With renewed relevancy, the singing and sound of horns now emanate from inside as well. The eponymous Train Depot is the new Lawrenceville branch of the school, a venture Bowlin has been heading for over 30 years. In addition to studio and teaching space, the building is a burgeoning music venue.
Bowlin’s eclectic taste in music is evident. Interior walls are plastered with posters for Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss, The Beatles, and Donald Fagen. A room with a pass-through window off the main entrance doubles as the catering/beverage area and ticket booth.
Space is limited, but Bowlin uses every inch. The main room, where weary travelers once sat waiting for the next train, is now a listening room with table-seating for 50.
The intimate nature appeals to local musician BJ Wilbanks and his band, playing a sold-out show this summer. “We absolutely love the Train Depot. It has a great vibe and an awesome crowd.” Without the typical bistro-bar distractions, he compared it to a house concert and appreciates the audience’s listening-room attitude. “People are there for the music. I love performing this way.”
Begun in 1984 to fill a void Bowlin saw in quality music instruction, GSOM’s first location was in a Mountain Park shopping plaza and included lesson space and a music store. A successive move to Stone Mountain was followed by another in 1996 to the current Lilburn building on Lake Lucerne that dates to 1939.
Of the five locations, only Suwanee is housed in a contemporary building. The Grayson school, the busiest with an enrollment of 300 students, is in the McConnell House, a Victorian built in 1890. The Duluth school resides in the lower level of Eddie Owen’s Red Clay Music Foundry, a world-class 260-seat listening room and former church.
The legendary music promoter approved of the Train Depot immediately. “Eddie thought it was a cool idea, so I pitched it to the city and they loved it,” said Bowen. “Their plans for the area are to make it into an entertainment district that would bridge downtown with Georgia Gwinnett College.”
The Lawrenceville location seems predestined: The Grayson site is just steps from the old L&L train line that until 1932 ran from Loganville to Lawrenceville, stopping at the now reimagined Train Depot.
Exciting as the music venue is, education still remains central. GSOM alumna Carly Gibson, local guitar phenom and half of the duos The Pussywillows with Hannah Zale, and Gibson Wilbanks with boyfriend BJ, attributes her success to voice coach Carol McCurdy and guitar teacher Doug Russell. “I adored Carol. She gave me the support and trust to find my voice. Doug was the one that took my playing to the next level. He pushed me to be the guitarist and musician I am today.”
Outside again, Bowlin beams as he points to a patio suitable for alfresco dining and an outdoor sound system. He then eyes the green space behind the Depot with plans for a street festival and Sunday jazz and blues brunches, while still providing a space inside for students to learn. After 30 years, it’s a wonder he’s still so passionate about both education and live entertainment. Such is the life of a music preservationist.