by Brook Gardner-Durbin
“Everyone else saw The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show and wanted to be The Beatles … I wanted to discover the next Beatles,” Ron Gompertz, the owner of Wild Joe’s Coffeehouse said. To that end he ran an indie record label in San Francisco for most of the 1990’s and released more than 40 albums. When he bought Wild Joe’s in 2011 Gompertz set to work doing what he has always done: promoting local music. “I love discovering talent,” he says, “It’s one of the best parts of the job.”
Gompertz has a seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of musical acts, both big and small, and knows what it takes to help a local music scene thrive. “It’s about consistency,” he says, then laughs, addin, “and it’s about losing money over and over again.” Unlike most venues, Gompertz pays every artist that performs at Wild Joe’s. Looking at past musical success stories, Ron points to the Greenwich Village, Liverpool and Asbury Park as templates that he can follow. Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan and Simon and Garfunkel all started in coffeehouses, The Beatles began in Liverpool dives and Asbury Park birthed Bruce Springsteen. “Bozeman is not New York City … but this is as close as we have to that kind of coffeeshop venue,” he said. “There’s an enormous amount of talent [in Bozeman] but not many venues.” While many places in and around Bozeman allow local music to play, including the Zebra, the Filling Station and the Haufbrau, there are relatively few that cater to all ages. Wild Joe’s is open to all, providing a different scene from the bars and focused more on the music than the social side.
Before he moved to the West Coast to start his record label, Gompertz was involved in the New York music scene. “You get old enough, these experiences happen,” he said, brushing off a slew of memories that would make any audiophile jealous, including seeing Blondie, Talking Heads and The Ramones live at CBGB, playing pinball with Bruce Springsteen “before he was Bruce,” and meeting John Lennon and Yoko Ono. These experiences shaped his ideas of what a coffeehouse could be and how it could fit into the local music scene.
The biggest difference between performing at Wild Joe’s and many other local venues is the level of noise. At most bars, people are there more for the social scene than for the music which can make it much easier to stand up and perform. At a quieter venue like Wild Joe’s people are paying more attention to the performer which can make it a far more intimidating place to perform. “We used to have an open mic night, but no one wanted to stand up,” Gompertz said. Instead, anyone wishing to perform sends him an audition tape which he screens. “I want to give everyone a shot, [because] you never know where the next successful artist will come from.”
Wild Joe’s has also recently partnered with Peach Street Studios to start a singer-songwriter spotlight, which is a curated open mic. This allows Peach Street Studios to showcase some of their artists, several of whom Gompertz has asked back for exclusive shows on the weekend.
Gompertz is also setting up a coffee roasting room, “for serious coffee geeks.” The goal is to allow coffee enthusiasts can learn more about everything that is involved in the production of a cup of coffee, from the role of the coffee beans in the local economies of other countries and other social issues, to different methods of coffee roasting.
Wild Joe’s is also in the middle of setting up another room as a listening station dedicated to vinyl. This would let customers, who may not have access to a turntable or original vinyl records at home, listen to music as it was originally recorded and share records.
Wild Joe’s Coffeehouse is located at 18 West Main Street. It can be found online at wildjoescoffee.com and is on Facebook at facebook.com/wildjoescoffee.