Agency celebrates 15 years on music scene


November 11, 2005


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 managers.

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 has produced.

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 business."

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 or call Metro at (773) 549-0203.


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 it.

"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."