Rich Kardon can relate. In concert with fellow local music insiders Bryan Dilworth and Joe Rufo, the well-traveled concert promoter is taking his own stab at recreating the past, opening the new Ardmore Music Hall in the former Brownies 23 East space on Sept. 12.
The move is more than a little reminiscent of his last brick-and-mortar venture, the Point in Bryn Mawr. In fact, early on, the partners considered naming the new enterprise the Point at 23 East. For Kardon, it would have concisely combined his musical histories. There was the Point, which lasted from 1998 to 2005, and was named in tribute to its predecessor, the Main Point. That club flourished just two doors away on Lancaster Avenue between 1964 and 1981. Kardon’s current company is Point Entertainment, where he partners with Jesse Lundy in booking acts for the Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, several outdoor summer concert series, and the Philadelphia Folk Festival. And when he was with Cornerstone Management, Kardon spent seven years in the second-floor office space above 23 East—so that’s another homecoming of sorts.
“I’m not at all living in the past,” insists Kardon in an interview at Saxbys Coffee in Haverford, just days before inking the deal to finalize the new venue. “But it’s the closest I can come to having what we had. It’s always easier for me to talk about the past because the past is concrete and the future is so virtual.”
Kardon’s baseball cap advertises rebel singer/songwriter Steve Earle, perhaps a hint of the headliners to come at the new venue. “It will have a new name and personality,” says Kardon, his eyes semihidden behind round tortoise-shell reading glasses.
Located in the shadow of Suburban Square, Ardmore Music Hall seats 200-250 and can accommodate up to 600. Point Entertainment and Dilworth’s Bonfire Booking will share booking responsibilities and consult on marketing and branding. Rufo—who’d sold 23 East and has since returned to the historical musical landmark—will be responsible for day-to-day operations. “It’s not our point to make it look the same [as the Point],” says Kardon, “but it’s based on the same core values.”
Now 61 and living in Wynnewood, Kardon has come full circle with the Ardmore Music Hall. Once the tour manager for iconic area band the Hooters, he has since sought out the closeness, continuity and relationships he once thought he could only get on the road. Later, when he opened the Point, he’d briefly recouped those missing parts, before losing them again.
Since closing that venue, Kardon has fielded daily inquiries about recapturing its living-room vibe. “It was a special place at a specific point in time,” he says.
When some arrived at the Point for the first time, they thought they were at the storied Main Point. Kardon would carefully redirect them.
Push finally came to shove at the Point when the building’s landlord wouldn’t allow a liquor license. His rationale: Too many existing taprooms. He also had 12 upstairs apartments he needed to keep rented.
The Point was profitable, but the room had maxed out its revenue potential. Acts wanted more and more of the take, and expenses were on the rise. When it came time to renegotiate the lease, the two-year offer wasn’t attractive enough.
Today, Kardon maintains his unwaver-ing support of performers and audiences—and that loyalty has been returned many times over. Australian guitarist Tommy Emmanuel first split a $6 ticket 60/40 at the Point. Once Kardon heard him play and was blown away, he turned over 100 percent of the door. The Avett Brothers started as a $100 opening act there. The group is now playing the Mann Center for the Performing Arts on Sept. 14.
“All of this philosophy is going to be part of the new venue,” Lundy says. “At the Point, we knew most of our customers by name. They came to shows because they trusted our taste and knew we knew their taste. Many of those people are still our friends. We know that the audience is there.”
An inconsequential bar geared to college kids, 23 East needed a serious upgrade. Over the summer, the space closed for reconfiguration and redesign. “While the basic structure of the building will remain the same, [Rufo] has been fantastic about doing the improvements we’ve suggested,” Lundy says. “As for bookings, everyone brings something completely different to the table, as far as relationships in the industry and styles of music we know about, so the room is going to have a wide variety of acts playing.”
Ardmore Music Hall should have multigenerational, broad-based appeal. “We want to do rock, reggae, classic, contemporary,” says Kardon. “We’re going to do country here.”
For the venue to be a success, Rufo says the focus must be on the show, customer service and quality product—not cheap beer and discounted drinks. “We hope to bring customers to Ardmore in the late afternoon or early evening, so they can shop and perhaps even get dinner before seeing a show,” he adds. “I’ve only been working with Rich now for a short time, but I’m in awe of his work ethic. It’s so great to have a partner who has such great experience and industry respect.”
Though he was raised in Wynnewood, it wasn’t until the late 1970s that Rich Kardon returned to the area. By then, he was an adult. He first left to attend Webster University in St. Louis, graduating with a photography degree. While there, he connected with eventual music industry movers and shakers, including Art Carney’s stepson, Doug Isaac (who went on to work at ICM talent agency and Live Nation), Al Santos (now Bob Dylan’s production manager) and Ron Lorman (designer of the Hartke bass cabinet).
In his younger days, all Kardon wanted to do was play football. He started in sixth grade at the Haverford School, but quickly figured out that his self-described hippie free spirit wasn’t a good fit. By his sophomore year, he was begging his parents to leave. They talked him into staying his junior year. Then, as a senior at Lower Merion High School, his Ds became Bs.
Kardon played drums in college, then with a band called Big Jive out of Atlantic City. He tried a host of jobs, even selling cars, but he always strayed back to music. Meanwhile, he remained a family man—something his wife, Marcy, appreciated.
Truth be told, Kardon has never been much of a self-promoter. Instead, he prefers to stay true to himself. For 10 years with the Hooters, it was easy to remain in the background—even if he did once throw iconic music promoter Bill Graham off the band’s tour bus. The Hooters were among the opening acts playing before Roger Waters’ premier performance of The Wall in Germany, in the direct aftermath of the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Some 300,000 were in attendance, and in the mass exodus from the show, lots of people—Graham included—had climbed onto the Hooters’ bus for a ride out. En route, the vehicle stopped to drop off people at their hotels. Then came the final announcement to get off before the Hooters left for their own hotel. Graham was among those Kardon tossed.
“I had no idea what I’d done,” Kardon admits. “But from that point on, I became the guy who kicked Billy Graham off the band’s bus. Once we got back to our hotel, I called to apologize, and he was very cool. He said not to worry about it; he wanted to get off and buy a hotdog from a street vendor, anyway.”