Nitty Gritty Night

Originally published in print by 225 Magazine on January 4, 2012.

by Amanda Wicks

Something special is going down at Chelsea’s once a month. It’s an event helping to define the face of Baton Rouge music. Nitty Gritty Songwriters’ Night, hosted by area singer-songwriter Denton Hatcher, showcases local and regional talent by gathering an eclectic array of singer-songwriters to perform original material. “There’s so much music out there,” Hatcher says, “It’s about knowing where to find it.”

Nitty Gritty Songwriters’ Night isn’t an open mic night where anyone can get up and play a song. Instead, think of it as a carefully selected and orchestrated evening that promotes original music, and encourages collaboration between local singer-songwriters.

Rather than hearing the traditional live show format–an opening and main act–audiences experience a wealth of different sounds all night long. Anywhere from eight to ten singer-songwriters play three to four original songs from their repertoire. What’s more, each Nitty Gritty event offers a different line-up, so the experience is never quite the same.

Besides acquainting audiences with new sounds, the event also offers musicians attention they might not receive elsewhere in town. Often functioning as background music for noisy bars, musicians get something different with the Nitty Gritty Songwriters’ Night. The show provides a quieter atmosphere in which to play songs. Local singer-songwriter Jodi James finds the opportunity refreshing. “The Nitty Gritty nights provide a space where we artists can play to an attentive and open audience,” she says.

“It’s a way for the artists to promote their music,” Hatcher says with an engaging smile. “It’s great because, as a musician, you get to hear what everyone else is doing, and network with each other and the audience.”

Perhaps one of the night’s more interesting components is that participants don’t vie with one another for the limelight. “The one thing that the Baton Rouge music scene should really pride itself on is the camaraderie,” James says.

For singer-songwriter Jacob Zachary, the local musicians’ network seems more like family than competition. “We feel less of a need to compete with one another in order to have individual success,” he explains. This familial element comes across in the conviviality of the night; many performers who take part in a Nitty Gritty event have played with one another before, and encourage each other when on stage. Hatcher finds, “It’s a way to admire one another’s work, and hear what people are working on.”

Hatcher began overseeing the event when former Chelsea’s booker Gabe Daigle approached him about putting together a musician’s showcase. Originally from Vicksburg, MS, Hatcher has been living and playing in Baton Rouge for over ten years. His fervor about the developing local music scene is telling, and every Nitty Gritty event aims to expose Baton Rouge residents to both established and up-and-coming artists.

Hatcher runs a tight ship of sound, charming audiences with his good-natured humor in between sets, so there’s never a lull in the action. Adding to the atmosphere, Chelsea’s doesn’t remove their tables, as they do with other bands, so the audience can sit back, relax, and enjoy a more intimate musical experience. Indeed, the more than reasonable $3.00 cover charge provides a veritable feast of music. The musical stylings range from the folksy pining of Clay Parker to the bruised eloquence of Jodi James to the poetic tapestries of Jacob Zachary, and finally the soulful, stirring growl of Denton Hatcher, among many others.

It’s no secret that Baton Rouge has long been known as a cover-band town, especially when compared to the live, local music scenes in New Orleans and Lafayette. But that is changing.

Zachary maintains, “As artists in such conditions, we get to enjoy the privilege of being a part of expediting that change in real ways.” While James sees the fun in listening to live music that “gets your feet moving,” she adds, “It’s a wonderful thing to be moved on the inside by intimate, well crafted stories and beautiful melodies.”