The Last Days of Langdon St.: An Interview With Ben Matchstick | July 2011
Sometimes it was a great spot to stop for bands on their way to Burlington. At other times it was the central location for shows, everything from folk to hardcore, and it held its own events that outshined any other around. For six and half years, Landgon St. Café in downtown Montpelier, VT helped cultivate and sustain the small but strong music scene in the state capital. Recently, however, Langdon St. Café had to close its doors. booking, promotion, and events coordinator Ben Matchstick, who also worked with Anais Mitchell in developing her folk opera Hadestown, spoke with us about the venue’s closing.
Why did Langdon St. close?
The financial end was constantly struggling to break even, trying to do a casual environment where people didn’t feel obliged to buy a big meal. They could have a cup of coffee, hang out. The music is really hard because so many bands require a guarantee, and it took every effort I could make.
You were doing some construction at some point.
In the middle of winter, February. We had a leak in our place, center stage. We had to rent the whole building, so we were responsible for the second and third floor, which means we constantly had to rent out these other spaces. The building was deteriorating, a lot of problems we inherited. That became a major conflict, how to maintain a building that you can’t grow into. It’s one of the oldest buildings in Montpelier.
Did you get a lot of support from the community?
Definitely. The support has been tremendous, and not just for the venue; people actually care about me and Meg. We had benefits the last week we were there and everybody came out. We feel tight with them. There’s only 8,500 people. Even 100 years ago the population was 8,500 people. It’s such a rinkadink town, and to have the thriving music scene that we had for many years was an anomaly. At one point there were four music venues running. How can any of them compete in this environment? Probably 10% of the population of Montpelier actually comes out and pays money to support music, so we’re relying on total outsiders to invade. It was insane.
Were you there from the beginning?
I was there for the beginning because I was partners with Meg Hammond, who was one of the original founders- there were five members of the original collective. I was doing monthly theater shows, Mystery Fun Night, something that I started. I kind of introduced the whole theatrical element to the whole café experience. From the start I started doing event planning. Noah Hahn was the original booker. His focus was primarily local music. Anais Mitchell is his wife, so we got the most robust acts through connections with her.
She talked up our venue wherever she went. It’s great to have somebody out there like that, promoting us. “Come to Montpelier, it’s my home town. The café will treat you right; just mention me.”
So [Noah] did the first two years and then Ed Dufrain did two years or so. I was already booking for special events like Geek Week and X-Mess Fest around the holidays. Anais was planning her Transcontinental Revue, a showcase of talent she'd pull in from touring. We were fortunate enough to have so many great musicians around to hold it down. At one point they were doing seven nights of music a week. Then I took over the last few years and found out a lot of those nights weren’t making money. We brought it down to four nights of music, which is still pretty good, for Montpelier.