There were a few things that were immediately apparent to me when I first met Rachel. It was a different professional exchange from what we share now; it was before I had a desk that faced hers and prior to my dog deciding to make Rachel her new best friend. As I sat with Rachel to plan my upcoming residency at GCA- the meeting that ultimately led me to my desk across from hers, I was taken by the deep care that she had for the events she plans here. She was open to ideas and willing to collaborate in a way that would be great for everyone.
Rachel McCandlish is more than your average event planner or talent buyer. She is strong willed and compassionate, and genuinely cares about the bands she brings through Gateway City Arts. I have heard her say a number of times that one of the things she is most passionate about is helping out the bands, and it’s clear. She pays attention to every detail, and she’s truly ‘on it’ in every sense of the word. Humble and hardworking, Rachel has been building her career since long before I met her. Recently, we pulled up some chairs in one of the most window-y and light filled rooms of our office and had a chat.
“With my job here at Gateway City Arts there’s a lot of detail tracking and organizing to make sure events go off without a hitch-Lori calls me the calendar goddess, haha. I have also started managing the tenants on the second floor. I help with little things too-but my main thing is booking concerts and theatre as well as working closely with Franny, the Director of Catering, to get details squared away for rental and catering events.”
“Some of the shows we do here with Signature Sounds or with Dan Smalls Presents, they usually have someone here to greet the artists, but I’m also here to help set up the green room and make sure the artists are comfortable. I want to make sure they know where everything is and what they are getting in terms of hospitality. I always make sure they know everyone working at the venue so that they’re comfortable and having a good time-they don’t have to worry about anything else.”
This is something that makes Gateway City Arts special to a lot of artists passing through here-it certainly was a huge reason GCA became my favorite local venue to perform at. The way they treat the artists is truly reflective of how much they care about this space, the community, and the arts scene.
While this is Rachel’s current homebase, it isn’t the beginning of her journey within the music business.
“I went to school for music business in Oklahoma at The Academy of Contemporary Music at the University of Central Oklahoma (ACM@UCO). When I moved back here to live with my parents-you know the usual post-college experience-I knew that IHEG (Iron Horse Entertainment Group) existed and that it was a good place to see shows and work with nationally touring acts. One day I got my resume together and I walked into their office and I said ‘I’m looking for Brendan’ and I handed him my resume. They hired me almost immediately as an intern. Soon I realized I needed money so I was officially hired to work in the Northampton Box Office. I was still doing my intern duties and working full days split half in NBO and half working closely with the booker. Pretty soon I was working full time in the office, helping Brendan book shows and editing contracts-pretty similar to what I am doing now. Then this opportunity with Gateway City Arts came up and I knew it was meant for me. GCA is such a unique place and it is growing FAST...Which is really one of my passions I think, to be a part of something that is growing and evolving with the community. I knew it was an exciting opportunity, and that’s why I’m here now. I love music.”
Rachel is also a vocalist and has a lot of background with music and the music industry. The college she attended allowed her to work closely with a number of incredible bands and artists where she was able to learn things first-hand.
“Since I was four I have been singing and performing and doing anything music related that I could think of. I originally went to school for vocal performance; I did that for two years. Within my first year there I was volunteering at the school’s venue, and was soon hired to help sell tickets at the door. Pretty soon I was self-proclaiming myself as the Venue Manager and was there to greet the bands as they came in, help load-in equipment, and run around with my beloved clipboard. I realized how much I liked that and how much I loved accommodating artists. There was something about talking to the customers coming in and seeing how excited they were and I think that is what made me decide to switch to the business side. It was the feel of being at a show, you know, as a fan. I like that better than performing on stage-I get really bad stage fright!”
Rachel talked to me about her experiences working with of Montreal three separate times at different venues through her career, seeing them as a band that presents a unique experience each time, and referenced that she is looking forward to their upcoming show here on June 13th presented by DSP Shows.
“Venue by venue is different, and each artist is different. I’m a very organized person-to a fault sometimes-and I like having my routines. So I think working at different shows and having to run around and do different things every time is really good for me. And obviously, it’s fun.”
When I asked her about some of her mentors throughout her career and schooling, she shared,
“There are a few that come to mind. Number one would be Derek Brown. He was my direct boss when I worked at The Academy of Contemporary Music. He’s a member of The Flaming Lips and the Manager of the Business Development Center at ACM where he helps students develop their businesses as musicians, producers, managers, etc. He showed me how to book local shows, how to work and communicate with industry professionals, and he taught me a lot about the live music industry as a whole and how to operate a venue. We developed a really great work relationship and I still talk to him regularly. I think I will always consider him one of my role models.
And then, all the teachers at ACM were musicians themselves. One of my favorite teachers, Nick Ley, has always been such a cool inspirational and very motivational. Not only does he tour around the world, but he has the two most adorable children, and is constantly ‘fangirling’ over his wife. It just warms my heart. It shows me that I can chase both my dream of being in the music industry and having a family.
While working at the school, my desk was right outside Scott Bookers office, who founded ACM@UCO and is also the manager of the Flaming Lips. So sometimes I got to help out with some Flaming Lips things, like packaging up some of their vinyl. It was a cool look into the management side of things, which is the area I have the least experience in. It’s really great and I’m so so thankful that I get to go see the Flaming Lips when they’re in the area, but it’s also really really wonderful to get to see people who have helped shape my career.”
Gateway City Arts strives to be a powerful resource for the community. We strive to bring in innovative acts and strong community related events that inspire and captivate our audience. Rachel has been a huge part in the incredible artists that have passed through here in the past year.
“I don’t think this is that new-there are various places around the country that are art centers. I think that Mass MOCA is a good comparison-they have events and an art gallery-similar to what we are starting here soon. But I do think that we are making waves in this part of the state. I think that a lot of people are seeing us as a very respectable business, and a place where people know they are going to get treated well no matter who they are. Whether they are an artist, a customer, an employee, or whatever. Vitek and Lori are really incredible people to work for, as well as incredible business owners. I think we are filling a void in Western Mass that people are searching for. Northampton is so great, and there is a lot to do, but I think people want to explore-people like finding new places to go to. There is a lot of people that are still discovering us. We have an artsy ‘paint on the walls – paint on your clothes’ environment. It’s a down to earth, hardworking artist feel here that I don’t think a lot of venues get.”
With all of this growth over the past few years, one of which Rachel has been here for, there is still room on the horizon for more. Gateway City Arts is a space that always feels like it’s trying to do better, and that is always working towards a next step.
“We are going to start booking more nationally recognized acts. I’d also like to be able to books some smaller local acts that don’t always get a chance to play at a professional venue. We are also trying to get into comedy, Mike Lemme is here with DSP shows on June 29th.”
“I think for me, I would love to do more work with hospitality. I love treating artists right. My dream is to own my own venue one day. I remember Nick Ley telling us a story in class about a venue he played at, and at the back of the venue there was this airstream trailer that was all decked out for the green room. And that always stuck with me. When artists travel around the world or the US, they are so far away from home and they don’t have anything to make them feel at home or connect them. That story has always stuck with me and that’s how I want to be. I want to stand out as having good accommodations and hospitality. “
Rachel has worked for a number of different venues and music related organizations like The Windish Agency (now Paradigm Talent Agency), IHEG, and Sofar Sounds. In a business that can so easily beat you down or foster a level of jadedness, Rachel remains committed to giving artists the best experience she can, and giving audiences the best show she can help bring to the stage. She now works closely with Signature Sounds and DSP Shows, and also books many in-house events. She is a force, and it is completely refreshing to have someone looking out for the scene from all angles.
To learn more about what we have going on at Gateway City Arts visit gatewaycityarts.com.