BLOOMINGTON — They’re gonna need a bigger wall.

The setting for this caveat is the “green room” in the upper reaches of the Castle Theatre in downtown Bloomington.

It’s the inner sanctum for the 150-odd acts who passed through the East Washington Street portals between September 2010 and September 2011 — Year One of the venerable old theater’s rebirth as the Twin Cities’ most eclectic music emporium.

It’s also the biggest autograph book in town, with silver-inked John Hancocks scrawled up, down, across and maybe over the walls.

Dark Star Orchestra glistens here, the Old 97’s over there. 

And look, there’s Ray Manzarek of the Doors — on the wall.

As early as July, it looked as if space might be coming at a premium for these lingering traces of a performer’s presence.

You have to raise your eyes upward to locate the 7/31/11 signatory known as Snoop Dogg, whose midsummer night’s date quickly flew to the peak of the Castle’s concert turret (see accompanying list for the other nine greatest hits).

Whatever the logistical challenges, it’s a good problem to have, agree the Castle’s triad of owners: Rory O’Connor, Michael Gold and John Campbell (not to be confused with the noted B-N jazz pianist of the same name).

On this day, they’re sitting under the lights on the stage usually reserved for the performers who’ve passed through in 12 short months — from Snoop to Alejandro Escovedo to the Gin Blossoms to Twista to Tuesday’s impending Steve Earle (shining star of the Castle’s official first anniversary party).

“We always hoped it would be a somewhat eclectic mix,” notes O’Connor, whose general manager title keeps him on site the most regularly of the trio (he’s also a co-owner of Farmer City’s equally eclectic FM wonder, WWHP, aka The Whip.

“I don’t think that we’d turn anyone down,” adds Gold, who also has a day job, along with Campbell, running a Chicago-based ad agency (and, yes, long commutes from up there to down here every week are a fact of the duo’s life.)

All three agree that the big fat tempting lure of the Castle — for both audiences and performers — is the room’s all-pervasive intimacy: no matter where you park, you’re practically within spitting distance of the person up there, and vice versa.

Three goals have been at play over the first year, says Campbell: “Supporting local music by providing a showcase for local bands, bringing major names into this intimate environment and providing an alternative for the audience here to see bands on a nightly basis.”

If it hasn’t been nightly since the Sept. 26, 2010, grand opening with Jack Ingram, it’s been close to every other night, with upwards of 150 shows dotting the year’s 365 possibilities.

A year ago, O’Connor told GO!, “I think it’s going to be the premier place to see live music here.” The goal was to book around 100 shows.

For those 150 actual dates, around 30,000 patrons were entertained by the likes of Snoop, Escovedo (twice), JJ Grey & Mofro, Dark Star Orchestra, Manzarek-Rogers Band, Jason & The Scorchers, the Gin Blossoms, Here Come the Mummies (the venue’s first sellout, surprisingly enough) and dozens more, with a healthy heaping of local favorites like Backyard Tire Fire and Dan Hubbard & The Humadors.

Helping the venue stand tall on its feet in its first year: the successful tapping of social media options, from Facebook to Twitter and beyond.

Those contacts number in the thousands.

Though O’Connor, Gold and Campbell make all booking decisions, “I’d say 60 to 70 percent of the shows were as a result of a request from fans,” Campbell says. “And we do want people to feel as if they have an ownership in the venue.”

So what possessed these three guys to take a risk on a venue that had defeated the best intents of its previous owner, Ben Slotky — the young man who rescued the theater from ruin and tried to make a go of it as a specialty downtown cinema, then went deeply into debt?

O’Connor admits he was eyeing the 95-year-old theater as far back as the period more than half a decade ago when Slotky moved forward with the purchase.

His tenure with The Whip had versed him in the ways of the music, particularly through the station’s regular sponsorship of alternative, roots and indie performers at venues around the area.

“We’re all entrepreneurs,” Campbell confesses. “It’s not the first time any of us jumped off a ledge.”

The leap was made in January 2010, with the landing arriving less than eight months later. All in the thick of an economic nosedive that has left many an entrepreneur maimed, or worse. Has anyone at the Castle gotten hurt yet?

“Well, we’ve met some expectations,” muses Campbell, “and we’ve fallen short of others. But we set ourselves lofty goals, and I don’t think it’s healthy to feel you’ve met every one of them.”

Still, he admits, “We’re asking for the disposable incomes of people who are out to entertain themselves in the limited way we can do now.”

“One of our greatest strengths is our diversity in artists,” says Gold. “We can go from country to bluegrass to metal to soul to punk to jazz.”

However, he adds, “It’s up to us to get the word out so it doesn’t seem … schizophrenic.”

Either way, the ticket-buying demographic has been all over the map, “from 15 to 55 — across the spectrum,” says O’Connor.

Adds Campbell, “If we’ve done anything over the past 12 months, we’ve created a culture of people trusting the quality of the music we bring to town, to the point that they’ll come out to hear someone they’ve never heard before.”

He adds, “they’re willing to take a chance — and that’s something to treasure.”


2Big 10

The 10 top-selling Castle Theatre concerts for its first year were:

1. Snoop Dogg, July 31

2. Against Me!, Feb. 11

3. Steve Earle and the Dukes & Duchesses, Tuesday

4. Dark Star Orchestra, Nov. 6

5. Here Come the Mummies, Oct. 27

6. Trippin Billies, Jan. 29

7. Old 97s, April 2

8. Twista, March 24

9. Gin Blossoms, July 8

10. Jack Ingram, Sept. 26


By the numbers

For its first year as a music venue, the Castle Theatre:

w Booked around 150 events

w Sold tickets to more than 30,000 patrons

w Attracted 3,500 Facebook fans

w Amassed 271 Twitter followers

w Signed up 3,800 “Castle e-Club” members

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