A passion for small stages
March 14, 2008
It's good to have a passion. It's good for the soul to have a focus for something that you believe has some essential purpose in the world, and to feel that you have a unique role to play in bringing something wonderful about.
It's good for Birmingham that Keith's passion is finding ways to connect singer/songwriters with audiences that love them already or that might not otherwise find out about them.
We went to a few shows at the Moonlight Music Cafe, when he was still running that in Vestavia. It was one of the best spaces to hear music that I've ever been in (and I have been in a lot of music rooms), and each show that we saw was superb. We were saddened, but not, I'm sorry to say, surprised, when he finally closed. Even on the nights when he packed the house (the superb Radney Foster acoustic show, for example) Lynn and I would drive home wondering how the hell he could possibly make ends meet.
Closing Moonlight didn't slow Keith down. He took his passion and, with a core group of similarly minded maniacs, turned it into organizing the Small Stages series of house concerts. We were finally able to get to our first last night -- Robinella w/ Jay Clark at the Matt Jones Gallery. I'd seen Robinella last June at City Stages and was enchanted. We've been listening to a couple of her CDs since, and I wanted Lynn to have a chance to see her live.
There were about 200 of us gathered in the lush space that Matt Jones and his crew have put together. It's a beautifully lit space, with a stage in one corner, and paintings all over the walls. The Small Stages shows are BYOB&C, so by the time we got there the room was about half full of folding chairs with people milling about and opening their wine bottles or bottles of beer (I brought Laphroig, myself) and visiting with old friends or meeting new ones. The atmosphere was utterly unlike even the nicest commercial venue -- more of a party with a shared feeling that this was something special and out of the ordinary. The age range was pretty wide -- once we'd settled into our chairs I found myself talking to a delightful woman on my left who appeared to be in her early eighties and had found out about the concert when she'd been to the gallery sometime before to buy a painting for a friend. To Lynn's right were a trio of 20-something women looking chic and sharing a bottle of sauvignon blanc.
I didn't know anything about Jay Clark, who opened, but I've got a couple of his CDs now, and I'll be listening to 'em later today. In between songs he kept up a self-deprecating patter that had the woman next to me laughing out loud (my favorite line: mentioning that he and his wife both had their PhD's, "I can't speak for her, but I am definitely educated beyond my level of intelligence"). His songs, most of them rooted in his experiences of life in the hills of eastern Tennessee, ranged from protests at misguided visions of progress to late-night mourning on the death of a friend to pledges to his wife to continue to try to be a better man. Warm and funny with some serious songs but never taking himself too seriously. I'd've been happy enough if he'd been the headliner, and I'll make sure that I get a chance to see him again.
But he took a break and after fifteen minutes or so, up came Robinella (playing a really pretty cutaway Gibson acoustic) and her band -- drummer and upright bass. No ceremony to it -- looked to me like she just didn't feel like waiting anymore, brought her guys up and started to sing. Keith rushed up quick to introduce her, and she just laughed.
But then, Robinella laughs a lot and made sure the audience did too, carrying on in between songs with improvised riffs about what it might be like in heaven on those days when you just felt like taking the day off ("I think I'll put off praisin' the Lord today and just stay in bed"), that had her bandmates just about dropping to the floor.
Her voice is heavenly, soaring over her guitar and over the band, effortlessly. Her delight in singing is apparent, whether it's her own marvelous songs or the covers that she does, ranging from some Merle Haggard tunes (no doubt that Hag would love the way she sings his songs) to a sweet rendition of "Georgia" to close the concert. She brought Jay up (they're old friends) to do a few songs and their voices together are exceptional. I was particularly impressed with their rendition of Frizell's "You're the Reason God Made Oklahoma" where they not only traded verses, but traded the lead & harmony parts. Beautiful stuff. It was over all too soon.
Still, it was after 10:00 by the time we walked out to our car, bubbling about what a wonderful evening it was, how much we liked the atmosphere, and bringing your own stuff (much cheaper than paying by the drink at a bar!) and getting to talk to some old friends and meet a few new people. And to walk away with some new CDs and some fine new tunes dancing away in the back of my head.
It's good to have a passion. Thanks, Keith.