In Jeff's shadow: Watkins, music thrive at the Southern

Sara Watkins performs to a sold-out crowd Thursday, November 19.
The day after, remnants of The Southern's sold-out show.
1 of 2

It's a tough time to open an independent music venue. Within a one-block radius stand two charitably-endowed non-profit halls (The Paramount and the Live Arts building) not to mention the soon-to-open project from music mogul Coran Capshaw, the Jefferson Theater. If nothing else, the Southern is a bold move in an unforgiving environment, one that even buried a similar business in the exact same space just a few months prior.

But on Thursday, November 19, the draw of headliners singer-songwriter Sara Watkins (of the Grammy Award-winning trio Nickel Creek fame) and bluegrass group The Infamous Stringdusters was just as strong as that of venue openers The Books way back when The Southern opened its doors on September 25. Watkins charmed the room with her fresh-faced, sunny vocals and each plink of her ukulele was as distinct as a pin dropped in an empty pan. The room was packed–- so much so that the accumulated heat from the mesh of bodies was almost overwhelming. But without the clutter of art and books that had previously defined Gravity Lounge, the rechristened The Southern allows audiences to focus on the reason the show was sold-out: the performances.

Despite the potential facelessness of the dark, crowded room, Watkins urged audience participation throughout her set–- encouraging "all whistlers" to come to the front and provide harmonies for one song and politely asking everyone to sing along for the finale. The community feel rendered the intimacy of the evening markedly distinct from more formal concerts at larger venues. Watkins and her brother, former Nickel Creek guitarist Sean, mingled with the crowd between seats, while various members of the six-piece Stringdusters roamed the cafe area before heading on-stage. The diverse audience–- a range of ages and wardrobes from cowboy hats and ripped t-shirts to starched button-ups and skinny jeans–- barely took note of the entertainers prowling in their midst.

"This is the first stand-up crowd we've played in a long time," whispered a hoarse Watkins. "There was lots of energy, a great turnout."

Two months in, the greenhorn venue has transformed from an unfinished, dusty room with a mini-fridge of canned sodas to a slick yet cozy music hall, complete with a new, oft-crowded bar with a concise beer list, late-night munchies, and plenty of open space for fans to pack. Best of all, the PA system offers a crisp, clear sound, allowing the music to wash over audience members unhindered–- the biggest draw for any live music fan.

"We probably spent more than we should have on it," says co-manager Andy Gems. "Gravity Lounge used to win 'best listening room.' I want that back."


I think it is in very poor taste om andy's part to bring up what the space that was gravity lounge had problems with. We don't want or care to see pictures of your rennovations. That place is gone and was "cozy". The fact is that it feels a bit stale in the new formation of the space due to the lack of color and warmth, though hopefully it will be remedied in the not so far future. Like anything, it does take time to grow on something, so I do wish you allthe best of luck. It seems this is more suited for rock shows and less of a listening room though, even if the sound system is better. I'm still not convinced the other half of the space is inviting to be a regular restaurant either, especially when summer comes around. I can't imagine eating in a basement on a nice sunny day, though people do go down to rev soup a lot too. I miss the days when there was intimacy, like certain shows at gravity, but more so like the prism.

I like more than I dislike about the redo. First and foremost, the sound is much better and the separation of the listening room from the cafe/bar does alot to focus attention on the music--the removal of the books and the opening up of the house right side wall is an improvement as well. The bathroom situation is also MUCH better.

On the downside--the drab grey paint job and lack of any ornamentation does give the place a sterile feel. The foam sprayed on the ceiling supports(fireproofing?) makes it look like a barnacle filled boat structure--but neither are that big of a deal. The cafe looks like a train station sandwich shop and the bar area is hard to navigate when the room is full. If they would dim the lights in there and jazz it up a little with some artwork--it would go a long way to creating a music club feel.

Also--there is only ONE color a stage area should be painted--if they don't want to paint the brick, at least put black fabric on it. The stage also gets kind of junky looking with cases and equipment piled up in the back--paint the walls of the stage black--it would look much better imho. Glad to have the venue in town.

Both Watkins and the Stringdusters were great--hopefully we will see them each again.

shepdaddy - Thanks for the feedback!

While Gravity had a certain kind of charm - part bookstore, part cafe, part music venue, we wanted to focus on the music venue part of it.

Unfortunately, a lot of the "coziness and intimacy" that Music Listener misses about Gravity was primarily due to an absolutely overwhelming amount of junk lurking in every nook and cranny of the building (and a rodent problem to go along with it). Maybe one day we'll share the pictures with the public.

We're slowing down a lot over the next month so we can put the finishing touches on the place - none of us are happy about the drab grey paint and the lack of art and proper lighting, but we were only 4 weeks into major renovations when all of a sudden our first show was upon us. At that point, we had to focus on getting the PA right and getting the kitchen, bar, and bathrooms fully functional.

That is fireproofing in the venue and it was among the many things we had to do to change the use of the space and gain legal occupancy. As it turns out, Gravity Lounge was operating illegally and was not zoned or permitted to operate as a music venue. Apparently no one knew - not the city, the fire marshall, or the landlord. Sorting all of that out is why it took 4 months before we could get our building permits issued.

We will have a nice black theatrical grade curtain along the back of the stage soon. Because of our zoning and permitting issues, the curtain has to be specially made and inherently fire-retardant with the correct tag sewn into it and a certificate issued to verify.

Anyway, THANKS so much to everyone that has come out to see a show at The Southern and constructive comments and criticism are always welcome!


While I am thrilled that the Southern is open, I miss the coziness and intimacy of the old Gravity Lounge space. The new design may have better acoustics, but the barren walls and bland stage design make the new venue feel sterile.

Barren, Bland, Sterile...I agree. Sounds better with the new gear though. Part of what makes a good venue is the vibe . Yes the space contributes to that. Remember the Sat. Ballroom? How bland can you possibly get. The Gravity/Southern just isn't that great of a space with the low ceilings, obstructed views... better than nothing tough. Though lacking in personality, finally a little club that is taking the sound sytem somewhat seriously.

There may be other music venues, but this is the best, for the type of music they're showcasing--hope it succeeds. Folk music needs a more intimate setting and this is it. Thanks for making this happen.

Where is the review of the Stringdusters set? Did you see it? It was fantastic. High energy and everyone was loving it. They are an extremely talented group of musicians and they put on a rockin' show.

It is too bad that so many reviews in the Hook always focus on "music mogul Coran Capshaw" and what he is up to at the moment. We get it. Everybody knows. Focus on the music when you are writing a music review. Why is the Southern in Jeff's shadow? This show was a fun and sold out event, seems like a great start for the venue.

Speak for yourself Oldtimebluegrass. How is it in bad taste to point out the facts that got the new owners to the point where they are, operating in a responsible manner. Gravity was gross & seedier than Outback. & perhaps less safe.
Rats Rats Rats Rats. Fester hole it was...
The Southern is not quite there yet, but the effort has been exponentially more than that flaccid bookstore.