Outdoor Sounds

Malls, restaurants host musical acts as multitude of concert series begin

By Andy Meek

Summer is nearly here. Partygoers have begun packing rooftops, while shoppers and restaurant diners also are keen on a little musical entertainment to help liven up predictable experiences.

Misti Rae Warren and Davy Ray Bennett sing during a Laurelwood Unplugged performance in the courtyard next to Panera Bread.  The series is one of several gearing up this spring and summer. 

(Daily News File Photo: Lance Murphey )

And that means Memphis-based Resource Entertainment Group sees opportunity – literally – high and low.

Rooftop party season, of course, is officially in full swing. The area’s bigger, more customary music venues also are hopping. But as REG knows, there are patios and plazas to fill too.

“It’s outdoor season time,” said REG founding partner Paul Chandler.

For their party atmosphere, the rooftops get a lot of attention, and REG, an entertainment agency founded in 2003, helps produce yearly series atop both The Madison and Peabody hotels Downtown.

The 2012 Peabody Rooftop Party series kicked off April 19 with FreeSol and runs through Aug. 16. The Madison’s rooftop series started one week earlier than The Peabody’s.

But REG doesn’t just want to turn rooftops into summer party destinations. Besides examples of traditional outdoor venues like the Levitt Shell, where its spring 2012 concert series will soon get under way, and Tom Lee Park, where the Beale Street Music Festival just wrapped up, performers are stepping behind the microphone at less traditional venues like malls and restaurants.

Those include East Memphis’ Laurelwood Shopping Center, where REG last year launched a new series of early evening musical performances called Laurelwood Unplugged, which continues this year.

The performances are every Thursday night, and they started last month and will last through the end of May. They’re held in the shopping center’s courtyard next to Panera Bread, and because the mall’s demographic is primarily women, all the artists in the series are female.

“This year, we were determined to build upon the success of last year’s inaugural concert series,” said Cory Prewitt, Laurelwood’s assistant director of marketing. “We have an incredibly strong lineup of talented artists, from Joyce Cobb to Grace Askew to The Memphis Dawls. We also have more tables and chairs to accommodate the larger crowds. Plus, this year we have a dedicated sound guy with a PA to ensure optimal sound quality.”

The initial idea for a concert series at the shopping center was floated at a meeting of Laurelwood merchants. Baylor Stovall, who operates The Stovall Collection in Laurelwood, is the wife of REG managing partner Howard Stovall, and she mentioned her husband’s company.

The idea took off from there.

“A lot of what we do is programming entertainment,” Chandler said. “We have to match the right acts for the right atmosphere. At Laurelwood, you’ll notice all the lead performers are female. This is the second year in a row at Laurelwood with that same idea in mind, and it was a model that worked very well for them.”

REG also is in its third year behind a months-long showcase of entertainment at The Avenue Collierville, where from one week to the next there could be anything from a magician to a musician performing as shoppers wander from Macy’s to Barnes and Noble.

That showcase, called Fridays at the Avenue, began in April and runs through October. It’s the third year the series is happening at the mall, which sits on 60 acres at Tenn. 385 and Houston Levee Road.

In the past, some of the series’ events have drawn an audience of a few hundred people – people who might then turn into shoppers, a win-win for the mall as well as the entertainment agency.

REG is doing a slimmed-down version of that same thing at Felicia Suzanne’s Downtown Memphis restaurant.

“She came to me and said she wanted to bring some more exposure to and utilize her patio more,” Chandler said. “She was looking for interesting and sophisticated entertainers, so we go from bluegrass to jazz to rockabilly, and it’s been very well received.”

The restaurant has acts scheduled Thursday evenings from May 17 through the end of June. They include 2 Mule Plow, Brian “Breeze” Cayolle and Deborah Swiney, among others.