Started by musician Gerald (GW) Staton, the Black Crystal is probably one of the most sought after small clubs in the United States, drawing acts from as far as away as New York, Nashville and Montreal.
When you arrive for the first time at the suburban cul-de-sac, where the club is located, you’ll probably do a double take: where exactly is the club?
But GW and wife Claudia are there on the front lawn to greet you, GW often wearing his trademark cowboy hat.
GW likes to check the reaction of people coming for the first time.
They think they’re about to witness a concert “in someone’s living room.”
In fact the club is in the couple’s basement.
But this isn’t a basement with wood panelled walls and ceiling florescent lights.
This space has all the looks and atmosphere of a professional club.
There’s tables, a raised stage, a professional stage backdrop, a bar and intimate lighting.
The Black Crystal isn’t a club in the sense of traditional music venues.
Guests have to register online through www.privatemusicnetwork.com to attend an event, which occurs once or twice a month.
Then GW calls them to make sure they understand the concept.
Tickets cost $20 but Staton makes no money.
Instead the “donation” is given directly to the performing artist.
“I don’t sell anything here, it’s 100 per cent pass-through to the artist,” he says.
Staton, a musician, partly started the space because he knows how underpaid musicians are.
The club seats 50 people and at $20 a ticket generates $1000 for the night.
That’s a lot more than musicians can often get paid in regular bars.
“I’d like to be able to help create revenue for the people who make music,” Staton says. “Today everything is extracting from them.”
Noting he made more money 40 years ago as a musician, Staton pointed to people who now get airplay on Internet radio but just made a few bucks in compensation.
One friend had a million airplays and got a cheque for $16.98.
So what’s in it for Staton?
GW started the club as a way to drum up customers for his main business, selling insurance.
“Initially my intent was to just use it to entertain clients and of course some came then they brought guests and then it kind of went from there.”
There’s no sales pitch when you see a concert.
In fact there’s not even a mention of insurance.
The club provides alcoholic beverages and delicious hors d’oeuvres – all complimentary – paid for out of the Staton’s pockets.
Acts have included Bobby Murray, guitarist for the late great blues singer Etta James, Barb Payton, longtime backup singer for Bob Seger, Detroit area vocalist Jill Jack and Nashville singer-songwriter Clay Canfield.