When acclaimed singer-songwriter David Wilcox played at Rehearsal Studios last year, Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay provided the sideshow, arriving with friends by air.

Peter Mayer will perform at the Rehearsal Studios on Sept. 14 along with Darden Smith. The show will be the 40th in the acoustic concert series promoted by Mark Butterfield.

"He always brings eight or 10 people with him," concert promoter Mark Butterfield says of Irsay. "After the show, everybody was running out to see the helicopter." That sort of enthusiastic, upscale following has made a success out of Butterfield"s unlikely business venture. The Acoustic CafÈ concert series at the 200-seat Southside venue soon will mark its 40th event and its five-year anniversary. During an era of rampant consolidation in the concert industry, Butterfield has been waging a quiet insurgency. Even while announcing four new shows this fall, he expresses surprise that the series has gone this far. His mailing list of fans, he says, keeps pleading for more. "It"s just snowballed," says Butterfield, whose other interests include booking talent and running sound at concerts and festivals nationwide. "I"ve actually tried to stop it a couple times, move on to something else, but I just can"t." When he kicked off the series in early 1998, Butterfield tapped into a neglected niche: singer-songwriters who are not household names but have enough of a fanbase to tour nationally and draw from a multistate area wherever they play. Many record for small but respected labels such as Philo/Rounder, Red House and Windham Hill. Previously, the Circle City had been little more than a restroom break for those acts between tour stops in Chicago, Cincinnati, Dayton and St. Louis. "Before 1998, this genre was not even addressed in Indianapolis," Butterfield says. Highlights have included appearances by Nils Lofgren, Shawn Phillips, Karla Bonoff and Beth Nielsen Chapman, along with repeated visits by John Gorka, Ellis Paul, Vance Gilbert and Wilcox. Wilcox"s shows, like his upcoming appearance on Nov. 16, usually coincide with Colts home games, so he can sing the National Anthem. Rehearsal Studios, located on South Keystone Avenue at the I-65 exit, is a recording and practice facility owned by George Strakis, a nationally-known sound engineer whose credits include the Eagles, America and Whitney Houston. Though the room is smokeless, beer and wine are served, and most artists stick around after the show for handshakes and autographs. Public TV station WTBU has taped several shows for broadcast, and Butterfield is working with the station to score a national syndication deal. This fall"s opener on Saturday will feature Darden Smith, a former major-label country artist who has drawn critical acclaim with his latest Americana-style release Sunflower. Special guest is Peter Mayer, a longtime guitarist for Jimmy Buffett who has been building a solo career on the side. "After you see him, you"re going to say, "Why is he wasting his time with Buffett?"" says Butterfield, who likes to say his shows are aimed at "musically literate people." Promotion can be a cutthroat business, and Butterfield is not shy in asserting that competitors have tried to horn in on his formula. A very large firm has outbid him on some of his preferred artists, and a number of shoestring "house concert" series have sprung up at homes around Central Indiana. As long as they don"t specifically pressure the artists not to work with him, as he suspects, Butterfield thinks the market can support them all. "I want people who are doing house concerts to keep doing them," he says. Acoustic CafÈ itself remains a low-budget venture, represented chiefly by an e-mail list and a voice mail number for information and reservations. Tickets are sold at the IRC Music stores in Castleton and Greenwood, Missing Link Records in Broad Ripple and Luna Music downtown. "People have told me, "If you use Ticketmaster, we won"t come to your shows anymore,"" Butterfield says. This fall"s shows are as follows. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., and the music starts promptly at 7:30. ï Saturday: Darden Smith with Peter Mayer; $15 advance, $18 at the door ï Oct. 5: guitarist Brooks Williams with acoustic trio Dave"s True Story; $13 advance, $15 at the door ï Nov. 16: David Wilcox; $16 advance, sellout expected ï Nov. 30: Vance Gilbert with Megon McDonough; $16 advance, $18 at the door Information and reservations: 308-6570 or

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