Thomas Cussins, president of Ineffable Music, wants to thank the community of San Lorenzo Valley for keeping Felton Music Hall’s doors open. As other entertainment venues have struggled—and faltered—during the crush of the pandemic, Felton Music Hall has stood strong.
Cussins, who is the managing partner of the Hall and oversees a team of producers, talent buyers, marketers and artist managers, knows who butters his bread.
“We have an amazing membership program, and hundreds of people have stepped up to the plate to support live music during the past few years,” Cussins says. “We’re super grateful to them.”
Cussins says Felton Music Hall’s membership program, which features various tiers in which supporters, among other things, can buy merchandise and tickets for shows, has been a saving grace for the venue. The program, he says, has over 100 members, the majority of whom are SLV-based.
“Having that group of supporters really held us down and kept the lights on when the shows were being canceled,” Cussins said “We do attract some out-of-towners, but the vibe of Felton Music Hall is really aligned with the locals—that’s why we like to think of it as ‘The Living Room of the Valley.’ It’s a locals kind of hang. We wanted a place where people who wanted to take in a show after work could just cruise over. Going to a show doesn’t need to be a whole production—just roll up in something comfortable, and come listen to live music. It’s all about being comfortable in whatever state you are.”
The Felton Music Hall, as several indoor performing venues, has had its struggles during the pandemic. It had to shut down for several months as Covid-19 began its initial spread across the country and a show in July of last year produced a widely-reported outbreak that forced the venue to close once again. But since then, Felton Music Hall has welcomed a flurry of bands to the Santa Cruz Mountains for weekend shows.
Cussins attributes the continuation of live music in Felton to his partnership with Roaring Camp, which hosted live music at its venue last summer.
“They’ve been a huge, huge supporter, and they’ve allowed us to employ people, and get musicians and their crews working again,” he said. “They really went out of their way to help a fellow business, which they didn’t have to do. Thanks to them, we’ve kept the bands in front of our fans, and kept people coming out to shows.”
Since Ineffable Music is the in-house promoter for 90% of their shows, the group’s talent buying team has developed solid relationships with the management of bands like The English Beat, KT Tunstall, Jerry’s Middle Finger and Petty Theft. (This reporter was quick to point out that Foreverland can pack the rafters at the Hall, and encouraged Cussins to bring the group back to town.)
Cussins started Ineffable Music while at UC Santa Cruz in 2006, and thrives on the independence afforded to his team.
“We’re able to offer fair deals to bands in a bunch of markets like Felton, Ventura and San Luis Obispo, and introduce them to smaller venues that transform the experience of both the talent and the audience,” Cussins says.
His group also books talent for The Catalyst, which has had its own struggles during the pandemic.
“The Catalyst is near and dear to me—I started there as an intern in 2007, and took over the talent buying in 2013,” he says.
Cussins’ mentor, Gary Tighe, started as a dishwasher at The Catalyst and became the first talent buyer for the venue. Cussins became the second when Tighe retired. Being intimately familiar with both venues, Cussins recognizes that some bands are better suited for one facility over another.
“Big metal bands are going to rock The Catalyst, whereas more low-key groups shine brighter at Felton Music Hall,” he said. “The beauty is, there’s something for everyone, and since the venues are only seven miles apart, they’re easily accessible to both communities. We don’t want to force a show where it isn’t going to feel right—we want the bands and the fans to be totally comfortable in that space.”
Cussins says some bands, like the California Honeydrops and Collie Buddz, can relax into both spaces and both easily draw crowds.
“Melvin Seals is a perfect artist to see with 350 people, and the age and demographic of his fans means he’s a draw in Felton,” he said.
Seals, who spent years playing with Jerry Garcia, is known for taking his audience on a “psychedelic musical journey” during his performances.
“One thing I’ve learned over the past few years is just how important it is to gather together,” Cussins said. “I really want people to gather again, because we miss so much when we can’t get together as a community.”
Cussins rattles off some of the upcoming acts he’s eager to host in Felton: Nicki Bluhm and The Band of Heathens; Sierra Ferrell; Sarah Jarosz. Cussins points to the curation of talent as the driver for booking bands.
“If we have a great band, we’ll book them on a Monday, a Friday, a Sunday. It doesn’t matter. And if there’s not a good band, we’ll stay dark until the next show,” Cussins said. “The idea is not to fill the calendar, but to book a killer band whenever we can, and not force something that isn’t going to work for the venue or our fans.”
During months when Cussins’ wallet contracts a little, he reminds himself that if he wanted to make money, he could have been a lawyer.
“I do this for the love of music,” he said.
Exercise your love of music by checking out the Felton Music Hall lineup. Visit eltonmusichall.com/calendarand pull up a chair in the “Living Room of the Valley.”