Hugh’s Room could still be saved, owner says

—But advance ticket holders not likely to be refunded for cancelled shows

\ 170109/16:30 | Monday January 09, 2017, 16:30 \

Landing page image for Hugh’s Room website

Although it remains closed and sold-out concerts scheduled for this week have been cancelled without likely prospect of refunds, the owner of iconic TO venue Hugh’s Room has told CBC News that the room has not actually filed for bankruptcy and there’s still a chance it could be saved.

But suggestions such as holding a benefit concert or a crowd-funding campaign do not appear to be an answer to the room’s problems, based on social media statements made by some of those involved with the club.

The room’s owner, Richard Carson, initially made the announcement of the closing of the venue at 2261 Dundas St. W., on Sunday on the Maplepost internet email chat group, saying the operation had “reached the point of insolvency.”

List members had previously been told on Friday about the last-minute cancellation of a show scheduled for that night which was to feature over 20 musicians doing a tribute to James Taylor, but the only reason given was a reference to “an internal crisis.”  A show by Fathead member Al Lerman scheduled for the next night was also cancelled the same day, that artist also stated.

However, despite reports the club has filed for bankruptcy, Carson clarified an interview with CBC’s Lauren Pelley last night that he has not actually initiated that process.

The room has had financial struggles throughout its 16-year history despite hosting shows by international, national and local A-list talents.  In 2014 Carson undertook an online crowd-funding campaign to raise money to help stabilize the operation but problems persisted, he told the CBC.

Carson told CBC that “I’m not giving up yet” and that he’s encouraged by support being expressed by a number of dismayed high-profile artists and promoters, who have flooded social media with wails of distress about the news and with offers to help by staging a benefit concert or making donations.

But while dismayed members of the local music community have offered to do what they can to help, the president of Bluesin’ Toronto, Ross Robinson, who has been involved with the club for some time, indicates that much more is needed than a benefit concert or another “fix” from a crowd-funding campaign.

“It will not be fixed by a benefit concert, a crowd-funding or memberships,” he wrote on Sunday after the news broke.

“The latter two ideas have already been tried but they are only quick fixes that do not hold up over time. This is also true of benefits or a series of benefits.

What is needed is an influx of money from a knowledgeable and experienced backer who can help now AND in the future. It can be done but it won’t be easy and it will take the right person to come forward at the 11th hour.”

Carson told CBC that “my background was not-for-profit before I started Hugh’s Room… and that’s what I’ve done: I’ve created a not-for-profit business.  So I’m exploring how I can call it that. Maybe there’s some options for reincarnation as a different kind of venue.”

Some social media posters have suggested that the City of Toronto should get involved with the operation, while one who described himself as a financial advisor suggested that selling 2000 shares in the company at $200 each could raise $400,000 quickly.

Meanwhile, purchasers of $38 advance tickets for a four-night Gordon Lightfoot tribute show that was to have taken place there this week will not be able to get refunds from the club, the show organizer said in an online post on Facebook.

“It’s been a very long day, all centred around the closure of Hugh’s Room and the abrupt cancellation of my annual 4 night Lightfoot Celebration,” Jory Nash wrote on Sunday.

“Hugh’s Room would not guarantee that artists would get paid for the shows, despite us selling over 700 tickets as of last week,” he wrote.

“I could not in good conscience allow artists to incur significant travel and pre-show rehearsal costs knowing we might not get close to full pay, or any pay, or be paid with cheques that would likely bounce. Richard Carson and I were in discussion several times last night and again this morning and we both agreed that cancelling the shows was the only option.

“I have known Richard for 15 years and consider him a friend. I am saddened at the turn of events and sad for my friend and his wonderful club. I am disappointed in the extreme that my show’s artists and fans are suffering the brunt of the fallout. None of us are making the income we expected this weekend and it is too late for most of us to book other concerts.

“The show cannot move to another venue. It is a beheamoth, both in scope and cost.  I am shellshocked that the 700 people who pre-bought tickets will not be getting refunds from Hugh’s Room because there is nothing to refund due to the insolvency.”

Carson has agreed to write a letter explaining the circumstances to hopefully facilitate refunds from credit card companies for purchasers who bought their tickets that way, Nash added.

Michael Wycraft, the organizer of a show that was scheduled to have taken place last Friday night and over 70 previous shows in the room, said in an online posting at 7 a.m. that day that he had just received a phone call from Carson telling him that the room would not be open.

“I am beside myself thinking of the 120 or so people who have already reserved and paid for tickets showing up to the venue to a cancelled show. Also … it takes me months to corral 8 different “acts” and organize a show of this size. This show in particular involved 20 or so musicians. It’s not like cancelling a single singer/songwriter. I am disappointing 20-odd musicians and a whole audience of paid audience members,” he lamented.