“Find a need and fill it.” That is the entrepreneurial motto of WhereWillWeGoTonight.com founder Don McKeon, who in 2009 turned his love of local music into a website designed to answer the age-old question of “where should we go” that arises when folks are contemplating a night on the town.
Discussing the origins of GoTonight.com while sitting out in Sarasota Bay aboard the Guys Like You Windsor Craft pontoon boat his co-owns with his friend Joey “Bahama” Vincer, McKeon said, “I had a friend, Frank Papandrea, who would call me three or four times a week and say, ‘Let’s go out dancing. What’s going on and where’s the music?’”
At a time, McKeon was going through a divorce and looking to get out more. He realized there was no definitive website or media outlet in Sarasota that provided detailed daily information on the live music scene, so he took matters into his own hands, filling a need that wasn’t being satisfied.
“I thought to myself: Creating a database of music venues and musicians. How hard can that be?,” McKeon said, acknowledging that tracking down information of this nature can be a “pain in the ass” due to outdated bar and band websites, along with the challenges of making contact with bar managers and musicians not known for keeping regular hours.
This led to the development of the Where Will We Go Tonight website and the extensive (and expensive) process of creating the database required to populate the site also known as GoTonight.com.
From the beginning, McKeon envisioned a product that was “venue-centric,” relying on the venues, not the musicians, to provide the necessary information in exchange for a service provided free of charge. In lieu of a paid advertising campaign, McKeon relied on WhereWillWeGoTonight.com bumper stickers, refrigerator magnets and business cards to promote his new endeavor. It took some time to get venue operators interested and in the habit of entering event data into the online database, but four years later McKeon estimates that 90 percent of the music venues in Sarasota now utilize the free service. The venue listings gradually expanded beyond Sarasota and now include Bradenton, Anna Maria Island and Tampa, making GoTonight.com a regional resource.
According to McKeon, the website received more than 96,000 page views in March and more than 4,000 subscribers receive the GoTonight Friday email blast free of charge.
Embracing the strategy of hiring people smarter than himself, McKeon has assembled a team of technical and marketing experts that includes Chief Operating Officer and business partner Chuck Englehardt, joined by Sheree Englehardt, Rich Cloutier, Tom Straub and Joy Kay---some of whom work for little to no pay because they believe in the product’s potential and the service it provides.
Simplicity is a key component of the GoTonight.com website. Upon arrival at the home page, visitors will find an alphabetical venue-by-venue listing of musical performances taking place that day. Additional search features provide information on upcoming and past performances and external links to venue and artist websites.
The GoTonight widget is available free of charge and provides other music-related websites with a scrolling list of who’s playing where on that given day.
Venues utilizing GoTonight.com simply register for a free account and enter into the database information pertaining to upcoming performances. McKeon said regular users can enter a month’s worth of events in less than 10 minutes.
Many venues show their appreciation by purchasing banner ads and event highlighting services that sell for $60 per month or $600 per year, generating enough revenue to more or less cover GoTonight’s monthly operating expenses.
Bill Cornelius, co-owner of the Blue Rooster, is among those who appreciate McKeon’s efforts, saying, “I think it is a very helpful site for bands, venues and people who want to know what bands are playing. It is very easy to use, so I update our venue information as soon as I book a band because it helps me keep track of what I am doing.”
GoTonight.com is also an excellent resource for musicians in search of places to play. Visit GoTonight.com on a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday (considered to be “off nights” in the music business) and you will likely find at least 25 venues in the greater Sarasota-Tampa Bay area providing weeknight work for local musicians---a testament to the vitality of the local music scene.
Having provided the start-up capital and initial operating expenses himself, McKeon says the goal now is find an investor or investors who would allow GoTonight.com to expand its range and reach, with investor packages now available for those interested.
When asked about franchising the GoTonight model to parties in other cities, McKeon said, “That might happen at some point, but at the moment the plan is to keep it in-house and develop a system of community music activists around the country doing what we’re doing here. It remains to be seen what will happen next. Fortunately, I have some very smart people on the team and we’re looking into all these other options.”
McKeon said it would take “intensive capital and millions of dollars” to expand GoTonight.com nationally, with significant software and database upgrades required for that to happen.
“We are also looking at establishing potential partnerships,” McKeon said, noting that the ultimate payoff might come as a result of selling GoTonight to someone who could oversee statewide or national expansion.
Another revenue option would be to provide the collected data and information to additional users and media outlets. “Data is the new oil, they say, and we’re in the business of collecting and disseminating data,” McKeon said.
Summing up his thoughts on the future of GoTonight.com, McKeon said, “I’m open to anything. I think this GoTonight service is something the community needs. That’s why I started it. If that was to go away, I think this town would be the lesser for it. A community dies without live music.”
Man on the Go
In March, McKeon celebrated his 70th birthday surrounded by 100 or so invited guests at The Flying Dog Café on Tallevast Road. Those of us who know Don would agree that he’s one of the most youthful 70-year-olds you’ll ever meet.
At one point that night, he looked around and said, “Without the music, this would not be happening,” in reference to the role that local musicians and GoTonight.com play in his social life.
When asked how it felt to turn 70, he said, “Its feels absolutely marvelous.”
As for what remains on his bucket list, McKeon said, “I’ve been doing my bucket list for the last 50 years and I haven’t stopped yet.”McKeon and his significant other Joni Luckenbill plan to attend multiple musical festivals this year and also have a trip planned that will take them to Montana, up into Canada and then to San Francisco.
Although he loves to travel, Sarasota remains McKeon’s favorite place to be. “I have so much fun around here, it’s hard to leave,” he said.
McKeon was born in Holyoke, Mass. on March 6, 1943. He graduated from nearby South Hadley High School in 1960 during the “sock-hop” era dominated by the likes of Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis and Fats Domino.
He attended Hoyoke Community College and the Wentworth Institute in Boston, where he studied engineering.
“When I was in high school the government told us they needed rocket scientists for the coming space age. That sounded good, so I focused on that,” he said. “Then, when I graduated from Wentworth in 1964, there were 30,000 unemployed engineers on the East Coast alone. What was a good idea turned into a not-so-hot idea. I think only three people in my graduating class got jobs in the field we were educated in.”
McKeon was fortunate to land an engineering job at a research lab in Cambridge, Mass., but the thrill was short-lived.
“It wasn’t quite what I had in mind. When I went into it I had this vision of Cape Canaveral and the excitement of rockets going up, but the reality turned out to be completely different. With each one of those rockets that goes up you’ve got 50,000 parts, and each one of those parts has a little laboratory somewhere. A couple years of that and I was ready to get out of there.”
After escaping the big city lifestyle of Boston and returning to his Western Massachusetts roots, McKeon spent four enjoyable years working in the field of mechanical engineering and machine design.
Like many of his era, everything changed with the onset of the Vietnam War and the explosion of the 1960s counter culture.
“I didn’t want to wear the tie and the pocket protector anymore,” McKeon recalled. Embracing the recreational activities of those high and heady times, McKeon found a business niche that needed filling and filled it. There wasn’t anywhere in town to buy rolling papers, so in 1970 he opened the town's first head shop.
“I did it for 10 years, had a good time and then moved on,” he said, explaining that the peace, love and brotherhood feelings of the late '60s and early '70s soured when cocaine started to dominate the recreational drug scene later that decade.
McKeon then managed the family real estate business and “bummed around” for a while before making his way to Sarasota in 1982 to escape the cold weather. He bought a houseboat that he kept at Marina Jack. He also bought (and later sold) the nautical-themed “boat house” that still stands in the Gillespie Park neighborhood.
He later became a partner in a seasonal clothing store in Martha’s Vineyard, as well as the Dreamweaver couture clothing store in St. Armands Circle. He also invested wisely in waterfront properties up and down the Gulf Coast and had the foresight to sell those assets at an opportune time.
These days McKeon can be found dancing with Joni and listening to live music at the venues promoted through WhereWillWeGoTonight.com, sitting on the beach with a good book or hosting brown bag lunches aboard Guys Like You.