There’s the music. And then there are the people who bring the music to town, and who provide a venue that suits the sound. The State Room, appropriately located at 638 So. State St., turned five this spring. My dearest passion is experiencing music performed live. I’ve attended many shows at The State Room, so it was with great pleasure that I sat down for a conversation with the guys who have fashioned this rock solid venue for music lovers in Salt Lake.
In 2008, Chris Mautz and Darin Piccoli, already acquainted through a love of live music and backgrounds working in the music business, brainstormed possibilities for collaboration. Both had varied backgrounds in the business of music: booking, promotion and (in Piccoli’s case) artist management.
Chris Mautz, a New Hampshire native, moved to Utah in 1997 after college, where he’d majored in journalism and psychology. On a gut instinct he pursued a job described in a cryptic but intriguing ad that landed him a position with the University of Utah developing the Red Butte Garden concert series. It was to be a 10-concert series and its focus was to promote awareness of the garden. In his first tenure with Red Butte Garden, he began building relationships with artists and agents and scored what he recalls as his first big booking with Mary Chapin Carpenter.
He was recruited away in 2001 to develop a similar series in Denver, though he remained a resident of Salt Lake City. In the years to come, he developed a half dozen or so other garden concert series around the country and has continued to run, since 2005, the series for the Grand Rapids, Michigan garden and again, since 2006, Salt Lake’s Red Butte Gardens concert series.
Mautz’s ongoing booking and promotion work on these series is separate from his involvement in The State Room. However, there can be no question that the latter is the beneficiary of this extensive experience as well as Mautz’s deeply embedded connection to the Salt Lake music scene.
Darin Piccoli grew up in Rhode Island, headed west to Colorado for college and first dipped his toe in the business side of music in 1992 at the Telluride Jazz Festival. He dabbled in artist management, working with Drums and Tuba, an alternative rock band from Austin, Texas, among others. He promoted his first concert in Durango, Colorado in 1995 after making the acquaintance of long-time Maceo Parker manager Natasha Maddison who was a generous mentor and helped educate Piccoli to the core elements of the business. He went on to book several more shows in Colorado, some of which were successful, some of which lost money, but each provided a unique opportunity to learn.
Arriving in Utah in 1999, Piccoli worked for a large country music promoter and in corporate bookings honing his understanding of the many complex elements of the music and entertainment business and absorbing a sort of real world master’s-level education.
By the time Piccoli and Mautz sat down to talk, they already knew they had compatible and complementary musical tastes and that they both felt a strong connection to artists and audience alike. Both were intrepid fans of live music. “Because of our professional backgrounds, Darin and I shared a deeper vocabulary about music and how it could and should be presented,” Mautz recalls. They envisioned a venue that could fill a musical void that the two had identified early in their conversations.
“We noticed great acts like James McMurtry, Maceo Parker and Hot Tuna were skipping our market,” said Piccoli. They both felt that with the right venue, well-established and respected acts could be drawn in.
The duo shared their first independent booking in June of 2008, presenting legendary jazz-fusion group Return to Forever at the University of Utah’s Kingsbury Hall.
At the same time, they had begun negotiation on the lease of the building that would later became home to The State Room.
According to Piccoli, while the negotiation of the lease was complex and lengthy (approximately a year), the process was educational for them. They were required to craft and present a clear vision for the building, an effort that required several iterations before they finally secured the lease in January 2009.
The rigorous process helped them refine their goals for and design of the venue.
Both men are passionate about artist cultivation. They envisioned a venue that could evolve into a showplace in which national and regional acts alike could grow their audience and develop a rich and lasting relationship with local music fans.
They agreed that such a venue would need to have a sharp focus on exceptional service, customized to satisfy all flavors of music enthusiasts. Piccoli says they felt strongly that Salt Lake City was in need of a music venue with a bar, not a bar that does music. “The design and natural layout of the building allow us to offer artists, patrons and staff a ‘blank music sheet’ that adjusts to each show and audience,” says Piccoli.
To make that possible they needed more than the idea, they needed genuinely dedicated staff who were included in their larger goal. Both Mautz and Piccoli say their staff is like family and all are deeply invested in making every State Room experience special.
Negotiations on the building concluded the signature of a two-year lease in January of 2009. The partners began work on the space immediately.
The building’s previous life as a theater made it well suited for transition to a venue for live music. Raked floors and theater seats were already in place, though Mautz and Piccoli added the pews that occupy the front rows of the venue’s seated area. The box office and downstairs bar were in existence, but the rounded wall in the front entry was added to add polish to the space. The stage was larger than it is today, leaving little to no standing/dancing floor space, so it was re-worked.
On April 1, 2009, The State Room opened with a debut performance from bass virtuoso Stanley Clarke. The appearance of the Return to Forever bassist serves as just one early example of the pair’s dedication to constructing lasting artist relationships and a genuine synergy between artist and venue.
Today the venue has hosted over 500 musical performances from a remarkably broad variety of performers.
The Zephyr Club at the corner of Third South and West Temple once ruled Salt Lake City’s live music scene in a variety of genres, from 1983 till its surprise closure 20 years later. Catalyst asked the former Zephyr’s owner Otto Mileti to weigh in on The State Room.
“Piccoli and Mautz have done a great job,” Mileti says. “The State Room has a good vibe and is not too pretentious like some other clubs I know. They have picked up where we left off, bringing in cutting-edge bands that most other clubs and venues aren’t even aware of. It’s my favorite venue in Salt Lake City.”
A cross-section of generations is evident at many shows. The State Room serves some of the same music lovers who frequented the Zephyr Club 20 to 30 years ago—and now, also, their grown children.
The State Room has been able to secure return engagements from accomplished artists like John Hiatt, Robert Earl Keen, Josh Ritter and Brandi Carlile who often play for much larger audiences. Getting these big name artists into a smaller space like The State Room reflects well on the venue, indicating that many artists value the opportunity for intimacy that the room provides.
Evidently charmed by the venue, Chris Robinson Brotherhood scheduled a June concert at The State Room after watching Black Crowes bandmate and collaborator Jackie Green play at The State Room with Mother Hips.
The State Room has cultivated audiences for groups previously lesser known in this area. “Seeing artists like March Fourth Marching Band, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, Jenny Lewis, The Devil Makes Three and The Infamous Stringdusters grow at our venue makes us feel like proud parents,” says Piccoli. “It’s fun to take a chance on bands that don’t have huge followings.”
The room has also been a good fit for larger draw artists who are perhaps operating on a smaller scale while touring on side or solo projects.
While the partners do still work on bookings at outside venues such as Kingsbury and Abravanel Halls, Deer Valley and the Depot, they shy away from doing so unless it’s a move that is required to satisfy the artist.
The State Room is their passion project and the one that receives the greatest share of tending and focus.
In 2011 the partners purchased the building at 638 S. State following the fulfillment of their initial two-year lease.
Mautz is pleased with the amount of recognition The State Room has received. Much of the positive feedback from patrons is earned by the venue’s willingness to act on patron suggestions, such as instituting fee-free online ticketing and adding requested beers and whiskeys to their bar.
It also reflects The State Room’s wider commitment to the community. Though original intended only as a good place for music, it has evolved into a gathering place for the community – hosting events for KUER’s RadioWest, HEAL-Utah and Pecha-Kucha. It’s the kind of close-knit, quality relationship that Mautz and Piccoli look forward to continuing into the future.
Molly Young is crazy about music. She has lived in Salt Lake City for 14 years. This is her first story for CATALYST.