There’s no handle? There’s no handle. How the hell do I get inside? I’m supposed to be interviewing the talent buyer of The Blind Pig at 6 p.m. and it is 6:03 and there’s no handle on the door to get in. I feverishly check my e-mail to avoid being later than the three minutes I’ve already lost. “I’ll meet you in the 8 Ball.” I trudge down the gravel hill to the graffitied door of the 8 Ball, The Blind Pig’s basement bar, to meet Jason Berry.

I step into the 8 Ball Saloon, multi-colored Christmas lights wrap around ceiling pipes, and the dimly lit room is filled with dart boards and pool tables. Two men at the bar alternate between popcorn and beer, their eyes fixated on Alaskan Troopers busting a coke house on a TV. My phone says it’s 6:20 when Berry walks into the saloon. He is clearly busy, fumbling papers in his hands as he goes to shake mine.

“Can you ride with me to the post office?” he asks. “I’ve got a few errands to run.”

Berry has worked at The Blind Pig as talent buyer for more than 17 years and is an essential part to the smooth running machine that is Ann Arbor’s premier music venue. The Pig puts on more than 200 shows per year, a mixture of live bands and DJs, with an average ticket price of $15. Berry chalks up his 17-year tenure to the support of his boss, Blind Pig owner Betty Goffett.

“Buyers don’t last more than two years on average. They’re under tremendous pressure, from the community, from the ownership,” Berry said. “So, if the owner doesn’t have your back or is some sort of flake, then you’re going to burn through buyers. The owners have got to have your back. I’ve been mega lucky that I’ve had Betty.”

Goffett and her late husband came to own the Pig in 1981. Roy Goffett grew up in Liverpool, England, witnessing The Beatles gain traction in the Cavern Club. Owning a music club was his dream. After he made a small fortune in the steel industry, his wife, who also came up from money, bought him the Blind Pig as a gift. Roy passed away in 2001.

The Blind Pig’s history can be seen in two distinct phases: pre-Goffett and post-Goffett. Prior to the Goffett’s ownership, the Pig was a much smaller strictly blues club.

“They were the ones who said, ‘Yeah, we aren’t just going to do blues. We’re going to do everything, so that’s when The Blind Pig became what it is today,” Berry said. “No one remembers the old Blind Pig except the old-school hippies. That was all Betty.”

While the current owner made the room what it is today, the Blind Pig has always been wildly successful. Previous owners sold the Pig not out of financial concern, but out of diverging aspirations. The first was big into espresso machines and left Ann Arbor to pursue that business; the next started Blind Pig Records with recording artists who were booked at the time. Soon after, that venture moved to San Francisco, allowing Betty to purchase the Pig for Roy.

“If you talk to anyone who knew the Pig back in the day when it was a blues bar, everyone will say it was fucking packed every night. This was where you bought all your coke, so that didn’t hurt. It wasn’t like the Pig was ever not profitable, it was just that the owners were off to different shit and they wanted to sell. The Pig has always been blessed like that,” Berry said.

The Pig has had continuous success over the past 40-plus years, though that doesn’t mean it hasn’t faced a few challenges. Berry recounts the drop in sales following September 2001. He said if a club was doing live bands and guaranteeing funds to bring them in and business was cut in half due to public fear, it ran a serious risk of going out of business. Quick on his feet, he booked solely local bands for the remainder of the 2001-2002 academic year.

“For the first time we saw something affect the bar business because people drink when they’re up and they drink when they’re down, so we are recession proof. So when that happened and people were afraid to go out, all of our numbers were just cut in half,” Berry said. “The rest of that school year there was just a pittance of tours. People were like, ‘What the fuck, man? Put some real fucking shows in there.’ I had to listen to that for a while. Then we got to summer …” He mimes pushing a throttle forward, “and we are so badass and we were just back.”

Aside from the post-9/11 slump, Berry chalks up the Pig’s financial stability to owner Betty Goffett. At age 87, she is frugal-minded and does not live beyond her means. Her financial outlook works to keep the Blind Pig rallying through tough economic times.

“Honestly, she does not fuck around. When a beer cooler goes down, she replaces it. She doesn’t play with money. It’s really boring actually, but it’s through her leadership that we haven’t struggled.”

Frugality aside, the Pig is not afraid to spend for what it needs. By now we are done at the post office, and are heading back to the 8 Ball. Berry begins telling one of his favorite stories about Betty. Last month, New York DJ and producer Kap Slap headlined the Blind Pig, but they did not have turntables compatible with Kap Slap’s USB hub. Two hours before show time the staff was looking for CDJ 2000s, the newest, top-of-the-line turntables, but no one had them because they’re so expensive. Finally a friend of Berry called and said Guitar Center in Canton had them and you could return products the next day. Without the 2000s, the show would have to be cancelled and money would have been returned to over 200 ticketholders.

“Without missing a beat (Betty) was like, ‘OK, cool. Let’s go.’ She calls ahead and has them stay open for her to make this purchase. She bought $7,500 turntables to return them once their check cleared, so they didn’t think we were playing them,” Berry said. “There’s no owner like her. That’s Betty. She’s progressive and passionate about groups, people and the quality of the experience.”

That experience starts with the shows’ lineups. Berry brings in a mix of local talent and national tours to Ann Arbor, and between the wealth of local talents and the national recognition of The Blind Pig as one of the best college-town clubs. Local bands are begging for shows, and agents send national acts to the Pig as a proving ground.

“Pound for pound, in terms of sound quality, experience of the patron and consistency of what’s happening there, we are often told we are one of the best (clubs) for our little size,” Berry said. “The reality is in the Detroit market we are the smallest of the clubs we compete with. We are competing with The Crofoot, St. Andrews and the Magic Stick. Every one of these rooms is bigger than us, so our advantage is that we are the college town.”

Musicians come to Ann Arbor to tap into the college-student demographic. The booking process differs slightly between local bands and national tours. Local bands either e-mail the Pig looking to play a lineup, or Berry is aware of a band through word of mouth and looks into them before offering them a spot. They start on a Wednesday or Thursday, and once they get a following they’ll move to a weekend.

For national acts, agents offer a night to Berry, and, if available, he gives them first hold, meaning that if no one is currently booked that night, they get first opportunity. He then sends in an offer, most times a flat rate plus a percentage if profits hit a certain mark. Agents may accept immediately or negotiate for more. After the show is booked, announced and on-sale production is taken over by the staff, the general manager or manager on duty pays the band, and Berry is already looking for the next show.

“It’s really smooth. Every club has the same procedure, but every club has its own tweak on it. The Magic Stick’s process has far many more people involved in it than we do, but that has to do with their size,” Berry said. “Coming from The Blind Pig and seeing that, it gives a nice perspective on how well the Pig is actually doing what they’re doing.”

While the playing field is somewhat leveled by the Pig’s status as a college-town club, they also have money on their side due to the affluence of the Michigan student body and Ann Arbor residents, so they are able to spend a lot to bring in acts the community wants to see.

Berry recounted how they began to shell out for big shows. Lee Berry, then-Blind Pig talent buyer who is now chief development officer at the Michigan Theater, and then-newly hired Jason Berry began hosting dance nights featuring international DJs. Back in 1998-99, flying DJs in from Europe was a revolutionary idea. He recounts that a club on Main Street would play ghettotech every Wednesday, but only feature Ann Arbor DJs.

“We were like, ‘Fuck that,’” he said. “We spent money, but it was because Ann Arbor. We could do that and charge 25 bucks to get in, which would have been ludicrous, but because of the affluent student body, we could just go for it. And now it’s the norm. People would be surprised if that wasn’t happening now.

“The Pig is fucking great. As a talent buyer I can just sit there. It’s like painting.” He motions moving a paintbrush across a canvas. “The club is so solid, and it has a magnificent owner who rolls with the punches and understands the nature of the live music industry.”

The Blind Pig’s backlog of shows is impressive. Jason Berry has brought in John Mayer, The White Stripes and Wiz Khalifa’s first show in Michigan. Prior to that, Lee Berry brought in Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, Dave Matthews Band and Nirvana, who famously stated the Blind Pig as their favorite venue to play in an MTV interview.

Nirvana’s legendary show took place in 1990 on its Bleach Tour. The tour was receiving lackluster response until the Monday before they were set to play; Soundgarden frontman, Chris Cornell, told a sold-out Blind Pig crowd to come back next week for Nirvana. Between that shoutout and some momentum built from opening for Tap and Screaming Trees, Nirvana took the stage to a sold-out crowd instead of the expected half-empty venue.

After the show, Nirvana didn’t have a place to stay, so the band crashed the Prism Productions offices on Fourth Street. Lee Berry walked into his office the next morning only to step over Krist Novoselic’s legs and see Kurt Cobain passed out on his sofa and in his plush office chair.

“I booked a bunch of great shit for my little 17-year tenure, but Lee booked all that famous shit,” Berry said. “But he’s got Dave Matthews and Godsmack. He is the Don Dada.” (Urban Dictionary: “A combination of Don and Dada. Meaning the top pimp, the biggest player and even one step above mack daddy.”) “He booked everything the Pig is really famous for, including every damn time Nirvana played. He is the man.”

Step one: buy your husband a blues club. Step two: host all types of bands. Step three: profit. It was the perfect storm that has led to the local goldmine called The Blind Pig. It feeds off the vibrancy of Ann Arbor and the affluence of its inhabitants to put on legendary music shows.

“The point of it all is to sell beer, and we are just very good at selling it the way we sell it. It could be simpler, but that’s what the 8 Ball is for,” he said. “That’s just a beer and shot bar and the Pig is some complicated bells and whistles to sell a glass of beer. It all just works really well.

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