By Bill Parry
When Sunnyside resident Gustavo Rodriguez, 43, began booking musical performers at the LIC Bar in 2008, he used to have a difficult time bringing acts to the old venue at 45-58 Vernon Blvd. That is no longer the case, as the saloon’s reputation has grown along with the neighborhood’s popularity.
“When I first started here, I had to actively search for talent,” Rodriguez said. “Now people actually seek me out looking for an opportunity to perform here, giving me the opportunity to pick and choose. I’m always looking for new acts, but the format and style has to fit with LIC Bar’s style and space. Death metal won’t cut it here.”
Built in 1929 by an original proprietor, the LIC Bar, now owned by Brian Porter, has a throwback feeling reflecting the neighborhood’s gritty industrial past with its long antique wood bar, exposed brick and original tin ceiling. There is a performance space in the bar and in the warmer months, the Carriage House in the courtyard is transformed into an outdoor stage for larger shows.
“I book four nights a week mostly with programming devoted to spotlighting local artists performing original music,” Rodriguez said. “We like to give a stage to artists who normally wouldn’t have a platform to perform original work. In Queens most places just cover music.”
He also arranges for periodic theme shows such as a Van Morrison show each St. Patrick’s Day and a Fourth of July pre-fireworks extravaganza.
“We also do some country and western lineups with the Island City Outlaws doing a Waylon Jennings night, and we did another special show when David Bowie passed away,” Rodriguez said. “Just a bunch of artists performing their favorite Bowie songs.”
While LIC Bar showcases artists from western Queens, it’s been known to host some bigger names from time to time.
“Last Sunday for instance had Billy Joel’s rhythm section performing and Phoebe Snow did her last show at LIC Bar before she passed away,” Rodriguez said. “Liam Ó Maonlaí of The Hothouse Flowers has played here and we get a lot of the musicians that work with Norah Jones, too.”
LIC Bar has expanded into the literary world as well, with the monthly LIC Reading Series with Katherine LaSota.
“Katherine brings in some real top drawer authors doing Q & A about their work,” Rodriguez said. “Last March she brought in actor John Leguizamo. That was big. We also have Astoria poet Audrey DiMola hosting similar grassroots literary events.”
Rodriguez is also a gifted guitarist and singer, performing under the name Silbin Sandovar. His did the vocals on “The Poisoned Well,” written by Astoria musician Anthony Rizzo, that was picked up as the theme song for the Independent Film Channel series “Maron.”
It is a dark comedy, based on comedian Marc Maron’s podcasts produced in his garage. In an ironic twist, Rodriguez began his own podcast called Fireside Mystery Theater that now has over half a million listeners.
“It’s like an old time radio broadcast with up to a dozen actors doing classic horror,” Rodriguez said. “It’s one of the Top 10 podcasts and it’s free on iTunes.”
While the writing and producing of the podcast has cut into his music recording and live performances, LIC Bar is still his home base, although he also books for Queens Kickshaw in Astoria.
“I still have a lot of interest in recording, but that’s not in my immediate future,” Rodriguez said. “In the meantime I’m always looking for new acts.”
He can be reached by e-mail at silbi
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr