Learning to Bend
About a year ago, a press release caught my attention. "Bob Schneider performs an intimate concert at Bend yoga studio." I had one question: Are you serious? The thought of the famously damaged Austin rocker strumming shoeless on a bamboo floor was like a Spinal Tap booking. What was next--Bob Schneider does downward dog?
Apparently, I wasn't the only one with doubts about the show. "The first time I played Bend, it was strictly for the money," writes Bob Schneider by e-mail. "As the date approached, I really started thinking it might have been a bad move." After all, this is the guy who built his reputation in bands like Ugly Americans and the Scabs, courting a stiff-arm, anti-patchouli crowd, and performing at this new-age venue thick with incense and people in lotus position played directly into the notion that Schneider--older, sober, folksier--had gone soft. "Probably because of the environment, I began peppering just about every sentence with expletives and pretty much was as crude as I've ever been," Schneider continues. "And lo and behold, the people there just ate it up." He uses that cringe-inducing word--"intimacy"--to describe the vibe in the room. But how else can you explain it? Unlike so many crowded, smoky clubs where conversations take precedence over the music, people there were listening. It was different and genuine--and fun. "Everyone, including me, ended up having a wonderful time," Schneider says. "So much so, that I've gone back a few times and plan on making it a regular gig in Dallas."
He's not the only one. Guy Forsyth, Ian Moore, Trish Murphy, Hayes Carll, Patrice Pike, Kacy Crowley and Dan Dyer have all played Bend, some of them several times. And this week, the studio hosts two noteworthy evenings: a singer-songwriter bill featuring Fastball's Tony Scalzo, Salim Nourallah and Billy Harvey (guitarist in Schneider's band and a gifted songwriter himself) on Saturday, June 18, and none other than Rhett Miller playing two shows on Tuesday, June 21.
You might notice a trend to those artists: acoustic singer-songwriters, mostly in their 30s, learning how to balance life as a musician with life as a parent, or a spouse, or simply as a grown-ass adult. Much like yoga itself, this is the kind of person the shows attract. It also describes Ally David, the owner of Bend Studio who runs the Intimate Concert series. "Personally and selfishly, I don't want to hang out in a smoky bar till 1 a.m. to see someone I like," she says. Instead, Bend shows start (promptly!) at 8 p.m. Listeners sit barefoot on chairs and yoga blankets. They can bring wine and beer for a corking fee of $5. The crowds are less interested in youthful indulgence than things like connection, health and serenity. Hippie-dippy? Perhaps. But it's one of the only live music venues in town where I could bring my mom and not worry she'd end up covered in beer.
The reaction has been overwhelming. What began as a one-off performance to coincide with a Rodney Yee appearance has become a mainstay of David's business. "At this point, it's doing better than the yoga," she says. While yoga houses have sprouted across the city faster than you can spell namaste, there are precious few small, smoke-free forums for live music. Audiences and performers alike love the mellow, hushed environment. David receives at least one e-mail a day from an artist hoping to gig there. "When people play at the studio, the overriding feedback is that they enjoy the closeness of it. People are actually listening to them." That's no small thing for anyone used to battling indifference, frat boys and espresso grinders. David continues, "In fact, sometimes artists are kind of put off by it at first, because they're not used to so much quiet. But there's a transformation where a dialogue develops between them and the audience. They love the fact that people are engaged in what they're doing."
David hopes to expand the concert series to include more local artists. Not just musicians (like Doug Burr and Nourallah, both of whom play regular opening acts), but also local comics and poets. It is, after all, a unique venue in this city. Say what you will about the smell of incense, about leaving your shoes at the door--no other place in Dallas puts on shows like this.
And all this at a yoga studio? David doesn't think it's so strange. "Music and yoga go together beautifully," she says. "They both feed the soul in some way. The feeling you get after seeing a great musician, of being uplifted, can be the same after a really good yoga practice."
Uplifting? We hope. But, as Bob Schneider discovered, it's still OK to cuss.
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