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Booking Guidelines

Thanks for your interest in joining our long and illustrious roster. Our relationships with our artists run deep, and in some cases date back more than 50 years. We hope to enter a long and healthy professional relationship with every artist we hire.

I have enjoyed the amazing blessing of booking the Caffe since 2000. As the Executive Director of our very busy non-profit, I also handle overall management of the venue. Some weeks are devoted to booking, some are not. My response time to booking queries, therefore, varies widely.

Please read through our schedule to get a sense of our current programming. If you’ve never heard of the artists who perform here, and your music is entirely different from anything we offer, you’re probably not a match for the venue. I offer the following explanation of my booking process and preferences in order to help you decide if Caffè Lena might be for you.

What Should You Send Me?

Please get in touch by email. I’ll respond to your request by looking at your website and social media pages, watching the videos you post on your website as well as those I find on YouTube, viewing your promotional photos and posters, reading your bio, checking out who has reviewed your albums and given you testimonials, and looking at where people are hearing your music.


I get excited about musicians who are emerging in the national music scene, but that doesn’t mean I book artists who are just starting out. I look for those who are playing festivals, colleges, clubs, and touring hard. I look to see if you’re charting on Americana and/or folk radio, winning songwriting awards, getting reviewed in NoDepression, Pitchfork, NPR or RollingStone, and have a dense tour schedule with a big range. I look to see if you have the support of a management and promotional team. I look for irresistible videos and photos. There are many venues where you can accrue this sort of experience. Caffè Lena is for people who have already done so.

I like music that is primarily acoustic, and either traditional or original. I need to get the impression that you are familiar with American roots music, and that those old songs inspired the current work in some way. You don’t have to include Shady Grove and Hard Time Killing Floor in your set, but do you know those songs? I like a powerful emotional impact. I also like brilliant playing and wild quirkiness. I like artists who are skilled storytellers; who tell the kinds of stories that listeners want to take home and share.

I look for people whose art thrives when they’re playing close to their audience. Though several of our performers have become household names over the years, if you’re viewing Caffè Lena as a stepping stone on a path to major commercial fame and fortune, we’re probably not a great match. I book shows about 4 to 6 months ahead. It often takes at least a month to respond to unsolicited booking requests. And, I’m genuinely sorry about this, but my workload makes it impossible to respond to all requests. If you’re sending an impersonal bulk message, or it seems that you have not taken time to learn about our programming and preferences, I may not respond.

A Word About Breaking In As a Newcomer

About 25% our programming features first time bands. Those selected represent a tiny fraction of the number who apply, but they are our future and we love evolving our heritage and exploring new frontiers in roots music.

Here’s a peek behind the scenes at how venue bookers, including myself, review your videos. This video shows me, Justin Nordell of Philadelphia Folk Festival, and Bruce Ranes of Sommerville Theater reviewing real applications live and taking you through how we make decisions. If you’re fairly new to touring, you might learn a few helpful tips.

Opening Acts – Our openers are not new to gigging, they’re just new to the area. We don’t use popular locals to boost ticket sales for the headliner. Our openers represent our investment in the future of our roster, and are an opportunity for musical discovery for our audience. We pay a stipend of $100-$200, provide dinner, and give you a 20 minute spot at showtime. You keep 100% of your merch sales.

Bright Series – Made possible by Kevin and Claudia Bright, these monthly shows feature artists playing the venue for the first time. These are fresh, contemporary roots-based bands that are making waves in the national folk scene, getting strong radio play, charting, releasing albums, developing a strong following on social media, touring hard, and selling out venues.

Momentum Series – Made possible by Joe & Luann Conlon, this series features high energy music–solo or band. These are less acoustic shows that infuse the room with crackling energy. Many, but not all, of the monthly Momentum artists are playing our venue for the first time.

Nordlys Global Voices Series – Made possible by the Nordlys Foundation, this series features artists from non-English-speaking countries on international tours. These concerts range from exquisite serenity, to big dance party. We’re looking for bands that authentically represent their nation’s musical roots.

Little Folks Series – Made possible by Kevin & Claudia Bright, Polyset and Fenimore Asset Management, Little Folks features family-friendly music on the first Saturday afternoon of each month. We look for musicians who love the boisterous experience of engaging kids with questions, movements, fascinating information, and above all Music! Our audience ranges from toddler to middle school, with most kids being in the 5 – 10 range. We like finding bands that can play for kids in the afternoon and adults in the evening.

Caffe Lena On the Road – Made possible by Live Music Society and other generous funders, this program delivers live music to schools, nursing homes and senior meal sites, addiction recovery groups, soup kitchens, youth programs and shelters, and other places where a song can make a difference. If you have experience working with a certain population (music students, veterans, at-risk youth, dementia patients, for example) and would like to participate, please let us know. We only offer this opportunity to artists in conjunction with a booking at Caffe Lena, or as a tour fill-in for a band we would hire if our schedule permitted.

If you want to get your foot in the door of the regional music scene or are just looking to develop your stage skills, please join us for an OPEN MIC. We have a general open mic each Monday, and themed open mics (poetry, storytelling, etc) on many Wednesdays. Check the calendar for details.

If you haven’t been dissuaded by what you’ve read, go ahead and send an e-mail to sarah@caffelena.org with a personal introduction and a link to your website. I love to review new music and set up the concert schedule, but as I said at the start, my job encompasses much more than that. With all due respect and apologies, it may be a while (one to two months) before you hear from me. If you’re looking for a very specific date and need a quick answer, please indicate so in the subject line of your message and I’ll make every effort to get right back to you.

I look forward to meeting you.

Sarah Craig