Eric Keilman told us if we were going to write an article about him, we had to make it controversial. But there is very little that is controversial about Eric Keilman. He is a friendly, hard-working, and a genuinely good guy who really loves the local music scene. Signing on as the club’s talent buyer back when it was still Detroit Bar, he’s been one of the driving forces of its continued growth as The Wayfarer since the venue changed ownership in spring of 2014.
The only way to make him seem contentious would be to make something up. But the truth is that Keilman started visiting Detroit Bar over a decade ago as an audience member going to shows. Born in Illinois, Keilman says, “Chicago,” and I can hear the accent revealed just slightly, and then he slips back into the native OC tongue. After Chicago, he moved to St. Louis and spent some time there before moving to Orange County in 2001. He admits, “I lived in St. Louis, and to tell you the truth, I never liked the music scene there. I don’t think I felt comfortable there in the first place, and I had some friends move out to California. They said, ‘This place is more for you.’ I sold an ’86 Caprice classic for the exact price of a plane ticket and just flew out.”
Once settled in Orange County, Keilman got a job at Steelhead Brewing Co. in Irvine. Twelve years went by, and he fully established his roots here. During those years, he was using his time off to watch live bands and check out local venues, with an interest to actually book at these places. He remembers, “I was going to concerts and just had my friends always telling me, ‘You need to do something in music.’ So I just took their advice and just started hitting the streets.”
He first started his Costa Mesa bookings at Avalon Bar, the smaller dive right across the street from the Detroit Bar venue. After hounding the staff at Detroit to let him try setting up a show there, Keilman scored a Tuesday night. Genuinely a tough weeknight to book, Tuesday was a success for Keilman, who generated a fairly busy turnout. Keilman explains, “One thing led to another, and I just enjoyed booking shows. I told myself that was my goal was to book a show at Detroit Bar. First goal met, and then I just kept heading up ever since that.”
At that point he was on the radar, he began getting more dates, and then eventually took it upon himself to fill in empty spots on the calendar using the friendships he had made with local bands and artists. Unfortunately, at the time Keilman was becoming more involved in the venue, Detroit Bar came full cycle and closed its doors. Luckily, local business owner, Jeffrey Chon decided to not only buy the business, but also completely renovate the sound-system, floor plan, and restructure the entertainment schedule. Keilman remained on staff, and officially was given the title of head booker at the new bar, eatery, and concert venue, The Wayfarer. About the transition, overall Keilman says, “It was good timing, and me just being persistent.”
Despite his modesty, was clear it was more than just that. Keilman’s personality, musical taste, and communication skills were the tools he possessed to make a full monthly calendar at The Wayfarer. “At first it was just trying to get on the same page with everyone. It’s all new sound, new employees, new owner. At first it was going ok, but once everything started gelling and everyone started knowing each other a little bit better, it seems like it’s picked up. Everyone that works here is really really good.” A huge piece of this working machine is The Wayfarer’s sound guy, Dan Atkinson.
“Everyone loves him,” Keilman says. “And it’s just nice to have someone who has a big smile on their face and do really well at what they do. That’s been a big help.” With his overall positivity and inclination to give the bands and audiences a good experience, Keilman is helping establish The Wayfarer as a legitimate venue, while also reinvigorated the local music scene after the passing of Detroit Bar. “Everything is working out really good right now, all cylinders are going, and it’s turned into a vibe. People are showing up now and saying, ‘I just like the vibe at this place.’”