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Cary Brothers readies latest Hotel Cafe Tour

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He originally called it a crazy idea, Cary Brothers remembers. Now he describes his Hotel Cafe Tour as bigger and better than ever.

Brothers, a regular performer at the Hotel Cafe in Los Angeles, came up with the concept a few years ago of an eclectic tour that resembled a typical Saturday night at the venue. The tour’s maiden version was in 2005, and by the second tour, things really started to jell, Brothers recalled. On March 6, the third Hotel Cafe Tour kicks off with a show at the Belly Up in San Diego.

Artists scheduled to join Brothers on the road across the United States through mid-April include Ingrid Michaelson, Dan Wilson, Greg Laswell and Sara Bareilles.

Brothers said this year’s Hotel Cafe Tour will be different from previous editions, yet similar. The venues are larger this time around, but the show structure — a rotating lineup with each artist playing four songs — remains the same.

“If you come to see one specific artist, you might watch two or three people before your artist plays, and to see your artist’s second set, you have to wait through everything else,” the 34-year-old Brothers explained. “It works in that if you find something you really love, then that’s great. And if somebody’s playing a style that you don’t like so much, you wait 10 minutes and somebody else is up there.”

Years before he founded the Hotel Café Tour, Brothers was a struggling singer/songwriter/guitarist just trying to make a mark in the Los Angeles music scene. After graduating in 1995 from Northwestern University in Illinois, Brothers moved to Los Angeles the following year.

About five years ago, Brothers went to the Hotel Cafe for the first time, attending a show by one of his favorite artists, singer/songwriter Gary Jules. The performance and the audience vibe, as well as the venue itself — a tiny room with a rustic, burgundy wood finish — made a big impression on Brothers, who after the show asked Jules about playing there.
Jules recommended that Brothers play at the Sunday night open mike show. Brothers did, and Jules asked him to open one of his shows two weeks later.

“It’s really not like anything else — in Los Angeles, especially,” Brothers said of the Hotel Cafe. “Any night of the week, there’s always some good music happening. In addition to that, there are 10 to 15 other songwriters or musicians hanging out at the back bar. It’s a clubhouse as much as it is a music venue.”

After issuing EPs in 2004 and 2005, Brothers released his debut full-length album, Who You Are, in 2007. He has written new material since the album’s release, and there’s a good chance he will perform new songs during the Hotel Cafe Tour. Brothers added that there is an even greater possibility during the tour that he will include cover songs in his set and collaborate with other artists.

Brothers played a role in choosing venues and artists for the ’08 Hotel Cafe Tour, and he describes his other nonperforming duty as “ambassador on the road.”

“When you deal with that many artists on the road together who don’t all know each other, sometimes there are various conflicts involved,” he said. “You get a bunch of artists on a bus, something crazy is bound to happen, so somebody has to take care of that.”

One task he will not be handling is driving the tour bus.

“I’ll be sitting in the captain’s chair next to the driver, smoking cigarettes,” Brothers said with a laugh.

— By Chris M. Junior

2008 Hotel Cafe Tour (schedule subject to change):

* March 6: Belly Up — San Diego
* March 7: Stateside Restaurant and Lounge — Santa Barbara, Calif.
* March 8: House of Blues — Anaheim, Calif.
* March 9: Hotel Cafe — Los Angeles
* March 10: Club Congress — Tucson, Ariz.
* March 11: The Club House — Phoenix
* March 13: The Parish — Austin, Texas (SXSW showcase)
* March 14: House of Blues — Dallas
* March 15: Red Room — Houston
* March 17: Work Play — Birmingham, Ala.
* March 18: Exit/In — Nashville, Tenn.
* March 19: Center Stage — Atlanta
* March 20: Cat’s Cradle — Chapel Hill, N.C.
* March 21: Ram’s Head — Annapolis, Md.
* March 22: World Cafe Live — Philadelphia
* March 24: Fillmore at Irving Plaza — New York
* March 25: Paradise Rock Club — Boston
* March 26: State Theatre — Ithaca, N.Y.
* March 27: Mr. Smalls Theatre — Pittsburgh
* March 28: Park West — Chicago
* March 29: High Noon — Madison, Wis.
* March 31: Fine Line — Minneapolis
* April 1: Record Bar — Kansas City, Mo.
* April 3: Fox Theatre — Boulder, Colo.
* April 4: Bluebird Theatre — Denver
* April 5: Avalon Theatre — Salt Lake City
* April 7: Big Easy — Boise, Idaho
* April 8: Neumos — Seattle
* April 9: Wonder Ballroom — Portland, Ore.
* April 11: Great American Music Hall — San Francisco
* April 12: Henry Fonda Theatre — Los Angeles