With many cultural similarities and 80-something miles separating Cape and Paducah (even Carbondale), it's hard to resist comparing the two. The urge only grows stronger when comparing the cities' music undergrounds, as pride mixes with grass-is-always-greener complaints.
The fact is there is no real way to accurately gauge which scene's music outdoes which. I argue almost everyday for Cape's local acts, but good music is different for everyone.
As for the complaints? Well, while those in the music underground face struggles in both cities. Paducah's growing creative community somewhat highlights problems in Cape. In the past year, a couple of venues have shut down or face uncertain futures, particularly the sort of alternative spaces that are integral to the Cape scene.
Take the infamous Camp, a now defunct club near Cape's historic downtown area that catered to independent and creative local music ... and now (under the name Main Street Bar) features gun shots and constant fighting.
Down the road from the Camp is the Port Cape, another embattled music venue where many have rocked out upstairs in the Yacht Club. But last year attendance dropped, making music a liability instead of a asset.
And then there is the all-ages venue the Enchanted Forest, struck down in the ice storms earlier this year - although there will soon be an opening of the Mississippi Mud House and a continuation of all-ages music at that spot.
But while Cape's small venues struggle, there are parallels elsewhere in the area. It doesn't take vigorous mental calisthenics to imagine a similar fate as the Camp in the burgeoning Paducah Art District. The neighborhood, with its lucrative proximity to hip bars, venues, and artist warehouses, is catnip for developers, even in a slipping economy.
Granted, the Camp's issues, as well as Cape's in general, are magnified by a complex matrix of regional factors including liquor-license board vigilance, rapid gentrification, climbing rents, and a greater crime presence. Exacerbating problems for the local scene is a dearth of unused structures crumbling along Broadway (old movie theaters, in particular) that would be useful. In other words, the sort of buildings providing a fertile backbone for Paducah's and Carbondale's underground.
Alongside small venue struggles, musicians are being priced or pricing themselves out of Cape. A quick look at weekend music schedules will show you a drop in the number of Cape-based acts seeking coveted spots and an increase of applicants from just outside the city. Many local musicians (Drivin' Rain, Thorlock, Catatonic, Dirty 30s, etc.) just plain feel a breakout being burnt out by Cape.
For those willing to trade the career route for more time devoted to artistic pursuits, staying afloat in any city can be a struggle. Still, for some in Cape's music scene, Carbondale and Paducah (and St. Louis) bring a reputation of having a stronger open-minded underground community with better show turnout, and seen as an attractive alternative to home.
Not that there's anything wrong with success ...