The intimate, 220-seat Tin Pan performance venue has provided a stage for newcomers and established artists alike, in a setting that fosters closeness between performer and audience. The seating arrangements at this concert supper club create a sense of community for music lovers, often placing strangers at the same dinner table. Friendships have been born over a meal and a shared experience.
All of this seems perfectly normal to owner Lisa Harrison.
“I am so grateful,” she says. “The community really supports us.”
For 15 years, Harrison was surrounded by local musicians as the owner of Harrison Music. But she wanted to do more — so she started the club. One of her first goals was to have half -dozen national acts booked before opening its doors. The first artist to grace the stage was Ben Sollee. Shortly after, names like Tom Paxton and Iris Dement began to pass through on a regular basis. The late Leon Russell played the Tin Pan shortly before his death.
“Michael Jaworek (of the Birchmere) was really helpful when it came to booking talent,” she says. “And as a businessperson, I can’t be tied to any one artist. It has to make sense for the business.” When she speaks, her eyes light up, and her voice betrays her excitement: “I love the decision making.”
To help her business connect with the community, Harrison hired a full time social-media staffer.
“You have to start early and grow your email list — that is your lifeblood,” she says. “Our audience is 40-plus, and they love to go out to shows. They have the finances to do it, and we have a number of them who are what we call our ‘regulars.’”
When asked what makes her feel most proud about her work, she responds without hesitation, “those moments when an artist has a room in the palm of their hand.”
One of Harrison’s early decisions was to keep the two sides of her business, food service and talent, separate. That’s because each must be profitable independently, she says.
“You can fool yourself thinking that one side will bail out the other,” she says. “That’s not to say that everyone I have booked has sold well. Sometimes you book an act and you eat a little humble pie. In the beginning, I figured I’d have a learning curve and swallow a few bad decisions. Fortunately, that doesn’t happen too often.”
Harrison looks back on the last two years with satisfaction. She seems to straddle the line between restaurateur and talent promoter with aplomb. So has she ever felt slighted or dismissed as a woman in such a competitive business?
“Not at all,” she says. “I have never felt discriminated against in any way. And while starting a business is a big challenge, I was ready for a new adventure. I knew I wasn’t going to let anyone, any artist or agent intimidate me.”