The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Local News

July 5, 2013

Local jazz events draw loyal listners

BECKLEY — It’s not a restaurant. It’s not a night club. It’s a house party.

At 110 Marshall, a new arts venue in Beckley, top-notch jazz and blues are served up every second Saturday of the month in an intimate, homey environment to a diverse and loyal listenership.

“We want people to feel like they can come into their own living room and listen to good music,” says co-owner Doris Fields, known more widely as Lady D.

Show up at any given Second Saturday event and you’ll find the venue packed with a few teens, some older folks, and everyone in between. Audience members nibble on a buffet of snacks, sip on wine they brought from home, and most of all, they listen.

At 110 Marshall, music is the focal point. There are no glowing television screens or loud conversations to distract from the musicians’ offerings.

“I’ve played music all my life, so quite naturally when I go into a room I feel what kind of vibes it has. It felt very warm and friendly in there. People were very open, attentive, and welcoming,” says Kevin Frieson, a bassist out of Morgantown who plays with Sounds of Liberation.

“That’s the unique thing about that place — you have a really good, music-friendly environment. People know what they are coming there for. They come there for a special thing. I’d expect to find something like that usually in more metropolitan areas.”

He says talking to an audience with a “spirit of openness,” and teaching them a little about his music, made for a great experience at 110 Marshall.

The venue opened last November to a huge crowd, which kept growing every month, mainly through word of mouth. Some of the regulars show up with donated items from their own homes, like chairs or plants, that can live at the venue.

“People seem to really love it,” says Fields. “We like the idea that a lot of people feel invested in it like it’s their place too.”

Their biggest crowd so far was a belly dancing group that attracted about 160 people, says Fields. Other performers have included the Bob Thompson Quartet, Vince Lewis, local vibes and harmonica player Nate Shelton, local trumpeter Bob Redd, and bluesman Austin Walkin Cane.

Fields is a full-time singer, songwriter, actor and director who grew up in Chesapeake, majored in vocal music at West Virginia State College, and came to Beckley in 1997 to work for Theatre West Virginia.

She also hosts the radio show “Simply Jazz and Blues” on Groovy 94.1 every Sunday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. and has organized the first ever Simply Jazz and Blues Festival in Beckley, Aug. 23-25.

She started 110 Marshall with her friend Rebecca Beckett.

Hearing Fields complain about the lack of performance venues for her style of music, Beckett approached the singer last summer about a building her father owned, which she thought could be transformed into a performance space. The idea grew from there.

The women had fun fixing up the space, despite their limited budget. They pulled tables and chairs from trash bins and scavenged Goodwill and the backs of closets for other furnishings.

All of this created a kind of bohemian atmosphere that feels spot-on for the venue’s approach to entertaining.

“The place is on a shoestring budget. It’s not trying to be fancy, and it’s a special place,” says Frieson. “The public isn’t going in there with any special expectations about lights, fireworks, and all that stuff going off. It’s a very grassroots-oriented place.”

Audience members array themselves right in front of the musicians, on couches and comfy chairs, creating an intimate and powerful listening experience for them. The artists love it because they have everyone’s attention.

Fields says finding live jazz and blues can be a challenge in a region known more for its country, bluegrass and rock. It’s not that there aren’t jazz players and listeners around, she says; it’s just that it’s not as mainstream as those other styles.

“It’s almost like an underground thing, it seems to me, and that made me even more determined to bring it out into the light,” she says. “I knew there were people here that loved this music from doing the radio show for three years. I found out there is an audience here in southern West Virginia for this music.”

Part of 110 Marshall’s mission, too, is to create more opportunities for West Virginia artists.

“If you play jazz and blues for a living, you have to leave West Virginia,” says Fields. “You can’t do it here every weekend as a steady job because the places aren’t there.

“My whole thing is being able to not only perform myself but also hire West Virginia artists to play. I want to be able to bring jazz and blues musicians to Beckley, and I want to have Beckley’s musicians exposed to them.”

The venue doesn’t limit itself to music. Recently, a scholar from West Virginia University came and spoke about his book that explores big bands in West Virginia in the 1930s and ’40s, when Beckley was a regular stop for musicians like Duke Ellington and Count Basie. They’ve also hosted a book signing and a theater performance, and they are open for special events.

“I’m just hoping that 110 adds more flavor, because I think that’s what Beckley needs,” says Fields. “I think there needs to be a variety. The more venues offering different kinds of music, the better.”

For more information, contact Fields at 304-222-2536 or one10 marshall@yahoo.com or visit the 110 Marshall Facebook page.

— E-mail: cmoore@register-herald.com

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