Faces of the Fort: Matt Kelley


Matt Kelley of One Lucky Guitar continues to turn up in lots of discussions about live music and creativity in Fort Wayne. Owner of One Lucky Guitar, Matt and his small performance venue The B-side have turned up in two separate posts in our recent featured articles. Tom Boyer's article about the Bomb Shelter and our recent feature on the Damien Jurado performance led us to Matt's front door.  So we thought it was time to catch up with an influential member of the creative community in Fort Wayne.

What message would you like to send to artists, musicians, and other creative people who may be reluctant to move to Fort Wayne?

I say, come on over.

I think you can get lost in the sea in some bustling metropolis or arts hotbed, and just try to stand out, or more likely, fit in. In Fort Wayne, there are plenty of opportunities to be a non-conformist—and to be supported for being one! You can very quickly become networked artistically and professionally, and find collaborators who are interested in building things up, doing great work and defying expectations, instead of just tearing things down. If you put in the work and put in the hustle, you can be part of a movement that's going to be in The History Center someday.

That's pretty great.

What is the most exciting or interesting thing happening in Fort Wayne?

I think more and more silos are crumbling. It's a battle every day, of course, but I think you can feel a "stronger together" and  "all boats rise" mindset becoming more and more the norm, and so you see some non-traditional pairings of organizations or entities that are really pretty incredible and powerful. This ranges from arts and culture groups to musicians and performers to business development entities. I love it when we can get beyond the ego (or business model) that demands we get credit at all expense, to the point where one would rather something fail than not get credit for it. That's thinking with a '90s, Okay, maybe '80s, brain.

I went on that Regional Exchange: Cincinnati trip and one of the biggest takeaways for me was the way many of their organizations had adopted a "We want credibility, not credit" mindset. It was an eye-opener…like getting a bucket of cold water dumped on you. And it made me smile when I reflected on similar things starting to happen here in Northeast Indiana.

How long have you been hosting shows at the B-side? Tell me a little bit about the process of booking an artist.

I used to go for big shows. For example, when we started Down the Line, we wanted to blow out the Embassy—and eventually did sell it out! OLG started that fundraising series for the Embassy, and served as event producers through the first four events before turning the keys over to their highly qualified internal team. These days, though, I'm embracing intimacy and a truer connection.

When The Brass Rail experienced its resurgence a few years ago, you could really feel the power of a community of people who found something so great in that ex-dive bar. It was like they found something to believe in. On the best nights, when you would see 70, 100, 150 people having the time of their lives—literally where they would not trade their place with anywhere else in the country—well that was pretty incredible. I hadn't felt that in Fort Wayne before.

OLG had been booking an occasional show at The Brass Rail or CS3's Tiger Room, and got the idea to maybe see if a couple of the artists weren't willing to do a solo, acoustic set at our office before the loud rock show that night. Despite zero acoustic enhancements, we found our space to sound incredible, and the vibe to be rather perfect.

And so we rearranged the office layout so that the room now called "The B-Side" is wide open, and are trying to put on 12, 15 events a year.

I like to think of The B-Side as a space that you can come and fall in love with a show, whether you know the artist performing or not. The intimacy and connection between performer and audience…I really don't think people can find it anywhere else in the city quite like it is here. We've had a lot of those great moments after shows where people say, "You know, I moved back from Portland to e close to family two months ago, and this is the first night I haven't missed that city…" It's pretty sweet to hear comments like that. I think there's a whole undercurrent in Fort Wayne that is full with opportunities to no longer miss Portland.

As for booking bands, we're not really in the business of being a venue, and I don't want to be a promoter. So we pretty much just try to book people we love and minimize our losses. I probably wrote about it all a bit more eloquently in this post from last summer about booking two heroes back-to-back: http://oneluckyguitar.com/dial/flyover-country

The other thing we do is offer the space up to people who want to do something really creative and great, and aren't sure where is the right spot to do it. We've had pye,brown's The Bomb Shelter (stand-up comedy by people who have never done stand-up comedy before) and a dAnce.Kontemporary performance here, and look forward to being a venue to more events like that. Those are two groups that perfectly embody the non-traditional, let's-not-do-it-the-way-it's-been-done-before mindset I described above.

The past five years have brought some huge changes in Fort Wayne. What would you like to see from Fort Wayne in the next five years?

I suppose the biggest thing is that none of us are getting any younger. I try to balance patience and understanding that things take time, with the desire for more to happen sooner. I'd like all of the trails, now. I'd like all of the downtown development, now. I'd like all of the business expansion and relocation, now. I understand we're doing this for the children, and the children's children, but I'm not gonna to lie: I'd like to enjoy it myself, too! These things take hard work—by hundreds and hundreds of hands—and it seems to me that we've got stronger hands on the job now than ever before. And that's awesome.

What is one act that you would like to bring to Fort Wayne if you had no obstacles or limitations? What is your perfect show?

That's pretty easy, on two counts. First off, almost all of my heroes have played Fort Wayne in the last few years, and second off, because there could only ever be one answer for me: Paul Westerberg. Until this month's three Replacements reunion shows, the man is pretty much a recluse these days, toiling like a scientist in his Minneapolitan basement under another name and making the most mad, wild music of his career. I presume (and kinda hope) he returns to the basement instead of carrying on with this Replacements reunion (though the show I saw in Chicago two weeks ago shook me to my soul). Anyway, his behavior this last decade actually probably makes it more likely he would consider playing a show at The B-Side at One Lucky Guitar than the Troubadour in LA. I think he'd love it here. So I'm holding on to the idea. To quote singer Steve Forbert—who is performing on The B-Side on December 27th—"It's often said that life is strange. Sure, but, compared to what?"