The Listening Room Festival (LRF) is one of the great perks to living in Tampa. This festival honors house concerts and listening rooms, which are venues and establishments that foster a special atmosphere for listening to musical artists. LRF 2014 is the third year this festival has been hosted the the Tampa Bay area (one of the sponsors is ConcertsInYourHome.com), and each of these three years musicians from across the nation (and Canada) have applied to be a part of it. Volunteers (such as myself) helped to whittle the initial entrants down to a reasonable number, and then we voted to get the entrants down to six showcase musicians.
Last night I attended the kickoff event to LRF 2014. This event was held at one of the gems of St. Petersburg, The Hideaway Café. Upon first walking in, you might think that this is a normal bar. You pay your cover or get your name crossed off of the will call list, and proceed to buy your drink from one of the bartenders. Tables and seats are sprinkled throughout the establishment and are focused on the stage. There are even a few couches available for seating which makes the atmosphere a bit homey.
You know you are someplace special when the music starts. Though it’s not quite the same intimate experience as a house concert, you definitely get the flavor. Most people shut the hell up to listen to the music. Cell phones are off, unless people are snapping the quick photo or taking video. Everyone is focused on enjoying the experience of the music the artist presents. It is such a pleasure to experience a show in an atmosphere like this.
Three LRF showcase artists played in this lovely venue for the LRF kickoff event: Kira Small, Mieka Pauley, and Carli & Julie Kennedy. I had been introduced to each artist’s music during the LRF judging process approximately six months before, but experiencing musicians and their music live is always such a different experience. This case was no exception, and I’m really glad I attended this event.
Kira Small is who specifically brought me to the show, and she kicked things off. I remember being really excited about her during judging, and when I saw that she was going to be featured at the kickoff event I definitely wanted to be there. I think the main reason I liked her so much is the song she submitted a song that fits “living daringly” to a T. It’s titled “I Will Raise My Voice.” I was glad she sang it during her set, and she explained that she wrote the song because it was something she needed to hear. She said that even though she is a musician who is often in front of a crowd, that sometimes she still has a hard time speaking up when she should. Her song describes how she has to sing her song, though small, so that others can sing along. I love it. All of the other songs she sang were fantastic too. She exhibits such great energy and an awesome vocal range. You should definitely check her out.
I remember thinking that Mieka Pauley’s music was really powerful and different during the LRF judging. She played after Kira, and the contrast in their styles was stunning. Mieka started her set with a slow, murderous, a cappella song about retribution. The tone of her music stayed a bit darker, but her sense of humor showed through in between songs. After “Whiskey is the Devil, Daugher,” she wanted to make sure that we weren’t mistranslating “Whiskey is the devil, daughter, but you sinned. You sinned.” to “Whiskey is the devil, daughter, but use it. Use it.” A good distinction to make… (666)
She played a cover of a friend’s song (I forget his name now), that got a lot of laughs: “Things will be better when I get my shit together…” (Though things are pretty good now, I agree.) She ended with a song called “Blunt,” which isn’t about what you are thinking it’s about. 😉 It’s about how she’d like to use her guitar as a blunt object to silence people who want her to give her CDs away for free. Or who only think she belongs on stage because she wears a 36C. Or who ask her what her “real job” is. Though the lyrics are funny, I think it’s tragic that traveling musicians have to face that sort of feedback. Seeing Mieka live confirmed that her music is powerful and different, and I have a hard time understanding how people wouldn’t appreciate her art.
Carli & Julie Kennedy ended the night with something completely different. I’d love to say that I loved these ladies during the LRF judging, but I remember being sort of ‘meh’ about them then (sorry, ladies). Seeing them live changed that completely! They are twins from British Columbia, Canada, who are classically trained in the guitar and violin, respectively. I was at the LRF kickoff with a friend, and I think she was expecting something soothing to end the night. The Kennedys had something different in mind and fired up some fantastic blue grass instead. Bluegrass sprinkled with classical flavor. For the last song in their set, they showed us how they deal with their sibling rivalry: “Dueling Strings.”
In attending house concerts, I’ve been amazed by the variety of music that I’ve heard. I’ve also been amazed by the quality of music. Each of the artists that played last night does house shows, and to see all of them in one place in one night really gives an idea of both the diversity and quality of music out there. The stereotypical idea of success in the music industry is playing stadiums, or at least large concert halls. But many of the artists I’ve seen at The Hideaway Café, or even in people’s living rooms, are equally good compared to shows I’ve seen in big halls. Some better… Perhaps it’s time we rethink the idea of success, both within and outside of the music industry…
I feel fortunate to live in a place with such a strong house concert/listening room community. I’m very grateful that the LRF has been bringing fantastic artists from around the country (world?) to the Tampa Bay area. The LRF is going on all week, with a finale at The Palladium in St. Pete, another beautiful listening room, on Sunday, April 6. All six showcase artists will be playing, and you don’t want to miss them!
You can even get your own off-black (I believe the color is often referred to as grey) LRF T-shirt to show your support.
Support independent music. Huzzah!