The Brooklyn 100: Billy Jones, Booker and Promoter

Billy Jones
Though Baby’s All Right only recently celebrated their second birthday, it’s hard to imagine a time before the now iconic, pinkly lighted Williamsburg spot existed. The bar, venue, and restaurant–Billy Jones’s co-venture with Zachary Mexico–has managed to provide a space for local bands, smaller touring acts and industry juggernauts (St. Lucia?! Beach House?! Fucking Hot Chip?!) in the modest 250 cap-space. Growing with Baby’s is also Porches–who are managed by Jones–celebrating their newly released LP via Domino Records, Pool. As if that weren’t enough, Jones also works with the new experimental space, National Sawdust.
It’s been over two years since Baby’s opened it’s doors–and to say people have grown attached to it is an understatement. It seems to have fostered a community where all different folks come to hang, not always just people who work in the industry. How have you guys ensured that Baby’s is accessible to everyone who wants to enjoy great live music? Is that considered when filling the show calendar, etc.?
We—Zach [Mexico] and I—felt that there needed to be a place that included the entire community, that was accepting to everything. Baby’s is such a big space, when we are booking it, we just try to book the best of the best. Stuff either works, or it doesn’t. There are so many people doing different things here in Brooklyn. Everything is good. Our doors need to be open to everyone, and we want everyone to feel comfortable and have a good time–from the artist, to a fan, to people in the industry. Even if they are just there to eat and have a nice meal.
… and you do 18+ shows!
You know, there will be 10 super smart kids who are fans and really want to be there. For us to exclude them based on age isn’t cool, we want to give them the opportunity to experience the music. 18+ shows are fun, the kids are really excited to be there and you can sense it. We do all age brunches. People will write to us “I really want to see this band, and my father I have CCed has agreed to chaperone me,” and it’s awesome. Families like it, kids like it, it can be for everyone.
Brooklyn, and Baby’s in particular, is unique in that a tiny touring band can draw a crowd during an early show, and Ty Segall can have an intimate late night blow out in the same space. This visibility for artists of all calibers of fame is amazing, and Baby’s really seems to understand the appeal of this. What do you think makes Brooklyn able to foster this type of show scene?
I value a great early local show as much as a late night secret show: it’s just an intimate space and it can be a good experience for everyone. Brooklyn for the past 15 years has just been a place where people want to be living, working and creating—and that is why a place like Baby’s can exist. People want a space to play. When we built the space, we had grown tired being a show where you are just standing and waiting for the bands to come on. Zach and I wanted a space where people can hang and be around and refresh. You can be at the show, but not “in” the show.
The first big show we had was Real Estate, we did this day of announced show. Larger bands want to play small shows, and our facilities are up to a certain standard where the artist can sort of get what they would get from a big venue, but have the show in a more casual, intimate and relaxed environment. I think it’s exciting for bands to be able to connect to their fans on a much more personal level. When you are always playing huge venues, a point of separation exists and you lose a lot of that energy. Baby’s opened and word got around that we were very artist friendly, and it’s been really fun and we’ve had a lot of success with underplays. It’s surprising, 2 ½ years in, these underplays keep happening. That is what keeps our place fresh and exciting. You kind of never know if Mac is going to show up at 7am.
While we could praise the Baby all day, your other projects are just as exciting and impressive. Tell us a bit about your role at National Sawdust, and your vision for shows/programming in that space.
I am one of the curators there, one of twenty or something. So far i’ve curated things like Connan Moccasin, Chairlift, among other things. Moving forward, i’m planning to try out some things I wouldn’t do at Baby’s. Hopefully some performance art. I’m really excited about the performance art community right now, i’m going to try and use that space to show those people in a new light. Sawdust is a beautiful space, and would be great to showcase this movement that is happening that not everyone is aware of.
2016 has already been an insane year for Porches, the artist you manage. Their burgeoning success, coupled with their biggest release yet, feels like a much deserved graduation for an artist that has definitely put in their time locally. Them, like many other artists, seem to have grown so much within the music community here before taking off. What do you think Brooklyn provides to a developing artists that makes this possible, and what are you most looking forward to for Porches in their immediate future?
There is a sense of community here with Porches–they played a lot of shows and worked really hard. Without spaces like Silent Barn and Shea, it would have been a different story. It’s exciting for them moving forward–signing to Domino and putting out Pool, more and more people are hearing their music and that was always the goal. If you hear it, and you like it, you are going to love it forever. And now we are getting that music to new ears. It’s going to keep blossoming as they tour more and spread the music. Aaron [Maine] is constantly writing, it’s just beyond wildest dreams for him. In terms of “focus groups”, Brooklyn is a good place to see how a band will do. People have always been focusing on what is happening here, it’s the age old “if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.” If something is doing really well here, like Porches has, if we are all behind it and supporting it, labels seem to take notice.
Aside from the artists and venues you work with on the regular, are they any bands/spaces that you find compelling locally?
I just heard this band called Cut Worms, this guy from Chicago who just moved here. He sounds amazing, he is opening for Quilt at Baby’s soon. He is an incredible writer.
I went back to Silent Barn lately and I hadn’t been there in awhile and I thought—wow, this is an amazing space. They are doing so much and really doing it. It’s incredible. There is a space in Manhattan i’m really excited about coming this summer, more on that later. And Marlow and Sons. I like Marlow and Sons.
I spend so much of my free time decompressing in quiet places. When I have time off from Baby’s or Elvis, i’m usually just watching television in the dark.
Read more about the 100 people most influencing Brooklyn culture here.


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