Listening Rooms: Jamestown’s Newest Music Scene

Photo Courtesy of J Probst

Article Contributed by
Mallery Rockwell

No clinking of glasses, no chatter about the cute guy at the bar. Just music. Over recent years, ‘listening rooms’ have transformed the music scene. In Jamestown, music venues and programs such as Trinity Guitars’ Back Room Radio Hour, Rolling Hills Radio, The Labyrinth Press Company and Infinity Visual and Performing Arts have offered intimate spaces that pay full tribute to the talented musicians and the music itself.

Photos Courtesy of Rolling Hills Radio

Listening to Back Room Radio
Jim Holler owns Trinity Guitars and Bill Ward hosts the Room Radio Hour in the back of their shop on 800 West Third Street, where bands can perform close to the audience. Guitars line the walls of the adjacent room. Photos of past performances decorate the room behind it.

“The whole ‘listening room’ thing is my way of looking at it because it sort of implies that that’s what the room is for, as opposed to a multi-purpose area where you’re going to eat, drink, play pool, talk and be on your phone,” Ward said. “None of that happens here–folks are concentrating on the music.” Their shows feature regional acts, and occasionally national acts, which are usually friends of theirs. A variety of music from funk and soul band Smackdab to country folk rock music with Company Townes come to perform.

Their show originally aired on KISS-FM before switching to WRFA four years ago, making it possible to feature local, regional and national service organizations every month. “It’s a double community service that helps local musicians and service organizations across the U.S. and around the world,” Holler said. The guest for September is Chanda Lynn from Rally to Recover Jamestown, addressing addiction and hope for former and current addicts.

“I’ve played music for a while and don’t remember this many opportunities for audiences to just sit and listen to regional artists,” Ward said. Back Room Radio Hour shows are free, recorded select Thursday nights and broadcast the following Monday. They ask people to call in advance to ensure enough room for everyone.

“Right now it’s hard to get rid of the distractions when you’re experiencing live anything,” Ward said. “Here is sort of an oasis from that. I think every other place that I’ve been to, Rolling Hills and the Infinity jazz series, it’s the same way. There are no distractions. We ask folks not to have their phones out.” The Back Room Radio Hour offers poetry and hip-hop, folk and Americana music, blue grass, hard rock and rock and roll.

“With the music, there are folks doing happy, joyful stuff and there are pin-drop moments when the poetry folks were in here bearing their souls about everything from addiction to abuse,” Ward said. “People are paying attention and focused on what these folks are doing. It’s a more personal situation here.”

Studio hours for Trinity Guitars are Monday and Friday from 12 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Wednesday by appointment, Tuesday and Thursday from 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Call (716) 665-4490 or visit http://trinityguitars.com for more information about Trinity Guitars’ Back Room Radio Hour.

Rolling Hills Radio
Rolling Hills Radio is hosted by Ken Hardley and began at the Labyrinth Press Company eight years ago. The successful show started out as a fun idea between Hardley and a friend, who got permission from WRFA to record the shows. “The first few shows had local musicians, and by the third or fourth show the room started filling up and it just took off in a way that I didn’t foresee,” Hardley said.

Rolling Hills began at Labyrinth, an intimate space for music, a nearly perfect “listening room.” But the increasing number of fans eventually forced a move to the Reg Lenna Center for the Arts and then to the Robert H. Jackson Center. Now, Rolling Hills Radio is set to play their shows at Shawbucks, larger but comfortable space for easy listening. Rolling Hills Radio features a variety of national musical acts recorded live each month, broadcast on WRFA every Friday at 6 p.m. The shows present Americana music including classical, jazz, folk, rock, reggae and more.

“This is the atmosphere and space we’re settling into,” Hardley said. “We’re also moving into television. We’re going to be a television show about a radio show.” The next show will be October 30 at Shawbucks and tickets will be on sale soon. The Rolling Hills Radio Facebook page will have more details shortly.

Playing guitar since the age of 13 and later playing as a bar musician, Hardley was used to hoping people would listen over their gin and tonics and conversations.

“So I think people were ready for listening rooms, for a dedicated room and a dedicated situation where there was nothing going on except what was going on onstage,” Hardley said. Music became the main attraction.
“In 2010, there was a national zeitgeist of Americana, grass roots music. The bar scene began to fade away,” Hardley said. “Sneaking into its place was this concept of paying attention to the singer-songwriter, for the Americana scene.”

“Rolling Hills provided a medium for that to happen under the rubric of a radio show. People are making it their monthly night out now,” Hardley said. “It puts the artist in a wholly different place. It really inspires creativity, unlike playing in bars. The first time I saw Jonathan Edwards on stage, he sang a song about his parents adopting him. I looked out at the audience and they were openly weeping. Where do you get that? It probably wouldn’t have happened at a bar.”

Singer-songwriter Matt Nakoa recently played a song that touched hearts of the audience at the Chautauqua Institution. “Something happened that rarely happens in music: the song was over and it was complete absolute silence, you could have heard a pin drop, and then there was a roar of applause,” Hardley said. “That brief two seconds is like the white whale for an artist. That’s what you go for, where you have so completely captured the audience that they’re just not ready for the song to be over, they’re not ready to move back into real life for a bit. That’s what can happen in a setting like this.”

Rolling Hills Radio starts Monday, October 30. The regular season will now be Mondays. The show begins at 6:30 but doors open at 5:30 for ‘Happy Rolling Hour’ where people can hang out, network and support the show. Call (716) 640-8746 or visit http://kenhardley.com/rollinghills/ for more information about Rolling Hills Radio and upcoming shows.

The Labyrinth Press Company
The Labyrinth once jammed 53 musical acts into 30 days back in 2009. Now, the eclectic and cozy hangout on 12 East Fourth Street hosts three to four carefully selected shows a month. In one room visitors can order coffee and food, while the adjacent room includes a stage for guests to enjoy live music. Frank Besse, Jeff James and Alex James are co-owners of the cozy establishment. Besse has been co-owner of the Labyrinth for two and a half years, but has been involved throughout the past 10 years as an organizer and employee.

“Jeff and I really connected when we agreed that there wasn’t a place where you could go and listen to original, good live music at any sort of frequency,” Besse said. “A few bars in town were really the only places doing live music at all.”

“There is no one in Jamestown that is like ‘I get rich off of live music,’” Besse said. “You’re doing it because you love it. There’s that sense of support and wanting things to succeed with everyone doing stuff with music in the community.”

“We encourage all ages to be here. This is what it’s for.” The Labyrinth prides itself in that almost all performances are offered at no charge to children and adults. The Labyrinth has an event called Bach & Beer every month. The unique event features traditional and contemporary music by local musicians.

Bands travel to the Labyrinth from all over the U.S., and out of the country from places like New Zealand, Belgium and Canada. “We’ve had bands that have performed on national television and sold half a million records, both before or after their appearances in Jamestown,” Besse said. The Accident That Led Me To The World is an all-acoustic folk band from Massachusetts, and they’ve been playing at the Labyrinth for the past 10 years.

Many bands travel through Jamestown on the way to performances in NYC. Besse reaches out to offer some of them a welcome and an opportunity to play at the Labyrinth. The news about the Labyrinth’s music scene has now spread far by word of mouth and online.

“With music and arts in Jamestown, a ton of great things can happen…because you have all these great venues and all these people who care about it,” Besse said.

The Labyrinth is open Monday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday–Thursday from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Saturday from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Visit http://www.labpressco.com for more information or visit the Labyrinth Press Company’s Facebook page for more information on the upcoming shows.

Something Different
Music often has words, but Labyrinth and Infinity have added a twist to that obvious truth: a poetry night. It’s a listening room where the “music” is poetry.

The Labyrinth features Pulse Poetry Slam every third Tuesday of the month, where poets express their creative work to the audience. Pulse Poetry was created by Autumn Echo in 2014, and is now hosted every first Thursday of every month at Infinity Visual and Performing Arts, every third Monday at Phoenix Rising Wellness Studio, and occasionally at other local venues.

Infinity Visual and Performing Arts
Infinity Visual and Performing Arts started out with a singing group of seven students in 1998 and has become a home for budding musicians, now topping 1,200 every year. More than 50 performances take to the stage at Infinity every year, and several performances are shown throughout the community.

Infinity provides a 4,000 square foot performance area with a large stage and seating for 200 people where the focus is entirely on the musicians. “It’s where our students learn the craft of stage performance,” Infinity Executive Director Shane Hawkins said. “People are very supportive of the young musicians; they clap and give them positive feedback and that makes students want to get on stage again,” Hawkins added. “Creativity is so broad and there are so many right ways to do it.”

Infinity hosts a monthly jazz night, run by local jazz musician John Cross. “It’s a fantastic musician and artist-rich community that really appreciates and supports the music and arts.” Hawkins said.

When guests come to hear music at Infinity, they may well be listening to young musicians who will soon become tomorrow’s professionals and stars of stage and club, travelling the world, according to Hawkins. “It’s amazing to see… and hear.”

Infinity Visual and Performing Arts is open Monday and Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Tuesday and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (7 p.m.–9 p.m. Infinity Arts Café), and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Infinity Arts Cafe Live Events are held the 1st and 3rd Friday of each month from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Call (716) 664-0991 or visit http://infinityperformingarts.org for more information.

What’s Old is New Again
Listening rooms are the newest fashion and coolest vogue crossing the American music scene today. Yet the pleasure of enjoying good artistry, listening un-bothered by busy surroundings or just “absorbing the great vibes” has been around as long as music itself. Jamestown has become a magnet for good listening and fine entertainment in the best of the oldest and newest traditions. Enjoy!