The cozy restaurant and concert venue has hosted a who’s who roster of regional stars over the years and aims to continue that mission with its Sunday night shows. Get the back story, browse the photos.
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It’s only apropos that The Schrock Brothers would be playing a pre-Christmas show at Salt of the Earth on Sunday night as the Fennville restaurant and concert venue closes out a year celebrating its 10th anniversary.
After all, the band – featuring co-owner and veteran musician Mark Schrock, his sons, Andrew and Jasen Schrock, and an all-star cast of Michigan musicians – was the first group to grace the stage when the cozy and unique restaurant opened in August 2009.
Since then, the 60-capacity venue has hosted a who’s who roster of regional stars: May Erlewine, The Crane Wives, Drew Nelson, Molly, Luke Winslow-King, Joshua Davis, Seth Bernard, The Appleseed Collective, Red Tail Ring, The Go Rounds, Billy Strings, Way Down Wanderers and many more.
“The list goes on and on, all started playing at Salt of the Earth in our early days and continue to enjoy success here,” Schrock said. “We hosted Philly’s Hoots & Hellmouth here a number of times and they just killed it, once doing their album ‘Salt’ in its entirety.
“We’ve been treated to some pretty amazing performances over the years. The cool thing about being around for a while is that one gets to experience the artistic growth of our performer partners.”
That decade of amazing shows has taken place in a rare, up-close-and-personal environment.
“I describe our vibe as that of a listening party,” Schrock suggested. “Our guests are attentive and engaged, but they are also dining, having a cocktail and visiting quietly with friends and family. We don’t necessarily expect rapt silence while the show is going on, but it usually happens.”
‘AN AMAZING ATMOSPHERE FOR SHARING SONGS’
Grand Rapids multi-instrumentalist and singer Max Lockwood – who’s played Salt of the Earth more than a dozen times over the years with different musicians – calls it one of his favorite venues.
“Mark Schrock and the entire staff make you feel right at home and you get to eat some of the best food in the state before getting on stage to play for an always-attentive and generous audience of true music appreciators,” he said.
“It’s an amazing atmosphere for sharing songs.”
Providing that special atmosphere for live performances was part of the mission from the very beginning of Salt of the Earth, which opened in 2009 after a previous restaurant tenant closed its doors to the building owned by Schrock and his business partner Steve Darpel. Restaurateurs Rob Nicol and Casey Longton joined them as co-owners of the restaurant at 114 E. Main St.
“Our mission is to work with local growers to provide a high-quality, scratch cooked dining experience, a craft-focused bar program, with an emphasis providing genuine hospitality,” Schrock said.
As for the ticketed Sunday evening concerts – which became a tradition that Salt of the Earth honed over the years – Schrock said the goal is “to create a relaxed, intimate, one of a kind musical experience … featuring the absolute best Americana/roots/traditional/original performers in the region.”
IN IT FOR THE LONG HAUL: A FEW ‘ODD MOMENTS’ BUT MOSTLY GREAT PERFORMANCES
“We work pretty hard … It took me awhile to get the right roster of talent for this approach. The fact that our capacity is only 60 makes it pretty special for our guests. We don’t talk about this much, but all gate sales go directly to the performers and sound crew. I imagine that’s pretty unique to the business.”
He added: “There have been a few odd moments and booking miscues on my part. I’m too nice to mention names, but needless to say I won’t be booking comedy again. Way too ‘blue’ for our guests.”
Schrock – who himself plays bass in a number of bands, including Schrock Brothers, Jive at Five, Madcat Midnight Blues Journey and others – insisted the restaurant’s owners are “in it for the long haul.”
“The current season has been so amazing. Great crowds, great performances, some fun double bills,” he said.
“It’s just a great sounding room and is so intimate. When friends, family, and in my case, neighbors, colleagues and regular customers show up and pack the place, it’s pretty special.”
Sunday’s concert by The Schrock Brothers – considered the Salt of the Earth “house band” – starts at 6 p.m. Tickets are $20; reservations can be made by calling 269-561-7258. Rachael and Dominic Davis return to Salt of the Earth on Dec. 19. More details and events online here.
PHOTO GALLERY: Salt of the Earth
Delilah DeWylde, Olivia Mainville and Black Elliott
Photos by Pennie Spence