Atlanta and Birmingham give some bird-food (a can o’worms?) for thought

My research on our two shows between North Carolina and Florida introduced a new term to my musical vocabulary: “listening room.” After our performances at Steve’s Live Music in Sandy Springs, Ga. and Moonlight on the Mountain in Birmingham, Ala., I’ve come to think that the novelty of a listening room speaks to a certain dearth in my relatively short experience as a member of a “music scene.”

For two weeknights in a row, Passerine performed in venues that specialize in attracting patrons who want to listen to live music. Stay with me, now. Our experiences there were entirely distinct from our experiences in bars and restaurants that host live music. The crowds were “small but mighty,” as Carmela likes to put it, and they sat around tables, enjoying food and drink with their eyes and ears up front. Actively engaging with our performance and taking us in. It was almost eerie to me, which is probably a shame — that says I wasn’t accustomed to receiving that quality or intensity of attention within many venues before.

All right, I’m not going to turn this into a diatribe against the Sarasota music scene. I’m one of those weirdos who profoundly enjoy the scene here and have largely positive things to say about the music community. Truth be told, we actually do have a bonafide listening room at the Fogartyville Community Media and Arts Center, which provided the perfect venue for our overwhelmingly successful CD release party in July. I just wish we had more of these venues to go around.

Sandwich-board design by Rob Demperio!

I also wish we had an extra sprinkling of Steve Grossmans and Keith Harrelsons to bolster the current population of leaders, movers and shakers in the Sarasota music community. Steve, the eponymous proprietor of Steve’s Live Music, retired from a career with UPS, and just decided to go right back to work on a dream of his. He renovated a rambling barbecue joint into a state-of-the-art venue for folk, bluegrass, blues and world music. He opened up a modest kitchen, stocked his bar with top-shelf liquor and local beer and hired a young sound man fresh out of music engineering school. Steve’s Live Music has been open for, oh, three months, and already his live music calendar is booked through January. We’re a little worried he’ll have so many big fish to fry in the future that Passerine would never get back on a bill — but Steve says he’ll save a date for us on our next tour. Trust us, Steve, we’ll be calling you first!

Passerine at Moonlight on the Mountain. Rob said it looked like Austin City Limits! [photo by Pat Higgins]

Same goes for Keith, who leads what he calls a “vanguard” of music appreciators in Birmingham. Despite the fact that Old Crow Medicine Show was also in town that Thursday night, Keith drummed up a wonderfully sweet and appreciative group to Moonlight on the Mountain, which is literally smack on the side of a mountain. Nestled in a little strip, it doesn’t look like a big deal on the outside; but once you walk in, it’s like entering a church sanctuary. With the lights turned down and the sound turned up, the room just feels even bigger. Not to mention romantic … lit candles flicker on every table, and people bring their dinners and bottles of wine to the show. Local open mic star John Elrod opened the evening for us with a voice like the lead tenor in the angel band. HIs heart-rending originals reminded us that life can get really damn tough, and sometimes the very best thing to do about it is to share our songs.

So, a big thanks to Steve and Keith for giving Passerine a chance to really share an evening with you and your patrons. It definitely opened my eyes to the possibilities of what a music community can build.     — Sara M.

[… we’re not done yet … the tour blog wraps up with the band’s last stops in the Florida panhandle and a safe return to the nest! …]

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