If I had to narrow it all down to one moment, it was the winter storm of January 18, 2005, that sparked the creation of “The Frog Pond Sunday Social.” When the idea really caught wind several years later, it enveloped a whole new community.
It began when I hired singer/songwriter Grayson Capps, whohad migrated to Nashville from New Orleans after Hurricane Ivan, to play Pirates Cove for my 50th birthday. It was the middle of the off-season, and the wind outside the Cove was roaring at almost 30 knots. Frigid temperatures bottomed at 25 degrees before the wind chill.
But inside the bar 200 rowdy people were singing “Drink A Little Poison Fo’ You Die.” Ladies were dancing on the bar while a happy, one-legged patron generously donated his wooden leg to the band to use as the evening’s tip jar.
You could smoke inside the bar back then, and each time the room filled up with smoke, we opened the doors on both the windward and leeward sides of the bar. Thirty knots of screaming cold air would clear the room in a matter of seconds, taking the smoke up to the sky, and whisking the packed heat from the sweaty dancefloor across Roberts Bayou.
My friendship with Grayson Capps and his wife, record producer Trina Shoemaker, began that night. And so, too, the first tiny, captivating flickers of The Frog Pond Sunday Social.
In April 2010, life changed on the Gulf Coast. The catastrophe of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill saw our Nation’s great heart torn apart by politics and the devastating sight of sea life dying on dirty beaches, stained a greasy brown. I knew music could help heal and bring folks back together, but how and where could we make it happen?
Almost 20 years earlier, I’d bought a little farm outside of Silverhill, Alabama with dreams of playing music and raising Paint Horses. I would walk through the woods, imagining in my mind’s eye what the stage would look like. It would be a place for songwriters and musicians to woodshed their material and make connections. A place to really listen, learn the stories, hear the melodies, and get to know each other.
I could see my dream embedded in the trees, and I could feel the magic waiting in the wings for a door to open and let it in. But how? I’d had my fill of trying to shush loud bar patrons during songwriters’ events. But how could I bring this place to life, in a private venue, without a bar? How would I pay the artists without selling alcohol or food? And most of all, how could I do all this with little (or no) money, and successfully achieve my number-one goal: building a community of artists and listeners by bringing folks together?
I didn’t realize it then, but the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other plays a powerful part in making dreams come true.
On New Year’s Eve of 2010, a group of friends and I built a small stage. Since Pirates Cove didn’t have any music lined up for New Year’s, I hired Grayson for our first-ever house concert at my old homestead in Silverhill. The skies threatened rain, and I was worried.
Instead, the heavens opened with a shower of friends carrying huge waterproof banners. Using the banners along with PVC pipe, rope, ratchet straps and carabiners we scavenged from the
barn, we created a maze of tents, covering the stage in a matter of hours. That night, even with the rain, our farm was full of great music, food and smiles. And the first inkling of what our makeshift stage would become began to shine through.
In 2011 Grayson and Trina moved back to Fairhope from Nashville to renovate his mother’s old house down by the Bay. Grayson, Trina and their young son Waylon ended up moving into my old barn until they could finish the renovation. We used to sit on my porch a lot back then. One of my warmest memories is of Waylon coming in from school every day and raiding my refrigerator first thing. Grayson would listen patiently while I ran down all the reasons I thought music on the farm could, but wouldn’t, work.
I came up with a million reasons. Where would we start, I groused? Grayson (the eternal optimist)
told me all about Levon Helm’s Midnight Ramble Sessions in Woodstock, N.Y., which were a great resource for gleaning ideas. And there were Folk Alliance house concerts happening all over the country. But how in the world could we find enough people to pay the artists if Facebook and word-
of-mouth were my only means of advertising?
But wherever I found a negative, Grayson found a positive, until I found myself without any more reasons for doubt. I had to quit worrying about why it wouldn’t work, stop being afraid of failure, and simply do it.
First off, we needed a real stage. With virtually no money to hire anybody, I knew there was a boatload of manual labor in my future. This didn’t dissuade me. I’d been shoeing horses for 30 years and felt pretty fit. It was the materials I was worried about, so I started tapping my reserves.
I sold my car and used every dime to purchase poles, wire, nails, plywood, concrete and PVC pipe to run the electric and mains speaker cords underground. The little stage we’d built for our impromptu New Year’s concert? It was on skids, so I cranked up my tractor, pushed it underneath the massive
old cedar tree in the yard, and started building wings off each side.
The stage needed to be bigger, and visually unique. For months we scavenged the countryside for materials. We recycled anything and everything. We tore down old buildings and cut down small pine trees from my woods to build arbors. My sister’s old cedar fences became the stage’s backdrop.
Through all this, the small army of volunteers grew and The Frog Pond musical community along with it. Every Saturday the yard was full of the sounds of sanding, hammering, laughter and music, while a work of art began to take form all around us, and every Sunday, Grayson and Mobile guitar legend Corky Hughes would plant themselves on our stage and play while the magic began to reveal itself to everyone who came to listen.
Everything in this world begins as a ripple. Be it the creation of music or the birth of a community, these ripples reach out and touch everyone in the pond of life. The ripples from The Frog Pond expand our kinship, bring soulmates together, build musical partnerships and nurture lifelong friendships along the way. They scatter seeds of love that blossom in new and beautiful ways. Once a fervent dream, The Frog Pond has become the best we could ever hope for, blazing brightly and enriching the lives of those around us.
Cathe Steele worked as an instructor for The National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) based in Lander, Wyoming from the early 70s to 1994, and as a certified professional farrier before retiring to her farm in lower Alabama. She is the founder and owner of The Frog Pond Sunday Social, a small private house concert and community music venue in Silverhill.