Matt Stuttler, owner of the Sinkhole, says his venue won't host shows again until it is safe to do so.
It was around the midway point of 2020’s ninth iteration of March, known to some as “November,” when Matt Stuttler decided to really take stock.
His Carondelet venue the Sinkhole (7423 South Broadway)
had been closed since the first March of the year, when the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States and lockdown orders shuttered businesses across the nation. He’d kept it closed even as those restrictions were lifted — the Sinkhole’s small, shotgun setup certainly wouldn’t be able to safely accommodate much in the way of social distancing, making it unlikely he’d be able to come up with a plan to host shows again that the city would approve, even if he wanted to go that route. The one event he had on the books, a flea-market fundraiser for the venue for which several bands in the local punk, hardcore and metal communities had agreed to participate and peddle their wares, was looking like it would need to be canceled too, as infection and hospitalization numbers hit record highs and triggered a new batch of restrictions meant to slow the spread of COVID-19.
So, looking around the South Broadway space, Stuttler set his sights on the beer coolers behind the bar. Those weren’t getting any use anyway at the moment, he figured, so maybe he could just sell them so that he could make rent. He could always buy new ones when the pandemic was over. He soon posted a photo of the coolers to social media, looking for buyers.
That same week, James Carroll, guitarist of St. Louis’ Time and Pressure and promoter with Gateway City Hardcore, who had organized the flea market event, reached out to Stuttler. He agreed that the fundraiser would need to be canceled, but he also wondered if Stuttler would be willing to let him set up a GoFundMe for the space
. In the interest of keeping his rent paid, Stuttler said “sure.”
In just four days, that GoFundMe
had already raised more than $6,000 — well over the amount any flea market could have brought in.
“I went from thinking about how to make it through the next few months — I was like, ‘eh, we’ll sell the coolers, we’ll sell the PA next,’ you know, stuff we can figure out on the other side of the pandemic,” Stuttler says. “And then now it turns out I don’t have to do any of that, which is pretty cool.”
Credit the success of the crowd-funding effort to the Sinkhole’s sterling reputation as an artist-friendly, exceptionally accommodating venue, one that has, in particular, become something of a headquarters for St. Louis’ punk, hardcore and metal scenes, and any other musicians and promoters who operate under a DIY ethic.
Carroll has been booking shows at the Sinkhole for years, he says, and has even worked a few shifts behind the bar from time to time. For him, trying to raise some funds to keep it from going under was a no-brainer. “If that place closes down, we’re fucked,” he says.
“It’s a good spot. I’ve never met anybody who has a bad thing to say about fucking Matt Stuttler,” Carroll continues. “And it’s a really welcoming place. Anybody can book shows there, anybody can play there. I’ve seen a bunch of different kinds of music there, booked a bunch of different bands there. He’s just really an accommodating dude, and I think a bunch of people just like that spot and don’t like the idea of having another
venue close here. Especially one that is as accessible for small promoters like me, or just anybody who wants to put on a show without having to deal with the worry of paying a bunch of money to book that show and end up losing it.”
That accessibility comes from the DIY ethos of the space and its owner, who does not charge promoters to rent the room like many venues would, thereby allowing all of the money to go to the bands — a great incentivizer for those booking events in niche genres that won’t necessarily draw huge crowds.
“All-ages, all the money to the bands, no room rental fees. Those are tenets of the hardcore community,” Stuttler says. “It’s all about scene-building, where it’s like, some shows don’t do as well, and then some shows are huge turnouts. So if you treat everybody the same way, whether there’s five people at the show or fifty people at the show, then that’s how you get around to building a community.”
If the outpouring of financial support in the Sinkhole’s hour of need is any indication, that approach toward scene-building is working. So too are its efforts to document some of the city’s finer bands — the Sinkhole’s main source of income since the pandemic started has been through its in-house recording studio, which has played host to a few live-streamed shows from acts including Bastard Squad, Boreal Hills, Fight Back Mountain and the Maness Brothers, and even proper recording sessions with acts including Sunwyrm, NoPoint and Hurt Feelings.
Asked if COVID-19 brings any additional hurdles to those sessions, Stuttler says he hasn’t been terribly concerned.
“It’s not too bad, because most recording sessions, it’s usually just myself and the band,” he says. “So you’re talking maybe four people, five at most. And a lot of times, the people that are coming in to record, they’ve been kinda quarantined together throughout the entire pandemic. But there’s also a level of separation — they’re in the live room, I’m in the control room. I have people bring their own vocal mics in.
“It’s pretty chill. It’s a lot more chill than going to like, Schnucks,” he adds with a laugh. “I feel a lot less worried about a recording session where I can be sure that we’re all on the same page about being safe than I do being out in public, I guess.”
For now, Stuttler plans to press on with those recording sessions, while the venue itself will stay closed. And thanks to the community that has built up around his venue, he won’t have to fire-sale any of his equipment as he waits patiently for that unknown date in the future when he can reopen for events again.
“I’m a lot more optimistic now than I was last week,” Stuttler says. “I don’t know. I mean, who the fuck knows what’s gonna happen, but I’m setting my sights toward spring, March or April, as the hopefully targeted period of time that we’ll be able to reopen, hopefully, whether that means that a vaccine has come through or we figured out how to quarantine safely. But I don’t know. The fundraiser’s definitely gonna get us through the winter, which, I mean historically at a venue that’s the hardest time to get through. So having the backing of the fundraiser is like — I don’t know. It blows my mind that we’re gonna be OK going forward for a minute. But yeah, hopefully whenever it’s safe to do so we’ll do shows again. And we won’t do that until it’s safe. I’d rather close than endanger people’s lives, you know?”
Even with the uncertainty, Stuttler is mostly feeling grateful.
“It’s truly mind-blowing,” he says. “I went from being like, ‘oh shit, gotta sell the coolers’ to being like, ‘oh shit, it’s all gonna be OK.’”
To donate to the Sinkhole's GoFundMe, visit gofundme.com/f/270pupxsqo
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