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Growing up in Cleveland, Mark Minnick was in the heart of what many consider to be the birthplace of rock n’ roll. That status has been somewhat confirmed by the arrival of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but even before that structure was established Minnick was in the perfect place to instill an appreciation for music. “I played guitar when I was growing up and was in bands in high school,” says Minnick. “Cleveland is a really great city for music. It didn’t have that reputation as much nationally, but certainly does now with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It was a very open place, and everybody supported each other. It was really like what Fort Wayne is like now.”
Music was not what brought Minnick to Fort Wayne, however. He originally came to attend college at Concordia, but while he decided at that time not to pursue the ministry, Fort Wayne had become his permanent home.
“You know, you come to a city, and suddenly you get a couple of jobs and you have friends, and then you don’t leave.”
Having decided against the ministry at that time, he worked in real estate before starting his own company, Minnick Services. Now employing 35 people, including a son and son-in-law, the business is very much a family concern.
“That business made it possible for me to do the wild and crazy things I’ve done since,” says Minnick. “I decided to go to the seminary and did that from 1996 until 2000. It’s a Lutheran system, so they expect you to be a pastor when you’re done with your studies. I told them that I didn’t know if I wanted to do that, and I’ve always had this entrepreneurial side of me and told them I wanted to do something on my own.
“They asked me ‘What would that be?’ I knew I wanted to work in the inner city and wanted to focus on music. They pretty much said ‘Good luck, you’re on your own.’”
Knowing he wanted to do something connected to music, he began considering how a music hall might provide an answer. He knew that if he wanted to do that, he’d need to start with the music hall and then add church services rather than try to do it the other way around. Considering a music hall his true calling, Minnick looked for a way to make that work.
“I knew Kelly Updike at the Embassy, and I basically just tried to do whatever they were doing. So when I opened Come 2 Go, I did things the way the Embassy did, relying on volunteers and making sure we had wonderful food. I also had [Sweetwater Sound’s] Chuck Surack come in to help me design the place. He knew where the stage should be and how the room should be set up to have the best sound.”
As he set out to make the space into a music hall, Minnick had little in the way of funding to make it happen. But despite that, he went to New Haven to buy the materials to build a stage.
“It was a family business too, and I was asking what I should use to build a stage, and there was this grandfather and grandson helping me. The grandfather told me about these special boards that I should use, and the grandson said, ‘Those are expensive. That’s going to cost the church a lot of money.’
“The grandfather said, ‘It’s not going to cost the church a thing.’ Then he asked me how I was going to build it, and I told him I was going to get volunteers to help me, and he said, ‘Let me see about that.’ And he got members of the carpenters’ union to come in a few hours a week after work to build the stage. All I had to do was buy beer.”
Minnick says now that he was definitely off to a good start. Several foundations helped along the way, and before long C2G was on its way to being a place for local music and church services (not to mention a place to rent for wedding receptions and other events). Then something unexpected happened.
“Brad Etter has been part of this since day one,” says Minnick. “And about eight or nine years ago, he said to me that Richie Havens was playing in Ann Arbor, so why don’t we see if we could get him to play at C2G?
“My response was ‘Richie Havens? You’ve got to be kidding me. That’s Woodstock material!’ But we contacted Richie’s agent, and he was able to come here to play. It was a Sunday, so an off night, but we got him to come down. He was unbelievably gracious and kind, and after that people were saying ‘What is going on here?’ It’s amazing how it’s all worked out.”
Since that time musicians like Leon Russell and Johnny Winter have also taken the C2G stage, and the venue has become one of the gems of the local music scene. With comfortable seating and great food and drink available, it’s become a special place to see performers that might never otherwise visit Fort Wayne. ”
Minnick says he doesn’t plan more than about six months out and is always looking for new and special acts to perform at C2G. He’s a blues fan and says he particularly looks for blues acts to come visit. He relies on the knowledge of some Fort Wayne’s legends like Doc West for advice about who to book.
“It’s great to sit down with some of Fort Wayne’s finest to talk about music and who we should bring in. I like where we are and what we do. Lately, a lot of people have been saying what a great space it is. I think we’ve found a really nice niche here.”