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venue reinvention

Ashland Coffee and Tea

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The response was gratifying. The show sold out more than two weeks in advance, with more than half of the seats sold via AC&T's Web site (www.ashlandcoffee-andtea.com). Fans came from all over - Washington D.C., Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia, North Carolina and even Iowa — and the show was finished at the civilized hour of 11 p.m., a blessing for those making a long pilgrimage.

The national booking agent representing Williams, Monterrey Peninsula Artists, is now looking to book more of their artists into this "quality singer/songwriter venue," as MPA's Ryan Owens puts it.

"Dar's played Carnegie Hall and toured all over the world. Usually she's at theaters that hold a bit under 2,000. On this tour we were looking for an intimate setting, and I think Ashland Coffee and Tea is the right play for that sort of thing." Owens called AC&T owners to offer Williams, after a good experience booking bluesman Corey Harris there.

The reaction at AC&T was one of happy disbelief. "Our mouths dropped," admitted Kay Landry. Faced with a higher cost than ever before, owners Landry, and Mary and Jim Leffler were a bit concerned. "We were worried until the tickets [started selling] on the Web site," acknowledged Jim Leffler. "Three days later we weren't worried anymore."

Looking ahead, AC&T plans to keep growing, with a mix of local, developing and national acts. Confirmed national acts coming up are Rory Block (Aug. 15), Slaid Cleaves (Sept. 19), and Steve Forbert (November). Tickets for acoustic blues artist Block's show are almost sold out. Other shows in the works include Tuck & Patti, Eddy Clearwater, Peter Case, and Chris Smither. Local acts regularly selling out the venue are Susan Greenbaum, Burnt Taters, Page Wilson and Reckless Abandon, and Old School Freight Train.

Other national acts on AC&T's wish list include Tom Paxton, Loudon Wainwright, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, and the Blind Boys of Alabama. "We still have Taj Mahal as our dream," laughed Landry. Bolstered by the success of the Williams event, Jim Leffler points out, "everybody we've mentioned is within reach, except Taj."

— Andy Garrigue

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