After N.J. music booking agents’ business took a hit during COVID, they’re opening a retail music shop

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Throughout his 54 years of life, Sean Gilday has preferred to live like he’s jumping off a cliff and building a plane on the way down.

“Sean’s always been a guy that’s just taken chances, and everyone would say, ‘You’re crazy. How are you going to do that?’” Rachel Hill, his business partner of 10 years, told NJ Advance Media. “But the first step is always the hardest, and then you figure it out from there.”

This philosophy of living without inhibitions illustrates Gilday’s latest action — deciding to open a retail store with Hill during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rock Art Revival in Frenchtown

Sean Gilday, left, and Rachel Hill are opening a new store in Frenchtown called Rock Art Revival. The store offers posters, apparel, jewelry, vinyl LP records, books and more. They currently run a separate booking agency, Blue Raven Entertainment, and were inspired to open this store after the pandemic greatly impacted their business.Patti Sapone | NJ Advance Media

The soft opening of Rock Art Revival, located at 41 Bridge St. in Frenchtown, is scheduled for April 1. At the store, customers can peruse from a wide selection of items influenced by music and the rock and roll industry, including vinyl records, turntables, apparel, handbags, jewelry and more.

Rock Art Revival in Frenchtown

There are many lava lamps to choose from at Rock Art Revival in Frenchtown.Patti Sapone | NJ Advance Media

Rock Art Revival in Frenchtown

Rock Art Revival in Frenchtown has vinyl for those who are looking to go retro. Patti Sapone | NJ Advance Media

Rock Art Revival in Frenchtown

Handmade embroidered leather guitar straps are available at Rock Art Revival.Patti Sapone | NJ Advance Media

Rock Art Revival in Frenchtown

Piano jewelry are amongst the accessories being sold at Rock Art Revival.Patti Sapone | NJ Advance Media

Hill said the store represents a “pivot” in the careers of both she and Gilday, who together run Blue Raven Entertainment, a booking agency established in 2008 for musical artists spanning across the world.

Blue Raven Entertainment has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic as the number of concerts booked by the group have fallen from around 1,000 in 2019 to roughly 80 in 2020.

But the challenges Hill and Gilday have encountered while running their business is exactly what inspired them to move forward with this separate venture.

“(Hill) and I always talked about ‘How cool would it be if we could open a store?’ and my vision was … when I’m closer to 60 and wanted to start slowing down, I would open a store in Frenchtown and have a place to hang out and sell some things I’m into,” Gilday said. “But COVID sort of moved that timeline up dramatically.”

Gilday added that their decision to open the store was one of “life and death” to him.

“It was like I’m going to sit and slowly die if I wait for the music industry to come back,” Gilday said. “I needed to do something that’s creative.”

Rock Art Revival in Frenchtown

Rachel Hill, left, and Sean Gilday in their new Frenchtown shop called Rock Art Revival.Patti Sapone | NJ Advance Media

The opening of the new store is not the first time Gilday has shifted gears in his career and metaphorically “jumped off a cliff.” Prior to running Blue Raven Entertainment, he owned a company that sold merchandise showcasing musical artists.

While selling this merchandise, he began volunteering to book the musical groups with which he was involved on behalf of the operators of various music venues.

“So I started booking shows and one day (an agent) said to me, ‘You know, you really should get a license and become an agent, because you’re really good at this,’” Gilday said.

He and Hill are both alumni of William Paterson University, and met during a career shadowing program held at the university in spring 2011.

Hill, who earned her degree in music management, said she “harassed (Gilday) incessantly” after graduating in hopes of being hired by him. Her efforts were successful, and over the last 10 years she has risen from serving as his assistant to running day-to-day operations for the company.

She described the spirit of their latest venture as “a step back in time to a very ’70s retro vibe” that will largely draw upon both she and Gilday’s shared passion for music posters in particular.

“We really want to educate people on the poster culture,” Hill said. “Because it’s a whole universe: my eyes have been opened so much to the depth of all this just in the last six months we’ve been trying to put this store together.”

“What really got me into the posters are what I considered to be the beauty of the poster graphics,” Gilday said. “It’s just eye-pleasing to me. I have them framed and hanging around my house, and they really make me happy. So I thought it’d be great if other people could see what I saw.”

Rock Art Revival in Frenchtown

Limited edition art prints available at Rock Art Revival.Patti Sapone | NJ Advance Media

Rock Art Revival in Frenchtown

Some of the limited edition art prints available at Rock Art Revival.Patti Sapone | NJ Advance Media

He added that many of the posters and other products sold at the store will celebrate the artists he and Hill work with through Blue Raven Entertainment — which they intend to continue running while operating the new store.

“We’re going to run our offices out of the back and still book,” Gilday said. “And the fact that we can incorporate all of this and give people a little taste of the music business along with some great products, that’s really what I want.”

Both Hill and Gilday said operating the store once the pandemic ends and their booking agency revives may become a difficult balancing act. However, they expressed a resolute willingness to embrace what the future holds.

“I don’t think about that too much, because I just figure we’ll get it done,” Gilday said. “Right now we’re working seven days a week and I do best when I’m at that.”

Hill said: “I feel really blessed because not too many people get the opportunity to say that they’re doing something that they really love. So when I go to work it doesn’t feel like work. I do get worried that it’s going to become overwhelming — but if I didn’t enjoy it so much maybe that would seem more of a concern to me.”

Rock Art Revival in Frenchtown

Sean Gilday, left, and Rachel Hill in their new store, Rock Art Revival, in Frenchtown.Patti Sapone | NJ Advance Media

They also underscored their excitement to open their business in the Frenchtown community in particular.

“It’s picturesque. It sits right along the Delaware River,” Hill said. “You can walk down to the bridge. There’s a towpath that everyone walks or bikes or hikes. You can throw a tube into the river or go fishing there. And I’ve always wanted to be close to water, so that’s fitting for me.”

Added Gilday: “That town has such a great, artistic vibe. There was never a thought of being anywhere else. Frenchtown is … the place I felt the most at peace, and now I’m going to have it everyday.”

Even as she described their decision to open a new business during the pandemic as “quite terrifying,” Hill emphasized her utmost optimism in the future of the store.

“The hope is that people find this as cool and fascinating as we do, and maybe we outgrow Frenchtown and we have to go somewhere else and get a bigger space,” Hill said.

Rock Art Revival in Frenchtown

Inside Rock Art Revival, a new store opening in Frenchtown.Patti Sapone | NJ Advance Media

Gilday stated that he hopes to accumulate enough profits to put a portion of them into the charity he established to help struggling musicians, the Raven Relief Fund.

Gilday was adamant that more would have been lost by staying atop the cliff rather than bravely leaping off of it. “The fear of not having creativity in my life and pushing towards something is greater than the fear of losing everything,” Gilday said. “And I’m on the bubble: I might lose my farm (in Kingwood Township); I might lose my business … But rather than just sit and wait for it to happen, I figured, let’s fight.”

“Let’s fight for what we have. And if we go down fighting, I feel good about that.”

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Caroline Fassett may be reached at [email protected].

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