We’re traveling through Arizona and New Mexico studying how some municipalities help to support live music and the music community. This stop, Flagstaff, Arizona
Black Bart’s is a steakhouse surrounded by an RV park in the middle of Flagstaff. Pretty ordinary sounding, but for over thirty-five years they have collaborated with Northern Arizona University by employing students enrolled in the music program who perform and work as wait staff.
The small stage sports an upright piano, various props and a sound system. Students keep their real books, music binders that contain sheet music, onstage. Throughout the evening, the student staff perform. Guests might hear a sweet, almost reverent rendition of Memory from Cats or a rousing ensemble performance of Oklahoma. Your wait person takes requests, and while Broadway show tunes are the favorite at Black Bart’s, the students’ repertoire ranges from jazz to rock and pop hits from the 60s and 70s.
Students must audition for the job, and while most are music majors at NAU, there are also students from a variety of disciplines who share a love of music. In addition to earning a paycheck, students also receive credit from NAU for their performance. Black Bart’s employs a full-time music director who selects the music, keeps the catalog fresh and makes sure that the choreography is consistent.
The result of this collaboration benefits not only the steakhouse, the students and the university, but also tourism in Flagstaff. The restaurant is a landmark and one of the most popular stops along the I-40 corridor with travelers making a point to stop and stay in Flagstaff for the opportunity to dine at Black Bart’s.
Norther Arizona University’s presence in this community of about 68,000 means that there is a disproportionate number of live music venues, including brew pubs, coffee houses and small theaters. Most of the arts scene is promoted locally by the Flagstaff Arts Council (flagartscouncil.org). The city of Flagstaff pumps about $300,000.00 annually into the arts that is awarded to qualified non-profit community organizations that provide arts, science and cultural services and in the development of programs, workshops, conferences and that promote cultural tourism.