In a guest column, the Grand Rapids musician suggests the no-frills, no-texting, no-talking vibe of a listening room can be a moving experience for fans and performers alike.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This guest column is one of a series of essays giving a voice to West Michigan musicians on topics dear to their hearts — assessing the highs and lows of the music scene, in their own words. Here, Josh Rose takes a look at growing efforts to provide a quieter, more pristine concert experience for local artists.
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Back in 1990 in the tiny Starlight Theater in Sault Ste. Marie, my friends booed and talked through the entire duration of “Dances With Wolves.”
Yes, I admit, I may have joined the party a little bit and may have told a few loud jokes about Kevin Costner’s butt or something.
I was young, my friends. I was literally running with a pack of 17-year-old wolves. Forgive me. I hope I didn’t ruin the movie for anyone or make any flannel-shirt-wearing movie fan waste $3.
Now, of course, I remember the movie with fondness, especially Lt. Dunbar’s assignment to the frontier outpost of Fort Sedgewick. Dunbar, played by Costner, finds himself alone, vulnerable, and unprepared in Colorado, left to rebuild a destitute fort and fulfill his assignment for the U.S. Army on the plains of the Old West.
I’ll spare you the synopsis: the movie simply hit home with me.
Fort Sedgewick was the ultimate setting for the inevitable clashes: ancient versus new, nature versus progress, and culture versus culture. Costner’s character navigates these conflicts amid magnificent backgrounds, forges a new identity, finds love, and manufactures his own Nirvana (albeit briefly) only after he steps outside his civilized comfort zone.
So what is the comfort-zone stretching Fort Sedgewick of the music world? Listening rooms.
These musical venues are off-the-radar outposts that offer people a musical Xanadu. People want to be wholly invested in a musical experience. People want music performed organically and without frills. If conditions are exactly right, people want to shut their cell phones off, let the world be for a while, and immerse themselves in a meaningful musical space.
MINIMAL DISTRACTIONS, AUDIENCE INTERACTION AND A COMPELLING EXPERIENCE
People want to be moved.
This is what happens in a listening room. The distractions are minimal. The audience is expected to listen without conversation. Artists sit down and trade songs, often accompanying each other in spur-of-the-moment bursts. The artists swap songs, tell stories, and interact with the audience to keep the content varied and upbeat.
It’s not just music for “right now,” with energy and four on the floor and a dance beat. It’s like the old-time candy: It’s music for now … and later.
West Michigan has limited listening room space for local and regional artists, so Richard App Gallery has stepped up to offer its location for listening room shows to showcase Michigan talent.
Patrons can come early, take in some great art, converse with friends and then enjoy two hours of music – sans touch screens. In that two hours, you’ll probably find yourself laughing, nodding your head, and feeling.
It may take a little more concentration than that One Direction show you’ve been saving for, but I promise: You’re probably going to like it.
Singer-songwriters Josh Rose of Grand Rapids, Michelle Held of Detroit and Mike Vial of Ann Arbor will perform songs in the round at Richard App Gallery, 910 Cherry St. SE, at 8 p.m. Thursday (Oct. 15); admission is $10. There’s limited seating and reservations are encouraged. Call 616-458-4226 for details.
ABOUT JOSH ROSE: Ada-based singer-songwriter Josh Rose has released three albums, including his latest, “Old Laminate.” He’s also a high school chemistry teacher in Lake Odessa who last contributed to The Musicians’ Soundboard in February, when he wrote about the annual Jammie Awards show. Get more information at josh-rose.com.
Copyright 2015, Spins on Music LLC