Two decades ago I discovered the listening room. I wasn’t there, of course. At that time I wasn’t even following music. This was the early ‘90s. I was a young high school English teacher in northern Indiana, hell-bent on compensating for my lack of “jockiness” as a student by ramping up all the “jockiness” I could as a wannabe football coach. In my mind at that time, music was for all the potheads in their throwback bell-bottoms, their straightened hair, and those tee-shirts emblazoning Kurt Cobain’s death certificate. Then one of those kids, Mike, handed me his copy of Nirvana Unplugged. That was my first time “in a listening room.” Later, I would catch some of it on television. Watching Cobain’s pixelated ghost hunch on top of that stool as Dave Grohl worked a pair of brushes over his drum set captivated me. The warbling vocals, trembling on the edge of total breakdown combined with the eerie lyrical overtones of a man figuratively singing his suicide note exposed the raw power of music when you turn off the amplifiers and close the keg spigots. We sit in silence. We’re here for the music. Slam poetry to an acoustic guitar. Love ballads to a banjo.
This Tuesday at 7:00 PM, the listening room returns to Greencastle. In previous incarnations, it had appeared as singer/songwriter showcases held at the Inn at DePauw, but when the Inn underwent renovations organizer Dennis Furr turned to the newly opened Music on the Square facility on the corner of Franklin and Indiana Streets.
“This really began for me as an extension of the Locals Only series,” Furr says referring to his regular broadcast on WGRE which showcases Indiana talent. “We have been developing that program for something like three years or so, and we found ourselves thinking, ‘What can we do next? How can we make it better?’”
The answer to that question begins at Music on the Square (or “M-Squared” as many call it). For the next three months, Furr and his team will host a singer/songwriter billing featuring a Putnam County act paired with singers and bands from around the state. On the slate for March is Greencastle’s War Radio (mostly likely the “Him and Her” stripped down variation of the band) sharing the stage with Indianapolis’ Keller and Cole. April offers DePauw University’s Ron Dye with Indy-based Chad Lehr, and the series ends in May when The Dogmatics team up with Bloomington’s The Lean and the Plenty. While the occasional tribute cover may pop up, by and large, the series focuses on each performer’s original work.
“We want to wrap it up in May so that we can shift the focus to the Park Fest,” Furr explains. “But if this goes well, then we hope to resume it in the fall when school starts again and when the Park Fest concludes.” Besides offering a live experience for patrons, Furr intends to record the live event for replay on WGRE. He will also shoot video and may at some later point convert the concerts into podcast format.
Mostly acoustic, with some light electric play in tune with soft drums, Furr is hoping for a crowd ranging anywhere from 40 people to the facility’s maximum capacity…something approaching 100. But no matter how many come, he’s confident that the experience will be rewarding for both listeners and performers.
“Sometimes I would rather play for 25-30 people who are actually listening than 200 people in bar who are there to drink and chat,” Furr says. “It’s a great experience. The lights go off, the people get quiet, and the music is the center of the environment.”
Admission is free, and patrons interested in attending are encouraged to grab dinner before the doors open at 7:00. While personal soft drinks and water is allowed, food and alcohol will not be permitted. But in exchange for postponing that Tuesday evening beer, you get the thing we often miss when music swirls around the din of a crowded bar like so much ambient sound. In the listening room, we understand why Kurt Cobain’s searing lyrics resonated in the Unplugged setting more than they once did in Nirvana’s high-dollar videos or higher dollar concerts. In the listening room, the music binds us to the writer’s soul, and often takes us back to the small rooms and crowded vans where they were composed. It’s a perfect way to spend a Tuesday night.
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