Cover bands are "safer," says Bob Pignone, a co-owner of the Poor House in Fort Lauderdale. "Bands call me up wanting to play, and there's nothing I could do for them. I can't take a chance on putting them in here on a Friday night."
Instead Pignone is taking a chance on a different evening. Last Thursday night, he gave the Poor House's modest stage to three South Florida bands -- Matt Sabatella, Passion Seeds, and Sixo -- who played more than three hours of original alternative rock and pop. As usual at the Poor House, there was no cover charge.
Pignone hopes to do this every Thursday evening. "What gave me the idea is that band Sense," he says of a local rock group that recently played in his club. "They did covers and originals, and they were fantastic. But where were they going to get heard?"
"There aren't many places," agrees Rene Alvarez of the Miami-based rock band Sixo. "In Miami there are maybe three; here there's two or three."
Tavern 213, Squeeze, and Dastardly's are among the few Broward County venues that showcase original bands, according to Zach Ziskin, the lead singer and guitarist for Passion Seeds. "After that, then it's just the bookstores and coffeehouses scattered around," he says.
"There probably are other outlets," suggests Sabatella, who plays mainly at clubs in his native Miami, "but I never sought them out, and they didn't present themselves to me -- except for this place."
When Pignone decided he wanted to give one night a week to local bands, he approached his friend Jeff Kissinger, Passion Seeds' bassist, to be the booking agent. Kissinger took the job and word got around. Now the blues bar receives tapes and CDs from rock bands, pop bands, and singer-songwriters. The requirement, according to Pignone: "Definitely originals, no covers at all."
Last Thursday made for an auspicious beginning. Around 11 p.m. Sabatella played his solo songs to a receptive audience of some 40 people. The crowd dwindled around midnight, which means few people caught Passion Seeds' solid set of appealing, melodic pop-rock. But the late-night crowd streamed into the bar around 1:30 a.m., and Sixo found itself playing to a full house.
"When we were loading out our equipment at about 3 a.m., it was just wall-to-wall people," Ziskin recalls. "I thought, 'Man, we should have done our set now.'"
Based on last week's turnout, the Poor House should have no problem continuing its Thursday night experiment. "If there's support for it, I'll keep doing it," says Pignone. "When you're doing original music, you're looking to take your band one step further. And maybe this can be the stepping stone."
Those who'd like to play on a Thursday evening at the Poor House should call Jeff Kissinger at 954-785-9916.