When you enter an Eddie Owen music venue, there’s one non-negotiable: Shut up and listen. Owen is an Atlanta music mainstay, famous for his staunch commitment to intimate acoustic experiences. His namesake music venue in Decatur, Eddie’s Attic, has fewer than 100 seats and a strict no-talking policy. “When a songwriter is on stage, the really good ones, well…they reach out and bring the audience into the story,” Owen says. “That can’t happen in a noisy bar or in an arena where you need binoculars to see the stage.”
Owen has brought that same listening room love to Gwinnett. In 2011, Owen found the historic Red Clay theatre sitting abandoned on Duluth’s downtown square. With his help, it has been fully restored into a 260-seat auditorium (or, “listening room,” s’il vous plaît), complete with classrooms, a production company and a music school.
This is great news for Gwinnett, because Owen is also famous for his distinguishing palate, able to identify rising stars. He famously encouraged a young John Mayer, then a doorman at Eddie’s Attic, to try an open mic. Apart from Mayer, Owen is credited with discovering big names like the Zac Brown Band, the Indigo Girls, Sugarland, Shawn Mullins and The Civil Wars.
Now at the Red Clay, his new music series Eddie Owen Presents, has become a coveted event for musicians and music lovers from Gwinnett and beyond. So why Gwinnett? Why now? Owen tells us what brought him here and what ensures he’ll stick around.
What made you decide to bring Eddie Owen Presents to the Red Clay Music Foundry?
I had always dreamed about a facility where there was a really good listening room, but also the space to offer great hospitality to touring artists, and room for locals to collaborate, create and connect. The Red Clay has all that and more! The city of Duluth is going to be one of the next really cool pedestrian friendly areas of Atlanta, the coolest of suburban cool. I absolutely believe Duluth is on the cusp of something great. In a few years, folks will be saying “I remember when….”
What makes a listening room experience different (better?) than a conventional concert?
Imagine three circles: one is the artist, the second is the audience, the third is the venue. Bring them close so that they overlap. That special spot in the middle is where the magical moment happens between the songwriter and the audience. The intimacy at RC allows this.
What is your personal attraction to the intimate-style music venue?
Too many years of trying to listen to good songs and good songwriters in a place where listening was not encouraged.
Do you find yourself at Philips Area for a Def Leppard reunion tour every now and then?
The RC full is as large of a crowd as I care to be around. That being said, I like good songs, no matter the genre.
You have a knack for finding next-big-star musicians. What catches your eye?
For every rising star I’ve seen, there are thousands more just as talented, just as diligent, just as hungry. Trust me, I’ve popped all the buttons on my vests over the success some of my friends have experienced. But there are many, many more that are very, very good who’ve never seen popular success. I love supporting those who are undiscovered, as well as those who’ve experienced commercial success. The good ones never, ever give up.
So who’s the next big thing? Anyone we should watch out for on the calendar at the Red Clay?
I try to not book anyone that sucks! If they are on the RC calendar, they are there for a reason. It’s because I heard something that has substance.