The Little Room Where Magic Happens
By Jenna Lazenby
If you happen upon The Spot on Kirk on any random afternoon, you won’t see much more than a long, narrow room with four walls, some brick, and a small, rectangular black stage. To grasp the beauty of this quaint space, you’ll need to be there when the magic happens.
Six to eight nights a month, The Spot on Kirk comes alive with special acts that visit Roanoke. The formula is simple: An intimate room with great sound where artists put their crafts on full display to an audience of no more than 130 people. Not all great music is suited for bars, and in this venue the fans follow along to every note played and sung.
The music is the catalyst for the magic. An acoustic act like Jim Lauderdale, who played the venue last month, is a fitting example. Lauderdale shared stories and songs from his long repertoire of music that includes 26 studio albums, plus collaborations and recordings with the likes of Patty Loveless, Ralph Stanley, Lee Ann Womack, Buddy Miller and more. In between each song, he kept the audience engaged with quick wit and spirited conversation. At one point in his set, Lauderdale asked for fellow musicians in the room to raise their hands. A few popped up and Lauderdale called one of them, a lucky “Scott from Radford,” to the stage where they performed “The Day the Devil Changed,” a song off Lauderdale’s most recent album, “I’m a Song.” By the end of the three-hour show, the audience was still hanging on every note, and there was little doubt that Lauderdale was only slightly joking when he opened the show with the declaration, “We’re going to have more fun than the law will allow.”
Bruce Bryan, president of the board of directors for The Spot on Kirk, shared in a recent interview, “Without being there, it’s hard to understand the magic that happens in this room and environment. “It’s mind blowing how appreciative the audience and the musicians are. We ask each act that comes in what we should do differently and they say don’t change a thing, we love it. I think it’s because it’s refreshing for them to sit in a listening room and play for an audience that really appreciates what they do.”
Many in the area remember the space as the former Kirk Avenue Music Hall, which closed its doors nearly two years ago after hosting some 500+ shows. Bryan, who owns B2C advertising agency, located a few doors down on Kirk Avenue, was concerned that the space would eventually be turned into offices. So, he put his entrepreneurial skills to work and led the effort to revitalize the music venue.
For Bryan, reviving The Spot wasn’t a money-making endeavor, and he decided that it would operate best as a non-profit. “It was a good community momentum exercise. I didn’t need to own it. I only wanted to be the conduit to create it. It flows out of what I’ve learned in business: The best work happens when I have an idea, and then I let the really talented people do what they do to make it happen.”
In addition to key underwriters, Delta Dental and Friendship Living, Bryan says it takes a community to raise a non-profit, and credits a group of music lovers for making The Spot on Kirk a reality. That group consists of four board members, a bevy of volunteers, the talents of Travis Lyster to make the music sound amazing, and Live Music Ambassador Jamie Miller to run the show.
“You know, I’ve always known music had power, but it becomes almost tangible in our little venue,” said Miller. “The most fascinating part about running The Spot on Kirk is the support I constantly feel from the artists, the people I work with, and the community as a whole. I’ve had artists tell me how much they love playing at The Spot. I’ve watched Jim Lauderdale stand on stage after the room has cleared and strum the beginnings of a brand new song. I’ve seen gray-haired couples in our audience lean their heads on each other while Erick Baker played. When SHEL ended an emotional song called “Stronger Than My Fears”, the room was completely silent and I heard several people whisper “wow” before everyone erupted in applause. So yes, we’re a music venue, but no, the experiences are not normal.”
The majority of the acts are booked by two of the board members, Bruce Houghton, owner of Skyline Entertainment and Jason Martin, owner of Martin’s Downtown, who consistently bring in a diverse set of top quality acts. While most are singer-songwriters, the genres are an eclectic mix that ranges from bluegrass to country, rock, blues, jazz and some R&B. Since The Spot opened a little over four months ago, it has hosted American cellist Ben Sollee, Nashville tunesmith Sam Lewis, and Colorado rockers Shel, a folk / pop group that features four sisters on an assortment of instruments. Periodically, The Spot will also feature one of Roanoke’s local talents.
One of those talents, Corey Hunley, played at The Spot on Kirk for its soft opening back in March, alongside local musician Adam Rutlege. “The Spot has created a unique environment for artists to perform,” Hunley shared. “Artists love ‘this spot’ because the room is very welcoming and the listeners are attentive. Most of us work hard to reach the ears of the audience and have them respond to our original tunes. When you play there, you remove yourself from being background music to foreground and center stage.”
The biggest message that Bryan wants to drive home is the consistency of the acts. “You may not have heard of the artist playing, but you can be confident it will be an incredible show.”
If you’re a lover of good music and live performance, you’ll want to check out The Spot. Come witness for yourself the magic that happens in that little room.
Check out Jim Lauderdale performing with “Scott from Redford” last month at The Spot on Kirk: