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VOL. 126 | NO. 81 | Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Shopping Soundtrack

Laurelwood begins Thursday night concert series

By Andy Meek

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With the general consumer mood stuck somewhere between grim and cost-conscious, mall owners can’t always rely on window displays and signs that herald bargains to drive traffic to their tenants.

Misti Rae Warren and Davy Ray Bennett sing during Laurelwood Unplugged in the courtyard next to Panera Bread at Laurelwood Shopping Center. The series runs Thursdays from 6-8 p.m. to May 26.
(Photo: Lance Murphey)

So the owners of Laurelwood Shopping Center in East Memphis are experimenting with something a little unconventional: a live music concert series.

They’ve partnered with Resource Entertainment Group to launch Laurelwood Unplugged, a series of early evening shows headlined by local acts whose palates cover the blues to folk to old-school soul.

The shows happen every Thursday through May 26. And in keeping with the shopping center’s biggest demographic, all of the acts are female.

The series creates a new performance venue, so artists like Misti Rae Warren – who performed last Thursday in the center’s courtyard outside Panera Bread – certainly aren’t complaining.

The weather was mild, and around 40 people at one point could be seen in the courtyard listening to Warren, chatting with each other and noshing on Panera’s fresh-baked fare.

“Someone once told me after a show that they appreciated the way I ‘embraced my awkwardness while still being very feminine,’” said Warren, a singer-songwriter, artist, dancer and photographer. “I appreciated that comment, because I do strive for self-honesty and that can be awkward and painful, but beautiful when embraced.”

Laurelwood Unplugged also brings something unique to the shopping center experience, which, like everything else, is adapting to a changing economy and shifting customer taste and trends.

The series is an attempt to bring something to the center that Resource Entertainment Group has tried to introduce at similar malls and shopping centers – a communal experience.

Resource Entertainment Group also has put together outdoor entertainment programs for Collierville’s Avenue Carriage Crossing lifestyle center as well as Carriage Crossing’s sister shopping center in Murfreesboro.

“We wanted to create a family-friendly and free environment for people to experience some of the immense musical talent in Memphis,” said Cory Prewitt, Laurelwood’s assistant director of marketing. “We believe strongly in the significance of local music to our identity as a city and to our local economy. Our desire was to celebrate our tenants, our customers and our city’s unique musicality.”

Not that family-friendly is a foreign concept to some of Laurelwood’s tenants. The center’s venerable independent bookstore, Davis-Kidd Booksellers, has been a communal nook for a few decades, complete with a bistro, large book inventory, frequent author signings and a children’s section decked out to the nines.

Less than 24 hours before Warren began her set, though, a liquidation company successfully bid for ownership of Davis-Kidd as part of an auction of Davis-Kidd’s parent company in a Kentucky bankruptcy court.

Launching the concert series might be indicative of whether Laurelwood intends to try to keep the bookstore around and negotiate a deal with the Kentucky development company that bought some of Davis-Kidd’s sister stores – and which now apparently wants to buy the one in Memphis.

After all, the community spirit is a hallmark of both the bookstore and the new series the shopping center has put together.

“Laurelwood was thinking about doing something that increased activity in the center,” said Resource Entertainment Group managing partner Howard Stovall, whose wife, Baylor, operates The Stovall Collection in Laurelwood.

“The idea was floated at a merchants meeting. And my wife said if we’re thinking about entertainment, give my husband a call.”

Laurelwood called and talked about a concept.

“We thought singer-songwriter, a duo, maybe a trio, a very small ensemble, just to create an ambiance that would make people enjoy sitting there hearing some nice music,” Stovall said. “It’s a great mix of artists ranging from Valerie June to Susan Marshall to the Memphis Dawls, which is Holly Cole’s group and very new and hip and fun.

“We’ve tried to make a blend here so that we create more of an experience. It gives people another reason to be there.”

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