From New York to Savannah: A Georgia Southern graduate’s role at one of the city’s newest music venues

Julia Fechter

Talking to Betsy Martin Schmidtt, it might seem like she has been involved in the music business for a while. Talk to her more, though, and you will hear that that is not necessarily the case.

“Just working with Charlie at the Stage on Bay is my first venture into the music business, even though I’ve enjoyed it and gone to tons of concerts in my life,” Martin Schmidtt said.

Martin Schmidtt helped her husband, Charlie Schmidtt, start the Stage on Bay music venue, located at 1200 West Bay Street in Savannah, Georgia, in spring of 2017.

In order to open the venue, the duo had to work through a number of factors, including extensively renovating the venue property and obtaining an alcohol license for it.

However, once the Stage on Bay opened, it went on to host such acts ranging from Kelsea Ballerini and Cole Swindall to Molly Hatchet and Nothing More.

But before all of this, before Martin Schmidtt was a co-owner of the Stage on Bay, she was a Georgia Southern University graduate.

Changing industries

Martin Schmidtt graduated from GS with a public relations degree in 1978. She mused that when she attended, there were only 8,000 students at the then-Georgia Southern College.

“The fact that I grew up about an hour from Statesboro [in Vidalia] makes me really happy to see how Georgia Southern has thrived and what it adds to Southeast Georgia as far as education opportunities,” Martin Schmidtt said.

After graduating from the college, she worked in marketing and sales for about 20 years for the corporations Bell South and AT&T. Then, she decided to move to Jacksonville, Florida, and found work at Staples and, later, Icon.

“That [Jacksonville] is where I met Charlie. Even though he was an attorney, our common interest was music, for sure,” she said. “Music was one of the first things we shared together. We went to any number of festivals, concerts.”

Charlie Schmidtt, in contrast to his wife, had been in and out of the business side of music for 30 years. Before opening the Savannah venue, the Schmidtts helped open a music club in New York with a friend that Schmidtt knew from his concert promotion days.

They did that for a while, acting as what Schmidtt described as more of “passive investors”. At the same time, though, Martin Schmidtt said she felt an enduring connection to the Savannah area, with having family there and appreciating the food, culture and history the town had to offer.

“One day, we were in Savannah,” Schmidtt said, “and she [Betsy] and I looked at each other and kind of said, ‘Boy, there’s nothing like Magic City, which is the name of our club in New York.’”

The Schmidtts saw a vacancy of what they called a midtown music venue, a venue that can host at least 1,000 people and major entertainers, within two hours of the Savannah area.

Martin Schmidtt acknowledged that the Savannah Civic Center had historically (and still is) where some bigger acts come to perform, saying that she went to see KISS, her first concert, there in the 1970s.

They also acknowledged the numerous smaller clubs that dot the Savannah cityscape, as well as the Mercer and Lucas Theaters, which Martin Schmidtt characterized as more of sit-down venues.

However, the duo desired a more casual and, at the same time, spacious music environment. They wanted to showcase bands either just beginning their careers or older bands that people enjoy and that sound good, but that may not be able to sell out a venue as large as a civic theater.

On that day they had visited Savannah, Schmidtt wondered aloud why he and his wife were passive investors for the New York venue.

“I looked at her [Betsy] and said ‘why don’t we move the whole business to Savannah?,” Schmidtt said. “And I thought she would stare and me and say, are you crazy?’ But she said, ‘That’s a great idea.’”

Martin Schmidtt said she welcomed the idea, as she had desired to be a part of something where she could have input as to marketing, products and pricing are developed without all of the corporate red tape or hoops to jump through.

“My voice had little meaning [at those corporations] as opposed to the Stage on Bay, where I feel like I can have more influence on the bands that come in and the marketing that is done,” Martin Schmidtt added.

Betsy’s role

The two looked for potential venues for about a year in Savannah trying to determine factors such as where it would be and the size.

They settled on what would become the current location in West Savannah, encouraged by the example of Southbound Brewery.

“It was a big undertaking, but we did it in the hopes that that part of downtown Savannah is starting its revitalization process,” Schmidtt said.

That big undertaking encompassed taking a warehouse without air conditioning and heating and bathrooms and converting it to a venue capable of holding 1,100 people and extensive sound equipment.

“Of course, I wanted input on the number of the ladies’ rooms [laughs],” Martin Schmidtt said, “and size of the bar so that if we have 1100 people in there, [then] there’s plenty of room, there’s plenty of bathrooms [and] there’s plenty of bartenders.”

Martin Schmidtt also helped with tasks ranging from picking out the building colors to helping her husband decide which acts to bring to the Stage on Bay.

“We’re always having a discussion about what will sell in that southeast Georgia market. I rarely go against what she suggests in that regard,” Schmidtt said.

In addition to dealing with VIP patrons and handling media personnel, Martin Schmidtt plays a key role in the Stage on Bay’s catering services, often dealing and meeting with the venue’s caterer.

Schmidtt described catering as being important because the bands that come to the venue often do not eat nutritious meals.Along with catering, Martin Schmidtt also helps prepare fresh towels for band members because that is often what band members want once they arrive at the venue and exit their tour bus.

“That’s what gets us great tour reports. After every show, the tour band sends an email to management, to the agent, saying “these guys knew what they were doing” or “these guys were complete idiots,’” Schmidtt said.

Schmidtt mused that the cuisine needs of bands have changed, from copious amounts of liquor to organic food, over the years he has been involved in the music business.

For example, the Schmidtts had to resolve a particular catering situation when The Waylors [now the Waymore’s Outlaws] came to the Stage on Bay.

“They are Rastafarians, so they have a very specialized diet, so I found out the hard way that just because they wanted fish from the venue…that they do not eat farm-raised fish,” Martin Schmidtt said.

After Martin Schmidtt had arranged for tilapia fish to be brought to the venue, she had to go out out with the caterer at the last minute and purchase get black grouper for the band.

As well, she described that though some responsibilities like catering may involve more direct interaction with the band, other tasks are not so direct, or as Martin Schmidtt put it, glamorous.

“But it’s not, on the other hand, always glamorous. People think you’re there, schmoozy with the band, but you’re not,” she said. “You’re putting toilet paper in the stalls, washing dirty towels and cleaning up the remainder of the [catering] food that’s left over.”

Though tasks like that may be perceived as more menial, Martin Schmidtt says that for her, the job of being a music venue owner is still worth it.

Martin Schmidtt said, “It’s rewarding because you get to meet great people and hear great music… you feel like you’re bringing great music to the community and to the music lovers in the area.”