Two years ago, the owners of the Laurelwood Shopping Center wanted to experiment with something unconventional that would serve as a treat for shoppers – a live music concert series.
Female musicians, including Misti Rae Warren, shown two years ago performing with Davy Ray Bennett, will get an opportunity to shine this spring at Laurelwood Unplugged. The music series will take place in the courtyard near Panera Bread. (Daily News File Photo: Lance Murphey)
Thus was born the idea for Laurelwood Unplugged, and that series of early evening shows headlined by all-female acts is back next month for a third season.
In the cool of the spring evening air, in the center’s courtyard outside Panera Bread, acts like the Misti Rae Trio, Myla Smith, Joyce Cobb and others will serenade shoppers passing by as well as an audience seated at tables and chairs in the courtyard that’s gathered to listen.
The shows will happen every Thursday night in April and May. All of the acts this time around, as before, are female, and the range of genres they cover include everything from pop to country to blues and more.
“I’m excited to be playing Laurelwood Unplugged this year for a lot of reasons,” said Myla Smith, a singer-songwriter who recently released a new music video for her song “This Time I Mean It,” produced by New School Media.
“It doesn’t hurt to be in such great company, for one thing. They’ve booked some of Memphis’ best talent for this series since it started, and I’m thrilled to be included in that list. And you’ve got to love the venue. It’s always nice to do something a little different, with a chance to maybe pull out some people who don’t ordinarily come to shows or see live, local music.”
It’s a communal feel that’s not out of place at Laurelwood, given the tenant mix. The center has restaurants as well as a venerable independent bookstore, The Booksellers at Laurelwood, which has been a communal nook for a few decades. That’s thanks to things like its bistro, its large book inventory and its frequent author signings.
Cory Prewitt, Laurelwood’s chief operating officer, said for the series’ debut season that the center was looking to create a family-friendly and free environment where people could experience a range of some of the musical talent in Memphis.
“One thing that’s different this year is we’re having more of a wide, diverse group of artists this year,” he said. “We’re having pop, blues, even country and a couple of R&B artists as well. So there’s pretty much something for everybody.
“It’s still all female artists, though. Part of that is the demographics of the center. Also, there’s not really anything else I know of in the city that emphasizes just female artists. We kind of wanted to make this unique, and we have so many talented female artists in the city.”
A lot of attendees for past shows have found themselves standing because of a seating problem – which Prewitt said is a good problem to have and attests to the new series doing its job.
“We haven’t always had enough seats for people, because it’s proven to be more popular than we expected,” he said. “We’ll have more this year. Also, a lot of the artists were duos last year. This year, we’re having more trios, so there’ll be kind of a bigger, more full sound this year.”
All in all, he said, it gives people another reason to be at the center. And for the people behind the cash registers, that’s never a bad thing.