By Susan Van Dongen
Pay attention to that man behind the curtain — or rather, that man backstage at the Unitarian Universalist Church at Washington Crossing in Titusville.
That would be Scott Cullen, who might be found backstage, in the lobby, behind the sound board, or somewhere else nearby on concert nights, putting the finishing touches on the more than 200 shows he has been presenting for 20 seasons.
Mr. Cullen’s “Concerts at the Crossing” series has brought talented artists from all across the country to Titusville, regaling audiences with folk, rock, new country/alt-country, indie and other genres of music. In the last couple of years, however, Mr. Cullen has decided to “retire” from presenting his concert series.
”These concerts require a lot of time and effort, and when Sunday comes, I’m just wiped out, and I’d like to have my weekends free,” he says. “I’m looking forward to spending more time going to hear live music where somebody else is doing the work.”
Just as The Band had its “Last Waltz” to bid farewell to its fans, Mr. Cullen has planned a superb evening of music to conclude his Concert at the Crossing series. The Grand Finale will be held at the church in Titusville Saturday, Nov. 21, and will feature Ellis Paul, Tracy Grammer, The Kennedys, and Jess Klein, performers who all have a long history of playing the venue. As of this writing, the Grand Finale has sold out.
A professional writer and editor, Mr. Cullen began the Concerts at the Crossing series in 1996, originally as fundraising events for the Unitarian church, where he was a member at the time. After the first five seasons, Mr. Cullen created a non-profit performing arts organization while continuing to present the concerts at the U.U. church, renting the space.
Mr. Cullen recalls some of the acts that have graced the stage over the years: these include Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member John Sebastian, British rocker Graham Parker, Maria Muldaur (who sang “Midnight at the Oasis”), Suzzy and Maggie Roche, Marshall Crenshaw, and the late, legendary folk singer and civil rights activist Odetta.
Concerts at the Crossing has also provided opportunities for emerging artists to get a start and gain recognition. Mr. Cullen reflects that Erin McKeown, Lori McKenna, Dala, Liz Longley, and Josh Ritter performed in Titusville early in their careers.
In fact, the very first Concerts at the Crossing show featured singer-songwriter Lucy Kaplansky, who was just starting out at the time.
”Josh Ritter was an add-on to the Lori McKenna show — her manager suggested him,” Mr. Cullen says. “Now, he’s a big, established (performer), playing larger venues. We had maybe 104 people for that concert, but today, we probably couldn’t get him.”
There were also some near-misses. By that, Mr. Cullen means acts that, if he had booked them, it would have been too soon for many people to know who they were. But then, if he had waited too long, they would have become too famous and unavailable.
”Amos Lee is one of those people,” Mr. Cullen says. “By the time I could have brought him (to Titusville), he was signed to Blue Note and touring with Paul Simon. Same thing with Grace Potter, Lake Street Dive and the Avett Brothers — I waited too long. But had I booked them, I wondered if hardly anybody would show up.”
There are many, many highlights to the two decades of concerts Mr. Cullen has presented, and he probably has several hours’ worth of stories to tell. However, he does want to speak about Odetta, saying that she was one of the best acts he ever booked, and, despite her fame, she was a most gracious lady.
”Odetta ended up getting lost and was a little late, but she got here, and she was great,” Mr. Cullen says. “Then, the next time we had her, she was in a wheelchair — very frail, but still gracious. After she left, I said, ‘I don’t think we’re going to be seeing Odetta again,’ and by the end of that year, she was gone.”
Thinking about the late Dave Carter — when he and Tracy Grammer were performing and recording together — also brings back a fond memory for Mr. Cullen.
”We had Dave and Tracy in 2001, and Dave was such a wonderful person,” Mr. Cullen says. “He played everyone’s requests, until about 11 p.m. Then, he came out into the audience, stuck around and talked to everyone. That was a magical evening.”
Despite the finale’s sell-out, and the fact that the series’ previous concert (John Gorka/Deidre Flint, Oct. 24) was also a sellout, Mr. Cullen has seen the audience numbers decline in the last few years, for various reasons, things like people cocooning more around their home theaters, working longer hours, raising families, etc.
”There have been shows where we only had 35 people, and there were some when we squeezed in 300 people,” he says. “But, it takes as much work to sell 35 tickets as 235.”
As for what’s next in his life, Mr. Cullen says he’ll be writing, editing, going out to hear live music, going to the movies, catching up on books, and indulging in his many other pop culture passions.
Although he will miss his favorite aspects of the concert series, things like presenting new artists and putting theme shows together, Mr. Cullen is really ready to step back.
”My lady friend, Mary Acciani, who handles the lighting of the shows, can’t wait for me to end this thing, because I am miserable the day of the show,” Mr. Cullen says. “It just feels like a job now, and I don’t really make any money, even from a sellout. The thrill for me is seeing that the audience has had a great time, and that the performer has had a positive experience — and, you get a ‘thank you’ at the end of the night.”
Concerts at the Crossing’s Grand Finale, presented by Scott Cullen, at the Unitarian Universalist Church at Washington Crossing, 268 Washington Crossing-Pennington Road, Titusville, Nov. 21, 7:30 p.m. The concert is sold out. For more information, go to www.concertsatthecrossing.com or call 609-406-1424.
By Susan Van Dongen