Although the bands are the key factor that makes Chicago music so vibrant,
the community ultimately thrives because of the behind-the-scenes support of
clubs, record stores, independent labels, recording studios, publicists and
Last on the list in terms of recognition from the average music
fan but most important when it comes to introducing the music to a national
audience are the booking agencies. And of these, Flowerbooking deserves
special mention as one of the most dedicated and successful that indie-rock
Susanne Dawursk grew up in Boston, fell in love with underground rock in
the late '80s and started a high school fanzine called "Declaration" that
found her asking local bands about their favorite colors. As is inevitable
for dedicated fans who want to be involved but don't have what it takes to
become critics or musicians, it wasn't long before a band she admired asked
if she'd help book a show.
"It wasn't really any sort of calculated decision. I didn't sit down with
a business plan or say, 'I'm going to apply for a small business loan,'
because I definitely wouldn't have gotten one," Dawursk says, laughing.
"Really, I was at the right place at the right time. I had just missed
Mission of Burma, but college radio was supporting local music and local
artists were playing shows in VFW halls and anywhere they could. It was easy
for a kid like me to get connected with that."
Dawursk had already established Flowerbooking by working with bands such
as Sebadoh and Codeine when she decided to move to Chicago in 1994.
"Boston was becoming extremely expensive," she says. "Having been on tour
here, there and everywhere at this point, Chicago was the one town that had
so many great people in it, like Sue Miller and Julia Adams at Lounge Ax and
all of the Trenchmouth guys. [Former Trenchmouth drummer turned "Saturday
Night Live" star] Fred Armisen found me my first apartment and got me my
first P.O. box. It was the first time I experienced this idea of reaching
out to new and different people, trusting them and then having the trust
come back. To me, that spoke volumes about what kind of a musical community
we had here."
In the years that followed, Flowerbooking helped establish Chicago bands
such as Tortoise, the Sea and Cake, Local H and the Smoking Popes as
national acts, in addition to working with groups such as Jimmy Eat World,
Interpol and Ted Leo and the Pharmacists. The business grew to include
fellow agents Tim Edwards and Mahmood Shaikh, and Dawursk proved herself to
competitors that resented a young, female challenger to the point where some
bigger agencies tried to buy her out.
"Some were interesting offers and some were total jokes," Dawursk says.
"At the end of the day, I have to say that I personally enjoy running the
This doesn't mean she isn't frustrated by the repetition of booking
endless 40-date tours at small clubs, or the frustrations of juggling so
many dates, bands and flaky club owners.
"I think about quitting every day." she says. "Are you kidding me? I
can't lie to you! If I look back, 10 years ago I was so excited that I could
make a living doing this. Now I have to admit I am going through a new thing
of, 'Wow, this is all I've ever done.' In a lot of ways, that's an
incredible accomplishment for which I'm eternally thankful. But in other
ways, I have to admit, I wonder what else is out there."
Dozens of musicians just dropped to their knees to pray that Dawursk
never actually makes a career change. The music industry is changing
radically, with musicians using the Internet to release their work in new
ways that don't require major-label middlemen, but they'll always need an
honest, well-organized and hard-working agent to find them a decent gig in
Columbus on Tuesday night while en route from Cleveland to Cincinnati.
Clients and fans probably shouldn't worry: The success of the Flower 15
Music Festival, which began celebrating the agency's first decade and a half
at Metro, 3730 N. Clark, on Tuesday, is encouraging enough to convince
anyone to keep on bookin'. The shows, several of them sold out, and an
online auction of band memorabilia are on course to raise $50,000 for
P.L.A.Y. (Possibilities in Life: Art for Youth), a charity that provides
creative outlets in music and the arts for underprivileged kids.
The remaining Flower 15 shows include Jimmy Eat World, American Analog
Set and Maritime at 6 tonight; a separate show with the Smoking Popes and
Bella Lea at 11; Promise Ring, Make Believe and Tristeza at 6:30 p.m.
Saturday; Tortoise and Isis at 11 p.m. Saturday, and Underoath, the Chariot,
Evergreen Terrace and Since By Man at 6 p.m. Sunday. For more information,
visit www.flower15.com or call Metro at (773) 549-0203.
REASONS FOR LIVING
Playing small clubs and touring in a beat-up van is a grind for many
bands who think fame and fortune come quickly, but it can also be rewarding
-- the modern equivalent of the "quest for kicks" in Jack Kerouac's On
the Road -- and Flowerbooking's Susanne Dawursk puts things in
perspective for struggling groups.
"Being a touring musician does not mean being on MTV. It's like any small
business: It takes anywhere from three to five years to turn a profit.
Everyone is afraid of looking at their band as a business. They're like,
'Oh, my God, it's art!' Yeah, it is. But you still have to be smart about
"People complain about not making enough money. We always refocus them
and say, 'Look, all these things may be true, and it's totally OK to walk
away and quit. But if you still wake up in the morning, as much of a pain in
the butt [as touring] may be, you do get to set your own schedule, have this
incredible emotional release every night while playing and connect with
people. While those things may not pay your bills, do you really think that
you can turn around and find that in another pursuit?
"If you stick with it, you may have the sort of success of Jimmy Eat
World [below]. But even if you put in your time and decide it's time to move
on, you'll still have had this incredible experience."