Clawfoot House: Maintaining a music legacy

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The Clawfoot House is located at 1042  F Street in Lincoln, Neb. Events and performances take place on the second floor of the duplex.

Story and photos by Nick French, NewsNetNebraska

From the outside, the Clawfoot House doesn’t at all resemble a music venue. The quaint, aging brick duplex located at 11th and F Streets in Lincoln looks more like a middling abode where college students study their way through school in relative silence.

But for a couple of evenings each month, the space comes alive with music.

Since its inception in January 2009, the Clawfoot House has become a staple locale in the Lincoln arts and music scene, a communal home venue that unites the city with artists from throughout the country. In September 2010, tenants Bryan Klopping, 24, and his girlfriend, Amy Gordon, 26, both UNL students, moved into the three-bedroom space to take over where former tenant and Clawfoot House founder Ember Schrag left off.

“We told Ember that we were looking at other space in the duplex and she said ‘We need to talk,’” Gordon said. “She had been looking for a couple to live there. She thought the dynamic of having couple running the house was unique and interesting. We met a few times, had dinner and talked about the logistics and details. She really coached us on it.”

The Clawfoot House embodies the do-it-yourself mantra of underground entertainment, and Klopping and Gordon have a hand in every aspect. They live in the space, book their own shows, create and hang fliers, and even perform at the house with their own band, Two Black Cats.

“We get inundated with requests by artists from all over the country who want to play here,” said Gordon, who has booked groups from Canada and New York. “We receive at least a couple of emails a day.”

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Current tenants Amy Gordon and Bryan Klopping on the porch of the Clawfoot House.  The couple moved into the house in September of 2010.

When Schrag left Lincoln in August 2010 to embark on her own two-month U.S. folk music tour that would conclude with her moving to Iowa, the future of the Clawfoot House was uncertain.

“We were just going to bring that chapter to a close,” Schrag said, “but I know how essential a great house concert venue can be for the life of a music scene, and everyone involved had put so much into building Clawfoot House that it was a sad thing to leave. I’m so glad we were able to pass on the venue to someone. They’re doing a great job. I hope that people keep supporting the place by checking out the shows Bryan and Amy are putting on.”

Those shows offer Lincoln an eccentric variety that’s absent in many public venues like the Bourbon Theatre or the Zoo Bar. During a recent event, Christian Pincock, a jazz musician from Albuquerque, N.M., hosted an interactive sound painting workshop, inviting audience members to participate in a live performance.

“Anyone could bring any instrument they wanted, and it didn’t matter if they were incredible at playing music or not,” Klopping said. “He basically uses this form of sign language to cue people in and tells people if he wants them to play short or long notes, or high and low notes. Really interesting stuff.”

While much of what Gordon and Klopping aim to accomplish with the Clawfoot House relies heavily on Schrag’s influence, they’re also working to take more innovate measures.

“We’re trying to keep the same hospitality, whereas touring bands are welcome to stay with us and we’ll make them dinner or something,” Klopping said. “We make sure that even if they don’t bring a lot of people, we’ll buy their merchandise or throw them some cash. But musically, we’ve scurried away from the singer/songwriters that Ember usually booked. It seems there is a big interest in bands and performance art among the new crowd that’s interested in Clawfoot.”

What’s truly astonishing is Klopping and Gordon’s dedication to shows, often paying touring bands out of their own pockets.

“Shows are around five dollars, but rarely will we turn someone away,” Klopping said. “All of the money at the door goes to the touring acts. We usually end up paying for shows, but it’s our way to give back to the music community and to build connections around the country.”

Local musician Darren Keen, whose projects include Show Is the Rainbow, Bad Speller and High Art, is one of many Lincoln artists who’s performed in the space since Klopping and Gordon took over last year.

“I like playing the Clawfoot House because it has not become a cool, hipster hangout,” Keen said, “so you know if people are there because they actually want to listen to music.”

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A door leading up the Clawfoot House space exhibits a mosaic of recent flyers designed by Gordon and Klopping.

Despite its small size, the Clawfoot House has reached a capacity of 40 people in the past, and neighbors, for the most part, tolerate the crowds and noise that the Clawfoot attracts.

“The cops have only come once since we’ve been there,” Klopping said, “and by that time the show was already over. There were some people hanging out on the porch before they left. I just had to kind of bite my tongue as the officer lectured me on throwing parties.”

As for the future of the Clawfoot House, upcoming shows include performances by: Boats, a Canadian indie-rock band signed to the acclaimed Kill Rock Stars music label, who will play on March 13; Alexis Gideon, a Chicago artist who plays synchronized music with videos that he’s filmed on March 22; and Binary Marketing Show, an experimental rock duo out of Brooklyn, N.Y., on April 4.

“We’re trying to people interested in Clawfoot again, either new people or those who haven’t been coming as much since Ember left,” Klopping said. “It’s really about rebuilding a following for us. We do anything to try and bring everyone together and to build up a community of people.”

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