Saint Vitus’ David Castillo On Booking Strategies, Community & Raising $130K

Steep Canyon Ranger:
(Courtesy David Castillo)
– Steep Canyon Ranger:
David Castillo, a self-proclaimed ““Long Island hardcore guy into really weird music,” and who plays in the band Primitve Weapons, has been Saint Vitus’ booker since its inception in April 2011. He helped raise more than $130K for the venue during the pandemic/economic crisis.

Considering Greenpoint, Brooklyn’s Saint Vitus only holds 200, is 2,500 square feet and opened in 2011, it’s unbelievable that the venue’s become something of a holy bastion of metal and harder-edged music with a national and international reputation. Perhaps that’s why major arena acts, and some of stadium stature, including Megadeth, Anthrax, Corrosion Of Conformity, Blink-182 and even Nirvana have played there (the latter in 2014 after their Rock Hall induction with Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl and guest vocalists Joan Jett, Kim Gordon and St. Vincent). Even metal dieties like Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson and Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi did book signings/readings there. It’s incredibly telling that in this horridly moribund time for live, the venue’s fans have ponied up $130,000 in a Kickstarter campaign to save its stage. Pollstar caught up with David Castillo, a self-proclaimed “Long Island hardcore guy  nto really weird music,” co-owner of the esteemed venue and its booker, to find out how it happened.

Pollstar: How did Saint Vitus start?
David Castillo: It started nine years ago. It was pretty much Arty [Shepherd] and George [Souleidis] wanted to start a bar. They came from Matchless and had been bartending and are both musicians. I’ve been in charge of the calendar and booking since the day it opened. I bartended on Tuesday nights and booked some shows, which quickly turned into booking a lot of shows. There wasn’t a plan to be this crazy venue.

What was the first show?
Mine and Arty’s band Primitive Weapons played my friend’s birthday party which was really fun. The first promoted show was Liturgy, White Ring, Lichens, and Terence Hannum of Locrium, I did that with my friend Brandon Stosuy who does The Creative Independent now but was at Pitchfork then. It was fucking sick.
That’s a big leap.
That was a moment, a statement of intent. Like, we’re not going to be the black metal venue, we’re going to cast a bit of a wide net. There’s a lot of people who go to Saint Vitus who only see certain types of shows, because that’s their taste.

What venues were your inspirations?
The vision for Saint Vitus was that it should be like a Coney Island High or a CBGB’s kind of thing where a lot of scenes can play the room. We’re focused on the darker side of music with a lot of goth, industrial, postpunk, even cool rock stuff, all of that can play in here. If you look at CBs, which was iconic for hardcore; and you look at L’Amour, which was iconic for certain kinds of metal; and really look at their calendars, a lot of things would play those clubs.

What’s your booking strategy?
We’ve always been open to a lot of opportunities. We started some really cool DJ nights based around goth, postpunk, industrial, synthwave and they’ve been super successful. And then booking great, heavy, awesome bands and advancing a lot of different genres that feels good in that setting. We’ve also been working with Tyler Kane, he was booking punk and postpunk stuff and used to work at Brooklyn Bazaar.

Do you book outside of Saint Vitus?

We started booking other rooms using our promotional capacity to book other venues like [Brooklyn’s] Elsewhere and we help (Le) Poisson Rouge push their heavy shows and other rooms. The next step is we’re looking at stuff with the brand. We sold a lot of merch over the years and are doing a lot more on that end.

 Where’s The Afterparty?:
Taylor Hill/Getty Images
– Where’s The Afterparty?:
Against Me! at their secret aftershow party at Saint Vitus after playing the larger Webster Hall on May 4, 2014.
A lot of major artists have played there.
Yes. Megadeth played. Nirvana reunion at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Anthrax, Corrosion [of Conformity], Refused, there’s a bunch.

And Against Me! and Zola Jesus, why do you think they want to play there when it’s an underplay?
I think it’s the intention. We didn’t do anything except create a cool room with quality and do it earnestly. You can see the intention in the room as soon as you walk in. They’re playing cool music, everything is fucking black and now there are pictures on the wall of people who have played – Matt Pike from High on Fire, John Tardy from Obituary, Chelsea Wolfe, Greg [Puciato] from Dillinger Escape Plan. You know where you’re at. We just tried to build something with intention. It’s gone way crazier than you can ever imagine, honestly.  Nobody needs to play Saint Vitus, really. But if they want to do something interesting, on a smaller scale, for their fans, however these different situations arise, we’re a good option.

We’ve seen massive consolidation in the venue business. In New York, AEG, Live Nation and others have carved up a lot of the mid-size and bigger venues, how has Saint Vitus stayed independent?
I’m just some Long Island hardcore guy who’s into really weird music. And Arty and George have either played or been to every New York club for the past thirty-plus years. There’s a sense of what that means and the lineage of it and what we wanted to continue. We’re standing on the shoulders of giants here.

Which agents do you work with?
We have great relationships and there’s some really awesome people who have the same intention that we have who we align with. Everyone from Natasha Parish at Ground Control who is doing all this postpunk and synth stuff, to Tim Borror and all of Sound Talent Group, who’s doing amazing, heavy music.

Talk about the Saint Vitus Kickstarter project launched during the Pandemic.
We had to figure something out. We thought maybe we’d be closed for a little while, unfortunately now it’s much longer. We basically spoke to Brandon Stosuy, an old friend who works at Kickstarter. I was like, “Fuck, maybe we can do a Kickstarter, or something with merch and other stuff to create something impactful.” Very quickly, Brandon gave me Meredith Graves’ number, who used to be in Perfect Pussy and is head of music at Kickstarter. She was really enthusiastic and like, “I want to do this and I want to use Kickstarter in this way,” which I hadn’t thought about because I’d never made a product to fund. That’s usually what Kickstarter is. We basically changed the rules for Kickstarter. Through their legal team, they decided it’s a rights thing, basically, that a venue or a place can be a product. That wasn’t necessarily very clear at first.

Caroline Harrison, our social media manager teamed up with Meredith, and really helped bring it together from a logistical standpoint. Doing a Kickstarter campaign has its nuances. You have to make a video, have rewards and explain it all. Caroline’s an amazing artist and did one of the T-shirts. She’s done artwork for metal bands like Stun, Empyrean and Inter Arma. I also got a couple things designed by people like Billy from Dillinger Escape Plan, Tucker from Thursday, and Dave Davidson from Revocatio. It became this community endeavor. I was like, “Man, if we could get a couple bucks that’d be awesome.” We’d set the initial goal at $15,000. We had no idea we would double that in a day. That was crazy. We are the people of the black T-shirts, you know?

So you’re now at $130,329?
It’s a great help and it puts us a little bit at ease as far as the immediate future. A lot of people stepped up to help. And then to actually care enough to buy some shit, it’s pretty insane. I have no words, it’s humbling. But thank you.

How do you explain the public reaction?
We make cool experiences for people and people like what we do. They buy tickets. The artists have a lot to do with that. We’re good hardware, but without good software it’s not a really fun experience. So it was amazing. I just am absolutely super fucking thankful, and really, really determined to dig our heels in to see the other side of this awful situation in the history of humanity.