paper.” He says that filling seats has been an ongoing frustration.
“It’s no easier today than it was for the first show.”
Part of the problem, Driscoll admits, is that the performers he books are neither pop stars nor household names. Consider Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, the Strawbs, Kris Delmhorst, even ’60s comic Mort Sahl. “It was shocking to me that people as big as Jimmy Webb had not played San Diego. Al Kooper [Blood, Sweat, and Tears founder] had played here before,” Driscoll says, “but not for 25 years.”
Driscoll also thinks being a dry venue (AMSD shows have been held in a rented church since 2004) hurts ticket sales. “I know with absolute certainty that there are a number of people who won’t come to our shows because they can’t drink here. That mystifies me. I mean, how desperately sick do you have to be that you can’t go without booze for a couple of hours?”
AMSD, Driscoll says, is his retirement hobby. “It wasn’t intended to be a money-making operation, and that’s perfectly all right with me.” He maintains low ticket prices and offers a money-back guarantee. “As long as I don’t lose a bunch of money, that’s all I care about.”
But that remains to be seen, he says. Ticket sales have been further dampened by the economy. “Instead of buying in advance, people are waiting longer to buy tickets. That doesn’t give you a real comfortable feeling to know that a year ago you would have sold 150 tickets by now for this concert, and you’ve only sold 40. Does that mean you’re not going to sell that 110, or are they just gonna buy late?”