Steve Czumaj Knows the Art of Schmoozen
Steve Czumaj is a brainy rock nerd poured from the same mold as Elvis Costello, Beck and the guys from Weezer ‘— he’s soft spoken; wears glasses in thick, black plastic frames and remembers the days in Buffalo, NY when the Goo Goo Dolls played in clubs the size of the coffee shop where he’s sitting right now, sipping a grande hot mocha. He grew up on Canadian and indie rock, bands like 5440 and Lowest of the Low, and he still streams a gritty rock station from Niagara Falls on his computer while he works.
‘“My aunt was the booking agent for 10,000 Maniacs,’” he says. ‘“She discovered Blue Rodeo. That’s how I got into this business.’”
He’s talking about the music business, of course, where he toils as the bass player for the Plaid Cowboys. But also he’s intimately involved with the business part of the music business as the man behind Schmoozen Entertainment, which is the company behind the Greensboro music scene, cover bands and all.
His career began rather humbly through family connections, and brought him to North Carolina in 1995. The path wound its way through the now-defunct InZone in Kernersville and the Larry Gatlin School of Entertainment at GTCC, where he taught entertainment law, artist management and entertainment promotion. But always he’s been around the music.
‘“In one way or another I’ve worked with everybody in town,’” he says. The list of bands he manages and books includes the Allison King Band, Chuck Folds Five, Cosmic Charlie, the Dickens, Suckerpunch, Evan Olson, the many incarnations of the Walrus and pretty much anyone else you’ve seen in Greensboro bars and clubs over the last five years. He also books weddings, corporate events and live gigs up and down the east coast.
The transition from rock nerd to cover band mouthpiece was a business decision.
‘“I was kind of forced on it,’” he says. ‘“Two years ago I had to switch my roster from predominantly original bands to covers. I had to ‘— it’s hard to sell the original music these days. It’s funny’… you’ve got all these little places in Winston-Salem that are riding the original music scene, and around here you’ve got the Blind Tiger.’”
But while some lament the dearth of local, live original music in the Gate City, Steve sees it only as a trend in the marketplace.
‘“Buffalo and other areas, their nightlife is really developed,’” he says. ‘“In Greensboro it’s still developing. There’s a lot of good and bad live music that’s been popping up in so many places, but on the bad side, so many places are leaning on the live music to bring people in. Managers call me, say, ‘I wanna do something different to help out on Wednesdays.’ That alone is not gonna do it.
‘“Having a band, an event,’” he continues, ‘“is always a mix of having quality entertainment and having a crowd in place. You have to have the right ambience.’”
On any given week, Schmoozen places acts at Greensboro bars like the Blind Tiger, the Clubhouse, Cooper’s Ale House, Ham’s Brassfield, Stumble Stilskin’s and the Red Room, as well as tons of out of town gigs, weddings and the like, all of which he tracks on his hand-held PDA.
He also places bands as far away as New York and as near as Raleigh, where, he says, ‘“I have two clubs that literally every six months I’ll get like twenty or thirty dates. As a booking agent you can’t ask for more than that.’”
To comment on this story, e-mail Brian Clarey at firstname.lastname@example.org.