Grocery on Home-The Best Music Venue You've Never Heard Of
Every once in a while you're lucky enough to stumble on to someting so uplifting that it renews a faith in your community and people in general. A few nights a month Matt Arnett turns his home (an old Atlanta grocery store) into a community music venue. I've been lucky enough to catch a show there and the space is magic. Matt was kind enough to share a little bit about Grocery with me.
What exactly is Grocery on Home?
The Grocery is my house. It is an old community grocery store in Grant Park. My bedrooms and kitchen and the like are upstairs, and the downstairs is my living room.
I received a call a few months ago from a woman who spent several years in her youth living in the upstairs part of the Grocery. She said that her family lived upstairs and her mom used to play guitar, and Jew's harp, and piano, and would often play music upstairs for the family. It was really interesting to learn that music had happened in this space 60 years ago or more.
When I moved in and stood in the downstairs space I just felt like it would be a great place to gather friends and listen to music. The acoustics are so good. It just seemed like a good idea. Of course, I had no idea if any of my friends would come, but they have. And they've told their friends.
Ultimately, the Grocery is just a place for like minded people to come and meet other interesting people and listen to amazing music. Since everyone has to rsvp and I will only allow a certain number of people in for each gathering, it always feels very intimate and relaxed.
What was the inspiration?
I grew up in a house that was a gathering place for people. My parents never turned anyone away. Artists, musicians, scholars, foreign visitors, athletes, and others were always at my parents house. My dad was always hosting large groups of museum visitors from other cities. I grew up learning as much from the people who came to our house as I did in school. It was such an important part of my childhood and early adulthood. By the time I had moved into the Grocery, I'd spent a few years complaining about how hard it was to find a "community" in Atlanta. My girlfriend was tired of me coming home from trips to other cities with stories of how great those cities were and asking why Atlanta wasn't more interesting culturally. She said, "If you can't find what you are looking for here, stop complaining and get more involved locally and create what you are looking for." After licking my wounds for the reprimand, I started inviting various friends over to hear music and encouraging them to bring their friends.
It's funny, because now it seems that there's more happening in Atlanta than at any other time I can remember. So many people, I think, were feeling the same way I was. So many supper clubs, farmers markets, the Goat Farm, GloAtl, WonderRoot (where I'm on the board), and other great arts and cultural things happening now. It used to be that I couldn't find something to do and now I can't find just one thing to do. I posted something on the Grocery FB wall one night telling people about something great that was happening and a friend called and said, "You are having people at the Grocery on Friday, but I just saw that you were telling people to go somewhere else. What's up with that? You are telling people about something to compete with your own event." I don't really see things, and especially the Grocery, that way. I've tried to explain to people that the Grocery wasn't an end, it was a means to get to an end. At some point, so many great things will exist that I won't need to do what I'm doing with the Grocery. That said, Eddie Owen was fired from Eddie's Attic, so not everything is moving in the right direction. I loved Eddie's Attic. Thank God Eddie still has his amazing Red Clay Theatre shows in Duluth, but his loss at Eddie's will be a major setback for music in this town.
Tell me about some of the acts who've performed at GOH.
My friend Jack Regan, after a show one night, turned and said, "The Grocery...It never sucks." That's about the nicest thing anyone could ever say.
I'd like to think that "The Grocery...It's always great," would have been the comment that stuck, but I love Jack's quote.
I have wide musical interests, though not every kind of music I love would work at the Grocery. I'm blessed to have so many friends that make amazing music, and many of them have been receptive to coming to play for a very small audience in an intimate space. The people who come all have one thing in common--they love music and have a respect for the people who make it.
One night I had a friend visiting town and he came by. I was so excited to see him and I was whispering to him in the back. Another friend turned and told me to be quiet. My friend looked at me with disbelief and said, "This is your house. He can't tell you to shut up." I preach so often about being quiet and enjoying the music and I had broken the unspoken rule. I shut up, rightfully so.
It wouldn't be fair, really, for me to single out any of the musicians who have played here because all of them are amazing. I have my favorites, but my favorite show is the most recent one.
I'm always trying to make the experience great for the audience and the musicians. It really is important that every time someone is here, be they a musician or someone listening to music, that when they leave they say, "Damn, that was amazing."
Just the other night I had two musicians that I love play the same night. The Spinning Leaves from Philadelphia and Frank Fairfield from LA. We were trying to decide who would play first and I suggested that they both play first, which makes no sense. I said, "Why don't the Leaves play a set, then Frank play a set. We'll take a short break and do the second set the same way. At first they were both sort of against that. Someone said, "No one does it that way." I said, "That's exactly why, then, that we are going to do it that way." And we did. And I think it really worked and people really appreciated the effort to make it a show, not just people making music.
My friend Ben Sollee, whose music really inspired me to start doing this, has said a few times in interviews when discussing the Grocery, that "Matt curates an experience." I really appreciate his reading of what I'm trying to do.
I really have loved all of the shows, or, as I've said before, I wouldn't have had them. Each artist who I bring to the Grocery is an artist or group of artists I believe in.
All that said, there have been some magical nights. The night Phoebe Hunt started her tour without her violin and Regie Williams from Williams Gengakki loaned her an amazing violin that was worth more than any house in my neighborhood. It sounded so amazing and we were all floored when Regie showed up at the show and told the story of the violin.
Lucy Wainwright Roche played here for the first time in September and was her usual humorous and engaging self. From her performance, she was cast on the upcoming television show "Stuff You Should Know." It is always fun when things like that happen and it seems like at each show some amazing connection is made in some way.
Having the band Aunt Martha here is always special for me, as I am a huge fan of Tim Noyes's voice and songwriting. In March, when Aunt Martha was on their way to SXSW, they stopped in and stayed a few days and played a few shows. The Jacob Jeffries Band was on their way to New York for a gig and they stopped and hung out for a few days and played with Aunt Martha.
It is always really exciting when things like that happen. Ben Sollee and Gregory Alan Isakov on one night was pretty magical. Julia Haltigan and Morgan O'kane (with Ezekiel Healey) was amazing, too.
Then there are the nights when last minute things happen, as it did one night with The Holmes Brothers, Doria Roberts, Callaghan, Rab Noakes (the great Scottish folk singer), and Lonnie Holley. People just took turns singing a song or two to a few folks who were sitting there listening. It wasn't about anything but making and sharing great music.
What's the process of finding/deciding the artists who perform?
It usually starts with the great musicians I know or who are friends with other friends. My dear friend and neighbor, Laurel Snyder (a fabulous writer, check out her books!), connected me with her friends Lucy Wainwright Roche and Pieta Brown. An actress friend told me about Julia Haltigan, who I went to see when I was in New York. She blew me away and I asked her to come (it was her first ever gig in Atlanta). My friend Newt Clark introduced me to Will Straughn from Red June, who introduced me to the Honey Dewdrops and Ellen Cherry. My friend Heather connected me with Aunt Martha. It was through Aunt Martha that I met Delta Rae and Gregory Alan Isakov. My friend and colleague Phillip Jones has turned me on to a lot of music (Phillip Roebuck and Morgan O'kane) and it was through him that I first met Ben Sollee. I met Phoebe Hunt when she was touring with Ben. Chad was friends with Anson Thrift and Noel Johnson (Reverend Johnson and the Modern Sun) and Noel introduced me to Claire Campbell from Hope For Agoldensummer. My old friend Charles Driebe is Ruthie Foster's manager, and he made it possible for her to come (Charles also works with a number of other great artists). Julia Haltigan introduced me to the music of Kristin Diable, who played at the Grocery with Marc Scibilia, who I met through Allison Rizk Hare from Radio Potato (www.radiopotato.com). Jim White, one of my favorites, I met through our mutual friend Scott Peek at Standard Deluxe, who also does amazing shows in the small town of Waverly, Alabama. I, in turn, introduced him to Julia Haltigan and Kristin Diable.
Your question really made me think about how big my community is and all the parts that go into making something like this so much fun. The great singer/songwriter Callaghan, I met through my friend Jolene, who works with Callaghan. She told me about her and we all met for dinner. I got to know Callaghan and her husband/manager Steve and just fell in love with her music. They've become great friends and Callaghan has played a number of times at the Grocery. I've known Jolie Holland for years, through our mutual friend Samantha Parton. Jolie and Samantha played together in the be good tanyas. I rambled on, but only because once I started thinking about the connections I couldn't stop.
The main rule at the Grocery, aside from being polite to each other and trying to be as quiet as possible coming and going to our cars, is that the music must be great. Unfortunately, there is far more great music that I would want to come to the Grocery than I'd ever be able to accommodate. I have to say no to so much great music that it makes me sick, sometimes.
Aside from music, Grocery on Home offers film screenings and lively discussions. Can you expand upon that?
I've had a handful of film screenings and have plans to have some more formal conversations. I'm much more interested in showing films if the filmmaker or principal participant in the film can be here to discuss the film. The films I've shown have been related to visual art, music, or literature.
My friend Kevin McCarthy, who is a filmmaker and professor at Dartmouth, came and screened a documentary in progress about the great Southern writer Elizabeth Spencer (Landscapes of the Heart: The Elizabeth Spencer Story).
Kathleen Hanna came to the Grocery for a screening of "Who Took the Bomp? Le Tigre on Tour." She was really fantastic. Her husband, Adam Horovitz, came and stood in the back and enjoyed the discussion with the rest of us. He has a new documentary that he directed that I'd love to screen here.
Coincidentally, Adam's band mate in the Beastie Boys (Mike Diamond) is married to a great filmmaker named Tamra Davis. Tamra produced and directed the film "Jean Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child," which we screened at the Grocery. Tamra came and had a very spirited discussion about the film, Basquiat, and her friendship with him. She was fantastic.
I have plans to have some artist and writer friends come and read and talk about their projects, but nothing that has been confirmed yet. I've also hosted a handful of fundraisers and am happy to host more. Those causes tend to be local, like WonderRoot, The Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, and the Grant Park Community Garden.
Any advice for someone who'd like to start something like this in their own community?
The best advice I could give would be to just do it. I think we can over think things to the point that they never happen. All it really takes is a friend or two who make music and enough like minded people who want to come listen. Other people have been very helpful to me, and if anyone has any specific questions, I'm happy to answer them. My phone number is listed on my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/arnettmatt). There are a number of other house concert series around Atlanta and Georgia. They aren't that hard to find. Whatever you do, try to enhance the experience of the audience and the musicians from what's currently being offerred in your area and good people will start coming out of the woodwork.
If you'd like to connect with Grocery on Home, you can find them at www.facebook.com/groceryonhome