By: Zachary Corsa
The mythology and folklore of music in the Bluff City lingers through generations, conjuring visions of mournful acoustic blues plucked on the porches of sharecroppers’ shacks, the neon bustle of Beale in its prime, and the smooth soul grooves of Stax Records. But beneath such raging cultural tempests, more mysterious currents have always flowed through Memphis. It’s there in the feedback-soaked strangeness of Big Star’s ‘Third/Sister Lovers’, and in the subtle lo-fi experimentation of Goner Records’ more outré acts. Beyond blues, beyond early rock and roll, the city’s proven itself fertile ground for the more experimental end of music-making, and the arrival of Crosstown Concourse has provided a most welcome space for avant sonic rebels to call home – The Green Room, a small but already-treasured venue run by the good folks at Crosstown Arts.
As Music Department Manager, Jenny Davis is responsible for booking both the Green Room and the larger Crosstown Theater and is herself a flautist for local chamber music collective The Blueshift Ensemble. When it comes to describing the Green Room, she uses terms like “cozy”, “warm”, and “intimate’. “It’s full of good vibes for audiences and musicians alike. One thing that was important from the beginning was that the bar was right next to the space, where it could function as a listening room, but also separate. The Green Room is quiet, and you can really listen. That’s not always the case. It’s a different vibe than shows in bars.”
The Green Room is intended as a friendly platform open to booking as many diverse genres of music as possible, to encourage intersections between artists that might not have been aware of each others’ work. “That’s the ultimate goal,” Davis says, “to mix it up, to serve all audiences as well as all musicians, so that you never know what you might find at The Green Room. Our goal is that whatever you walk into, it’s going to be something really cool and a unique experience.”
The Green Room provides a PA and a full backline to its artists, aiming to make the occasion of performing there as enjoyable and stress-free as possible. A sound engineer is also provided to musicians, adding further ease to the room’s laid-back but carefully curated atmosphere, somewhere between arts school lounge and hipster DIY house show. “Bringing people together is always a good thing for a community,” says Davis, “as is discovering new things, being open to trying and hearing new things, for people to be curious. We have a room where, if you’re curious, we’ll have something for you to perhaps experience for the first time.”
But Davis does see The Green Room as part of a wider Memphis musical tradition, a necessary element in the context of the city’s cultural wellspring. “Memphis has such a rich musical history. Having things that people are familiar with, alongside those they might not be familiar with, makes people feel more comfortable and open to trying new things. Musicians tend to live in our own little world; we know everything about our specific scene and genre, but there’s all this other stuff too. It’s really great to attend a
concert that might be something you’d ordinarily not seek out. Through this job, I’ve met so many more musicians who’ve been in Memphis their whole lives, and that’s amazing. It keeps things exciting.”
In its brief lifespan, The Green Room has gained a reputation for its aura of surprise and discovery, a compelling alternative for those looking beyond cover bands and sports bars. “The environment is different than a lot of places around town,” Davis admits. “It’s in-between a bar venue and a performing arts center, really somewhere in the middle. It can go either direction. It can be more formal or more casual. That’s something unique about the Green Room. It suits such a wide variety of performances.”
Davis is quick to note how the Concourse itself plays a crucial role in all of this, through fostering a thriving community investment in trailblazing and pushing envelopes. “With the Concourse, hopefully there’s something here for everybody, an open public place where you can come, take photos, do work. The building is massive, and there’s so much going on here. It can be overwhelmingly confusing. But The Green Room is a little gem tucked back in the corner.”
Beyond The Green Room, the nearby Crosstown Theater offers a more expansive experience with its own diverse array of programming. The Theater is a lovingly-appointed black box style space with a capacity of four hundred, transformable to a standing space of seven hundred as needed. On September 27th, the Theater will play host to an innovative collaboration between The Blueshift Ensemble and acclaimed composer/curator Evan Williams, who recently relocated to Memphis to teach music composition and theory at Rhodes College. Performances will include pieces by Williams himself, as well as selections by Jennifer Jolley, Caroline Shaw, and Michael Fiday. Meanwhile, in The Green Room, treat your ears to duet works for theremin and lap steel on the evening of September 17th, with a special appearance by Memphis experimental guitar wunderkind Malcolm Wright and his project, Dinosauria.
And don’t expect COVID-19 to keep Davis and her crew from swinging open such doors for the city’s more adventurous music lovers. “It’s kind of one day at a time,” Davis says when asked about the impact of the pandemic on such a mission. “We’re requiring masks in all the spaces, and even when the mandate ends, we’ll either continue to require masks or strongly encourage them. If any artist requests that we require proof of vaccination to attend shows, we’re happy to do that.”
If you wish to keep up with all the exciting work Davis and her compatriots are up to over at the Concourse, its’ easy to do so. “We encourage people to follow us on social media”, Davis says, “so if you want to be sure you’re not missing events, follow us. I promise that everything going on in the Green Room is super great and worth checking out.”
A little gem tucked back in the corner, much like Memphis herself.