Listening Parties

Originally published by 225 Magazine on December 31, 2013.

By Amanda Wicks

With a bevy of inviting couches and chairs and a BYOB policy, the Red Dragon Listening Room has quietly created an intimate music venue that encourages…wait for it… listening.

“We want to be respectful to artists,” says owner Chris Maxwell. Musicians feel that respect from the moment they enter Red Dragon. They can play their music for rapt audiences eager to hear rather than socialize during the show.

The Red Dragon is perhaps most famous for its weekend shows featuring traveling names, but Wednesday recently became the go-to night for local music. The venue began holding a singer-songwriter night, a project that Rob Chidester of Royal Cyclops Productions cultivated over the past two years.

Chidester began the Local Songwriters’ Showcase to help spotlight regional talent. Originally, he hosted the event at smaller bars in town, but as the show grew in popularity he realized he needed more room.

Luckily, Maxwell was in the crowd one night and approached Chidester about holding the event at the Red Dragon. “I’m always looking for other people who are as passionate about music as we are,” Maxwell says. The first Local Songwriters’ Showcase at the Red Dragon kicked off in early November.

Chidester approaches each Wednesday night a little differently than a typical music gig, realizing the problems many songwriters encounter in other venues. “They become the aquariums,” he says. “They’re in the background.”

Every Wednesday night show features three acts, each one building slightly in length. Chidester always opens and plays two or three songs with friends and local musicians, such as fiddle player Doc Chaney or guitarist Bill Romano. A local musician serves as the second act, playing three to five songs, and a well-known local or regional songwriter plays the third and longest set.

“It’s an approach to music as theatre,” Chidester says of the format. “Each set has to build like a drama in order to keep audiences interested.”

Rather than let musicians play on forever, the shows run 90 minutes, emphasizing the importance of time, pace and energy. “He always leaves them wanting more,” Maxwell says.

Local singer-songwriter Peter Simón of Minos the Saint headlined the showcase in late November. “The audience was really open to my music,” he says, adding that the venue had much to do with sustaining their interest.

 Chidester and Maxwell see the showcase feeding into the other projects they each have around town, including Maxwell’s new Red Dragon Songwriter Series at the Manship Theatre. Chidester hopes his project will elevate the Baton Rouge music scene by exposing residents to the local talent and promoting attention over distraction.