Owner of Orpheum discusses time at New College
The end of the term is approaching and with it leaves another class of fresh graduates, frantically trying to prepare for life after New College. Choices about graduate studies, jobs and living arrangements have to be made, and made fast. Though New College is known for its rigorous academic program, its student-directed curriculum encourages students to gain independence and prepare for life’s tribulations.
Jerry Dufrain (‘89) is a former New College student who has benefitted from the school’s unique form of education. After many years of working in the Tampa and Sarasota music scenes, he now owns the live music venue the Orpheum in Ybor City.
“Maybe I’m thinking that New College is greater than what it actually is but … most New College students didn’t just walk in and say ‘okay what’s the intro courses I have to take?’” Dufrain recalled of his time at New College. “It was more like they took control of their own education and really, you are going to do that in your life too.”
Dufrain left New College shortly after his initial enrollment and then re-entered in 1999 with renewed vigor. He began to focus on the subjects of history and religion and intended to graduate with a degree in those areas. But after becoming more involved in the Sarasota music scene, he realized that he was no longer passionate about his studies.
“I had been there for a long time and I think I just started to get interested in stuff outside of academics,” Dufrain explained. “I was planning on finishing [school], I was in the midst of working on it, but then I just sort of got more interested in music and then one thing led to another … and that was it.”
Growing up, Dufrain had always been interested in music. Even as a child he already had a substantial record collection. It is not surprising then, that within a week of moving to Sarasota for the first time, he had already started to integrate himself in the area’s music culture.
“It’s really easy to live in an ivory tower at New College; it’s really easy to [never leave campus], aside from going to the grocery store,” he explained. “I interacted outside of just what was going on at New College and I learned a lot from those interactions.”
Aside from being in a hip-hop group, Dufrain was a disc jockey and worked at a local club that put on events in the area.
“I don’t want to say I was a primary promoter at that time, but I was learning how to do it and I was getting my feet wet,” Dufrain said. “I put some things together at New College and I had done some stuff in Sarasota … you know it was kinda DIY [Do It Yourself], so I was learning how to do all of that all at the same time with no goal other than just wanting to do it.”
He frequented the original Daddy Kool Records, now located in St. Petersburg, which was a hotspot for local music activity at the time. He began to develop a relationship with the store’s owner, Tony Rifugiato, who later helped Dufrain obtain his dream job as owner of the Orpheum. Rifugiato was one of the owners of the original Orpheum which was founded between 1999 and 2000, and due to his long history with Dufrain, hired him to work at the club.
“He and I had known each other for years and years and years and I was always involved in the music scene and I was always kind of around the shop and … had helped him promote shows … [so] when the opportunity came up [to hire me] it was kind of a no brainer,” Dufrain explained.
Dufrain’s job incorporated every part of the daily operations of the Orpheum including security, door manning and bartending. These opportunities allowed him to eventually progress to become a buyer. Before being relocated to its current location, the club started out in a small, 300-person capacity building tucked away on 8th Avenue, where it was located for about 10 years.
Two and a half years ago, Dufrain became the owner of the Orpheum. “I liked it so much that I bought it,” he laughed.
In the short span of time that he has owned the club, Dufrain has made major changes, including moving the actual location of the Orpheum altogether. Within six months of owning the club, Dufrain and his staff moved into a larger, 720-person capacity building, located on the “main drag” of Ybor on 7th Avenue.
As owner, Dufrain runs the day-to-day operations of the club, which include booking bands, managing the staff, meeting with the police and the city and dealing with agents and promoters. When asked what his favorite part of managing the Orpheum was he quickly replied, “Music, live music. That was always—always the thing.”
Though he never did graduate from New College, Dufrain believes his time in school has prepared him for his present career.
“I give credit to New College because you do have to take control of your own stuff – you have to figure out your own thing and I left there [without] finishing the academic side but I definitely left there knowing how to get stuff done on my own,” Dufrain said. “With my job, that has pretty much always been true. It’s always what I have had to do and just kind of deal with it on my own and figure it out on my own and I got that out of New College that’s for sure.”
Dufrain has had many years to reflect on his time at New College and has experienced first hand the struggles of finding a job after leaving school. He offered advice based on his personal experiences to students having to make upcoming decisions about their futures.
“Generally, a lot of the New College students I know, even if they didn’t have it figured out right when they left, figured it out,” he explained. “New College, at least, equips you with the ability to figure out what’s going to happen in your life, how to affect your own life and how to positively live in the world.
“It just happened to take me a little longer than some people, but I figured out what I really, deeply care about is music,” Dufrain said. “What I really, deeply care about is putting on events that people will remember for the rest of their lives. So [I hope] that somebody else who comes out of New College can do that same thing … because I get to and I’m pretty lucky and I don’t want to say that it’s [entirely] because of New College … but New College is definitely part of it.”