John Jeter is a burnt-out journalist living in Florida when the younger brother who once saved his life with a donated kidney telephones with life-altering news: he’s found the perfect spot in Greenville, South Carolina for the concert hall they’ve always dreamed of openinga nearly abandoned cotton mill fluttering with pigeons … and potential.
Rockin’ a Hard Place is the story of The Handlebar, an intimate “listening room” that has presented thousands of artistsJohn Mayer, Joan Baez, Zac Brown, and Sugarland among themand hosted a quarter-million fans since its opening in 1994. A promoter’s memoir, this is the story of a naïve plunge into an industry that Hunter S. Thompson once called a “cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free.”
With a wry and irreverent voice, Jeter describes the concert business from the bottom of its food chain, where one band’s backstage demand includes “one hamster dressed like Indiana Jones, one dressed like a police officer,” where a landlord seeks to evict him over an ice machine, and where he is reduced to standing with a decibel meter in the dark behind his club.
Singer-songwriter Livingston Taylor tells him at the grand opening: “Never book anyone just because you’re a fan.” But for this cantankerous club owner, it’s often Art before Commerce, financial risk be damned. After all, it’s the small clubswhere the likes of Springsteen, Jefferson Airplane and even The Beatles got their startwhere real music is made.