Managing Like a Boss with Flint Local 432’s Sara Johnson

sara-johnson-interview
Growing up with parents who manage, Sara Johnson had it in her blood. So when she realized that innate gift and her love of music could be one – it was like a sign from the muses. Working at Flint Local 432 for four years now, she’s a whopping 20-years-old and already the club manager. Proving that like Aaliyah once said, age ain’t nothin’ but a number. Of course that factoid made me only want to talk to her more about the venue she manages, her local scene and more. Thankfully she had some time to discuss all that and then some!

Kendra: You are in a whole different scene than I am used to. I know what venues and staffs are like here in LA but what are you all like in your neck of the woods? I bet a hell of a lot more real with things.

Sara Johnson: Quite possibly, yeah! I guess I can’t say, since this is all I really know haha. I know here at the Local we’ve lived up to the “kind, hospitable, friendly Midwesterner” stereotype as best we can, and that seems to be my experience with other local bookers and promoters as well.

Kendra: Because you’re not in a place like LA or even New York, do you feel like you get to know the fans that come through and even the artists more on a personal level?

Sara: Oh, for sure. The Flint music community is pretty tight-knit, so it’s hard to avoid making friends with the local bands that play and the folks that come out to see them. Touring artists leave as new friends a majority of the time as well, especially since they often sleep at my place after shows! It’s such a gift to not only work here and be able to facilitate these events people can come together at, but to know every time I come to work I’m going to be hanging out with a bunch of my friends.

Empty Orchestra by Mike Naddeo
Empty Orchestra by Mike Naddeo

Kendra: What’s the ratio of men to women at Flint Local 432?

Sara: Our staff by nature tends to rotate frequently – our focus is youth, so we’ll often have volunteers for just a summer and lose them to the new school year, or y’know, they’re just teenage volunteers that don’t want to be here every weekend which is fair, etc. Lately, it’s been about half and half; it’s always our male sound engineer, and myself running shows, in addition to a mixed cast of 2-3 other volunteers per night.

Kendra: Think more or less of either would affect the overall feel of the venue?

Sara: I think any place is generally going to feel less comfortable for non-men if the staff is overwhelmingly men, so I wouldn’t want to see that happen – and it would be wonderful to see any venue have an all-women or otherwise non-men staff – but here at the Local, I think the vibe has more to do with the general personality of the staff member, not the person’s gender. Short answer: no, I don’t think so, more than anywhere else.

Kendra: Did you start off in another position there and move on up?

Sara: I did indeed! For the first year and a half I was involved, I pretty consistently ran the front door; after that, I helped open our merch and snack store, the Union, just off the main room of the venue. I ran the Union for another year or so before I started transitioning into my current position of club manager.

Kendra: What made you want to work in the music industry in the first place?

Sara: I think the same thing that makes every kid want to: I loved music, and I wanted to perform it. That desire has moved to the back burner in the past few years (although I am trying to learn to play bass, finally), but it definitely started by watching my favorite bands play shows and wanting to follow their lead.

Kendra: Of all the jobs in music, was working at a venue on top of your list?

Sara: Honestly, yeah, pretty much! I’ve always had a strong love for music, and – real inspiring, I know – kind of figured I’d end up in management of some kind someday. My parents have both been restaurant managers most of my life, and my brain is well suited to that kind of thinking. When I realized at about 15 that I could combine those two things by opening my own venue, I was set on the idea. Finding the Local a year later meant I could skip the super-difficult part where I have to start my own business, and that I get to be part of a 30+ year legacy of art and community that I couldn’t be prouder of. I couldn’t ask for anything better!

Kendra: We talked a little about this with some women who were on Warped and one who worked at a record store/venue, but in your experience – how well does your staff handle the sexual harassment that goes on at shows, or are you all lucky enough not to have had any?

Sara: We’re very fortunate to have not had that issue brought to our attention at the Local before, I think in part because our status as a substance free space really lowers the likelihood of that happening here. Our policy is to remove from the venue anyone harassing or causing harm to other patrons or performers, and our staff has held that policy up well in the past, the few times it’s been an issue (cases of moshing/crowd surfing); I’m confident we would be able to handle a case of sexual harassment the same way. I’d like to think we do a good enough job promoting a safe scene around here that anyone who’d act that way would just not come out to our shows, though.

Kendra: What’s coming up at Flint Local 432 that you are particularly excited about?

Sara: I’m very excited to have the Superweaks back in Flint on November 18, touring on their new album Better Heavens. They’ve played twice already this year and they’re always such a treat to have! They’ll be playing with a couple of my other favorite local bands, Former Critics (who’re releasing their EP that night) and Vena Morris. It’s going to be a big party.

I’m also looking forward to November 12, which will be a bit of a special evening featuring 4 local bands who include a visual aspect to their live shows. Streaking In Tongues will be out promoting their new record, with special guests Brites, Kriss Gaynes, and Lunar, the latter of whom I was blown away by at Ladyfest Flint over the summer. I’m expecting this to be an excellent, vibey night!

Kendra: I want to get to know your local scene. With that, if you had to make a mixtape featuring five artists from your area, what five songs wind up on there?

Sara: I just have to say, and I’m sure this is a common reaction: only choosing 5 bands is SO HARD. Be that as it may…
Beauty Queen” – Cheerleader
In Heaven” – Pines
Jimmy Neutron Had A Dog, So Why Can’t I Have A Friend?” – Hot Mulligan
No Backyard” – Mover Shaker
You Should Have Warned Me” – Birdhouse

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