Q + A with Josh Baker

Fountain Square’s The Hi-Fi is expanding by taking over iMOCA’s old space. The construction will take place in early December and the venue will reopen late January. PATTERN chatted with owner Josh Baker about the early development, benefits from expansion, and growth potential of Fountain Square.

Aubrey Smith: Tell me the genesis of the expansion plan.

Josh Baker: We first started out with Do317 Lounge almost three years ago. It’s been this natural evolution of figuring out of how to run a music venue/bar. We did The Lounge and were successful in that. Learned a lot of things. The next step up was the Hi-Fi, which is currently a 200-seat room. After two years in that space, we’ve really grown. The shows have been so well-attended that we saw an opening to do a much larger room. Indianapolis has a gap in that space of a 400-seat room. You’ve got White Rabbit, Radio Radio, Deluxe, and Old National. All of those are different sizes. The one space that was open was that 400-capacity room. We have the opportunity to expand next door to get to that number. A lot of trial and error – starting off small and building.

AS: Do you think that the Indianapolis music scene is on the right track?

JB: It has its ebbs and flows throughout history, but I think it’s fairly consistent right now. It’s a lot better than what most people think it is. A lot of people have a mentality to “put Indianapolis on the map,” which we don’t buy into. We’re just throwing good shows with bands that we like. Those bands are writing great songs and playing good shows. You can’t make the scene happen; it just happens. We’re just one of many. We tend to get a lot of credit and accolades, but there are so many others. It’s good to be a part of the whole collaboration.

AS: How the physical expansion going to bring in bigger names?

JB: When we’re booking an act, artists want to know if they are in a space that the act can sell a certain amount of tickets to make a certain amount of money. We’re fairly capped in our growth potential in a 200-seat room. That would obviously double, meaning we are able to attract bigger acts. We’ve got great relationships with bands already that have sold out at the Hi-Fi. Now they want to know where to go from here. It’s a big step up going from 200 to 1,000 at Deluxe or The Vogue. There might be one more play in the market, which is what we want. Artist development is what we do. For us, it really helps the longevity of the artist. Now I feel like we are very complimentary.

AS: What piqued your interest in artist development?

JB: I’ve always loved great music and great songwriters. I don’t play any instruments, so it’s my way of being part of all the cool things happening around music. Being a promoter is like being a professional gambler. Every show, there’s a lot of risk. You never know if it’s going to rain or snow, if power is going to go out, if the tickets sell. You just never know. There are a lot of uncertainties, so we believe in the bands we book. Even if it’s a very small act that no one knows about, this is where the artist development side comes in. We love this band and want to see them progress forward. Alabama Shakes and Sturgill Simpson are great examples of artists that we found early on and stuck by them. Honestly, they’ve been very supportive in sticking by us. These bands are playing in hundreds of cities internationally and worldwide. We’re just one little town. So it’s nice that they still support us.

AS: How can Fountain Square benefit from this move?

JB: I’ve been very active in Fountain Square for almost 10 years. I started doing shows at Radio Radio back when I was doing the Midwest Music Summit. Tufty was probably the first person I talked to about it. I did a lot of shows at his place back then. It started to evolve back when no one even wanted to come to Fountain Square. We would do a show on a Tuesday night, and it would be pitch black everywhere – no one on the street. We would have our 200 people in Radio Radio, but it would be a ghost town when you walked out. And it was like that for many years.

AS: It seems like you had a lot of patience and persistence.

JB: I mean I failed a lot. Hah. It takes that. I think that getting where I am now is a series of long mistakes. I keep learning and learning. We kept doing it, and I like to think we played one small part in getting a volume people to come down here and see the potential. It was a long ride to get here, and I’m glad that I did stick with it. I have and have had great partners and a great team around us. Fast forward to Hi-Fi: it’s about bringing people down here to support other businesses. We’ve got a lot of restaurants, some venues, some cool galleries. We’re starting to get retail as the neighborhood develops and evolves. It’s not about the volume of people coming to the neighborhood, but the right people coming. I think we are able to do that by doubling our audience. Now if we are doing a show on a Tuesday night, 200 more people are coming here, 200 more people are shopping at Goodwill, 200 more people are roaming the streets and popping in for a drink. We’re just one part of that wheel that helps foster growth for businesses in the neighborhood. We’re super tight with our neighbors, so we all collectively work together to make it a cool place.

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