News Column

Downtown music venue opens Nov. 1

October 11, 2013


Oct. 11--The downside of a great night of live music springs from its transient nature, Cleburne business owner Tom Burkett said.

"You saw a great concert last night and tell your friends about it and maybe they're thinking that would be cool to go see, but by then it's too late, the band has played their show and moved on to the next city," Burkett said.

Taking note of the success of Plaza Theatre Co. and the Greater Cleburne Carnegie Players' multiweek runs of their theater productions, Burkett decided to borrow the concept for his soon-to-open Songbird Live.

"A lot of Plaza's success is word of mouth," Burkett said. "People see the plays on opening weekend, tell their friends, and then it's still around for them to go see."

To that end, Burkett plans to schedule musicians for a residency of several weeks playing on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays giving residents and tourists the chance to see a given musician or band and affording word of mouth a chance to spread.

"The idea, for the audience, is to have consistent artists offering consistent entertainment on consistent days," Burkett said. "For the musicians I think it's going to be an opportunity to have something different than the way they've usually had it. I think the musicians will welcome the residency because playing music is fun, but being on the road is a drag. I think it's going to be nice for them to be in one place for a while."

Long time coming

A long-time musician himself, having played since his days at Paschal High School, Burkett said he's dreamed of opening a concert venue for 30 years. Burkett came to Cleburne and bought Action Signs about eight years ago, agreeing to buy the shop on a handshake deal.

"My wife loved that," Burkett said with a laugh.

He organized a concert series a short time later.

"The old neighborhood concert series built up to about 100 people attending each one," Burkett said. "I still see a lot of those people in the audience at Plaza shows."

Burkett, wanting to set up something a bit more permanent, recently bought a building at 310 E. Henderson St., opposite Action Signs, and went to work preparing Songbird Live for its November opening. The Songbird will seat 100. Most shows will begin at 7:30 p.m. and cost $15.

"This is something Cleburne doesn't have a lot of, a variety of live music," Burkett said. "And I think our concept makes us the only place like this in the area. Plus, I'm in an interesting position because I can make all the signs we need for shows."

It's about entertainment through quality music, Burkett said.

"A lot of places like this it's drinks and dinner with the music as background," Burkett said. "This is specifically not that. This is where you go to hear good music. We'll have some concession stand stuff, but it also helps downtown overall because there are several restaurants right around here where people can go before the show."

Don't expect many, or any, country music shows at Songbird Live.

"There's lots of great country music out there, three chords and all that," Burkett said. "This is the alternative to that. What you're going to see here, these are all professional musicians."

On offer will be a mix from light classical to jazz to folk, bluegrass, dixieland and gospel, a little bit of everything, Burkett said, though he insists there will be no headbanging or rap music.

"Kind of the stuff you hear on KERA," Burkett said.

Burkett said his acquaintances and contacts from his days as a professional musician should prove helpful in booking acts.

First up, beginning Nov. 1, is Philippe Bertaud, a French classical guitarist, who plays everything from Brazilian to flamenco to regular classical guitar.

"He's been written up in guitar magazines, played the Montreux Jazz Festival," Burkett said. "Just a wonderful player and, of course, the women love the accent."

Burkett said he believes Cleburne residents and tourists will be excited by the variety of music on display at Songbird Live.

Others scheduled include pianist Hando Nakhur, a former contestant in the Van Cliburn competition, who will perform a Christmas show and jazz singer Melani Skybell.

"She's a great singer, wonderful entertainer and beautiful, the whole package," Burkett said.

The hope, Burkett said, is for the musicians to settle into a groove and interact with the audience not only playing music but sharing stories about their life and song craft while having a bit of fun. The stage will be placed in the middle of the venue ensuring a great seat for all and increased audience interaction for the performers.

Songbird Live also adds another entertainment option to downtown Cleburne, something sorely needed.

"People have been saying for years they'd like to see more people and tourism in downtown," Burkett said. "But you've got to have a what to get them down there. If you don't have a what, it ain't gonna happen. But if you have the what they'll come. Plaza proves that. Their demographics are 20 percent Cleburne people, 40 percent the rest of the county and 40 percent from outside Johnson County. We're shooting for those same numbers."


(c)2013 the Cleburne Times-Review (Cleburne, Texas)

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