This time last week, on Saturday, March 19, I was deep in the south of Texas, rediscovering something I didn’t think existed any longer. It’s called a Listening Room, and it’s a place where singer/songwriters get to do what they do best, performing for an audience who come to listen and not talk.
That might not seem like much of a statement, at first glance, but if you stop and think about it, it really is unusual. How many places do you know today, excluding big concert halls and formal theatres, where the people in attendance come to have a beer or a glass of wine and just listen to live performers, enjoying the musicians and their songs without talking, and giving their entire attention and appreciation to the people on stage?
There used to be a time here when audiences really listened to performers, even in bars and cocktail lounges.
I know that’s true because I was one of those performers for many years. Unfortunately, though, that time is now long gone.
Today, nobody seems to listen closely to anything that doesn’t come to them through headsets or earbuds, and live music in bars and elsewhere is so loud that people have to scream at each other, trying to make themselves heard.
Last week, though, in that small town of La Grange, in Lafayette County, Texas, I found a place that gives the lie to all that: a listening room called The Bugle Boy where you’ll find regular, weekly concerts featuring up-and-coming, independent musicians performing their original music in the folk, rock, bluegrass, swing and jazz genres.
The group I heard that night was called Grouchy Like Reilly, a trio of professional sidemen from the music hub of Austin, just 60 miles away, who like to slip away now and again from their regular jobs backing other singers, and play their own music.
They were brilliant, and from the back-and-forth that went on during their break, I was surprised to discover that the entire show was being streamed live to the Internet.
There are people all over the world who tune in regularly on line from places like Australia and Japan — and I’ll be joining them now from Canada — to enjoy the concerts that are streamed, live, from 8 to 10 p.m. central time on concert nights.
I’ve never experienced anything quite like The Bugle Boy. The building itself began its life as a Second World War army barracks, and was “re-purposed” in 2004, before becoming home to The Bugle Boy in 2005.
It’s a performance venue, certainly, seating 80 people in really comfortable, cushioned seats with lots of leg room, and it contains a small, intimate stage with a magnificent sound system. You can buy beer and wine there, and even snacks, but you can’t talk while the performers are on stage.
That, however, is only one level of the many activities surrounding the organization.
The Bugle Boy Foundation is a non-profit organization created to sustain and elevate original live music through the operation of the listening room, and it furnishes annual bursaries and financial assistance to selected artists, enabling them to produce and publicize new studio recordings of their own material, retaining complete ownership and creative control of their music and associated rights.
The Foundation, which bills itself as “Patron Powered — Talent Driven,” also helps defray the costs of a new album release by paying the artists in advance for future Bugle Boy performances. Amazingly, though, it also conducts a comprehensive series of Outreach Programs for the entire community, providing music, and access to musical skills, to schools, Armed Forces veterans, nursing homes and Hospice patients, all with great success, magnificent aplomb and the enthusiastic support and sustenance of its subscribers and its volunteers.
The amazement I mentioned springs from the fact that the population of the town is less than 5,000, a statistic that I found truly astonishing. How can such a huge undertaking take root and flourish so bountifully in such a tiny community, I asked myself, and the answer lies in the personality and the passionate commitment of a charismatic lady called Lane Gosnay, who founded the endeavour in 2005 and has built it into the institution it is now.
I went along because our friends, who live nearby, thought we would enjoy the evening, and knowing their tastes, I had no doubt that I would. But I knew the venue was a small house in a small town about five miles from their ranch and, frankly, I went there with small-town expectations. I was completely unprepared for the standard of excellence I found waiting for us.
We took a glass of wine, found our seats and then lost awareness of everything but the music for more than two hours, swept away by magic.