In the beginning, Mark Butterfield will tell you, he started his Acoustic Café concert series so he could see musicians who ordinarily drove through Indianapolis on their way to someplace else.
"It was people I wanted to hear and, getting older, my ears can't take the music that we listened to in the '70s at the Vogue," he said. "Listening to somebody tell a story with a guitar is a very intimate situation."
What Butterfield discovered over the subsequent 12 years is that Indianapolis and the surrounding areas have plenty of like-minded music fans who share his joy of seeing acoustic music in an intimate setting. So this year, he's booked 12 shows, starting with perennial favorite John Gorka on Friday, Oct. 2 at the new home of the series, the Wheeler Community Arts Center, 1035 Sanders St.
Tickets for Gorka and all shows in the series are available at IRC Music, Luna Music and, for the first time, online at www.IndyAcousticCafeSeries.com - with only a $1 service charge per order.
Over the years, Butterfield has brought in a long list of notable names in the acoustic-music world, including Nils Lofgren, Lowen & Navarro and Karla Bonoff. He doesn't get rich off this - tickets have never been more than $20, and the venues he books don't hold more than 200 people - and he said he donates proceeds from beer and wine sales at the shows to several charities that he preferred not to identify, the better to keep off junk mail lists.
"The series overall is in the red in a big way," he said. "But it's a hobby. That's what I keep telling myself."
What you typically find at the Acoustic Café shows are appreciative fans who like to listen to music (rather than talk over it) and musicians who much prefer the setting to playing in a bar. Artists enjoy the series so much that they tend to stick around after performances to meet, greet and sign autographs.
"I have played Mark Butterfield's series for many years," Ellis Paul said via e-mail. "It's always been great - they treat me well, the sound is always great, and it's never been at a bar or some place where I have to compete with noise from the building. The last facility was a church with amazing acoustics and a very cool layout design, which is unlike any other place I've played."
Paul returns to the Acoustic Café series in January with a fascinating new story to tell. His new CD, The Day After Everything Changed
, was financed entirely by his fans. After he put out the word, he received more than $100,000 in donations.
So clearly, fans of acoustic music are passionate about their favorite performers.
Paul, who played the first Acoustic Café show ever (Feb. 18, 1998) said he doubts he would have played Indianapolis otherwise since "there are no good alternatives for a listening space in Indianapolis for an acts of my size."
The location of the shows has changed over the years - from Rehearsal Studios on the Southside to the Centrum near Downtown to the Wheeler - but Butterfield's commitment hasn't wavered. He aspires to create "a true listening room."
"Everybody always says they like the atmosphere," Butterfield said. "And I hope it never changes. I want people to come in, sit down and if they feel like moving their chair around, then move it around. I just want them to be comfortable."