An Article by Johnny Cole
Photos by Stephen Anderson
When The Listening Room of Mobile opened its doors in 2015, Jim Pennington, owner and operator of the venue, stated he would rather throw everything into Mobile Bay before turning the place into a rowdy bar. Of course, Jim says there is nothing wrong with having lively bars, too. He just wanted something different than the norm; a place that was strictly about the music.
The Southland Music Line has been a fan of “The Room” nearly since its opening. Personally, I have attended approximately 120 shows there since the beginning. “The Line” has featured The Room in several articles, social media posts, on our 2017 TV show and have interviewed/photographed a sizable number of the musicians, songwriters and performers at the venue. For over a year, I have also had the privilege of designing and sharing the online poster of The Listening Room’s monthly schedule – a true enjoyment!
When describing The Listening Room, countless articles by many writers have collectively highlighted one particular word, “listening”. This unique venue offers the perfect opportunity for artists to connect with their audience in a small, intimate setting, often creating those unexpected special moments.
On the nights of Tuesday, August 13 and Thursday, August 15 of 2019, two accomplished artists performed at The Listening Room. Both had recently performed at The Grand Ole Opry and would inspire us with their music and stories at a room full of fans in Mobile, Alabama.
Top photo: The Listening Room of Mobile; above photo: Chely Wright with Preston Stanfill and Erik Halbig
On Tuesday, Chely Wright, 1995’s Academy of Country Music Top New Female Vocalist appeared at “The Room”. Wright’s rise to fame started at an early age. While still in her teens, she began performing with the Ozark Jubilee in Branson, Missouri. Following high school she performed at Opryland, U.S.A., which brought her to Nashville and to the attention of several influential people in her life such as the great Porter Wagoner. After a few failed attempts at scoring a hit single, Wright scored a hit with 1997’s “Shut Up and Drive” from her third album “Let Me In”. Her fourth album “Single White Female” became an enormous success which led to more solo hits and duets with Brad Paisley and Diamond Rio. She was certainly on top of the world when it came to commercial success with hit singles, winning major awards, and touring.
Wright’s stories at “The Room” in Tuesday’s show highlighted many fun and enlightening tales of friends such as Porter Wagoner, Dolly Parton, The Dixie Chicks and others. She also spoke of the personal and professional struggles she went through after coming out as lesbian and how some in the industry viewed her at the time. The positive message was how she eventually found a new life, is still performing and most recently returned to The Grand Ole Opry for the first time in many years.
Chely Wright is reunited with her former longtime drummer Preston Stanfill
The Listening Room show provided many memorable moments including, of all things, getting started late due to issues with Wright’s flight coming from New York City by way of Charlotte. With no time for a wardrobe change, Wright showed up directly from the airport wearing a baseball cap, but was prepared to perform for a packed room ready for a bit of magic. Likely, one of the most memorable moments was when her guitarist, Erik Halbig, said “Chely, I have played with you for years, but there is someone in the audience that was in your band much longer….” At that time her one-time drummer, Preston Stanfill, rushed onto the stage to Wright’s tearful surprise. Following a big embrace and to her delight, Stanfill joined her on a make-shift drum comprised of a small table and cardboard box. He was prepared by bringing along his drumsticks. Moments like these are what make The Listening Room so special.
It can be said that Thursday night’s Bryan White show was filled with special moments, as well. “The Line” arrived in time to enjoy the soundcheck just before the doors opened for White’s very enthusiastic VIP ticketholders. At that point, Stephen, Robby and I took our cue to step out and let those incredible fans enjoy their special time with the artist, which they had anxiously awaited. At 7:30 p.m. the doors opened for general admission ticketholders who filled the venue to capacity by the 8:10 p.m. showtime.
Bryan White at The Listening Room of Mobile
I had not seen Bryan White in a number of years as he took several years off following his whirlwind success in the nineties. During his mid-90s heyday, he scored several chart successes, including the #1 singles: “Someone Else’s Star” (1995), “Rebecca Lynn”, “So Much for Pretending” (both in 1996), and “Sittin’ on Go” (1997). Other successful singles were “I’m Not Supposed to Love You Anymore”, “That’s Another Song” (both in 1996), “Love Is the Right Place” (1997), and the 1998 duet “From This Moment On” with Shania Twain. In the mid-90s, White also earned the Country Music Association Horizon Award and the Academy of Country Music Top New Male Vocalist award.
After Bryan White was propelled into stardom at an early age and around the time of his fourth album, 1999’s “How Lucky I Am”, the pressures began to weigh heavily on him. During the show, he candidly talked of his bouts with depression and how he was forced to take a number of years off until the mid-2000s. He credited his wife, family, fans and God for helping him get through this troublesome time. He also emphasized the phrase “keep showing up”. Regardless of the job or how bad things may get, never stop reaching and “keep showing up”.
Bryan White at The Listening Room of Mobile
The previous Saturday night, Bryan White was invited by fellow Oklahoman, Carrie Underwood, to share the Opry stage with her. Underwood proudly acknowledges White as her musical role model and was once a member of the Bryan White Fan Club. She once even sang for him in a Meet & Greet line – a true fan wanting to follow in a hero’s footsteps.
White’s Listening Room performance was a definite crowd pleaser, including his latest song “It Must Be Love”, many of his top hits, a few rarities and an outstanding instrumental cover of “Moon River” on his amazing McPherson guitar.
What transpired at The Listening Room on the nights of August 13 and 15 were shining examples of what the venue has become after a few years of carving out its place in the local music scene. Several factors figure into its success, but its progress has been a benefit to all. Supporters of The Listening Room are excellent examples of true music fans with an appreciation for the music and who look forward to witnessing more of its magic in the months and years to come.
for photos from the Chely Wright show.
for photos from the Bryan White show.
The Listening Room of Mobile
© The Southland Music Line. 2019. All rights reserved