The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
This article is cross-posted with permission from the Springboard Exchange blog. Above: photo courtesy Corner Concerts. Photos by Matt Odom.
Macon's Corner Concerts exists in a unique creative space where placemaking meets urban exploring meets pop-ups meets professionally-produced live concerts.
If that sounds difficult to define, well…it is. But the bottom line is that Corner Concerts celebrates Macon's rich musical heritage by hosting concerts in some of Macon's most architecturally and culturally relevant vacant properties.
It all started when Andrew Eck, a full-time electrical engineering student at Mercer University and a multi-instrumentalist, wanted to start a sound production company. The only problem was that the business is largely reference-based, and he didn't have any references.
A friend suggested he build his portfolio by hosting his own pop-up style concerts, like the pop-up boutiques that would appear in vacant storefronts. There were certainly enough vacant properties that could host concerts, Eck knew, and it would be a good way for him to take a deep dive into the local music scene.
Andrew Eck and George Murray of Corner Concerts. Photo by Matt Odom.
"That got me really excited so I created a business plan and got the right partners in place to get that going last year," Eck says. "I pulled some money of my own together for the sound equipment and speakers without really knowing what I was doing."
If necessity is the mother of invention, naïveté might just be its muse. It takes a certain amount of pluck to say, "I'm just going to buy the equipment and host my own concerts around town." But without Eck's boldness, Corner Concerts wouldn't exist.
The first concert was held on the rooftop of a parking garage. About 200 people showed up – a pretty good turnout, truth be told.
After the first couple of shows, George Murray, the guy at Guitar Center who Eck was buying his sound equipment from, wondered what the hell this kid was up to. By the third show, Eck brought Murray in as a partner and they were splitting everything 50/50. They pay for the shows through stage sponsors, and were also awarded enough from the Knight Foundation to cover most of the costs for the bands for a year.
In 2015, Corner Concerts held nine shows in six different locations. The locations were selected through Eck's urban exploring – or "urbexing," if you will. A uniquely urban sport, urban exploring refers to the exploration of vacant or abandoned structures – blighted homes, former industrial plants, dilapidated skyscrapers – as a kind of architectural spelunking.
"I always had natural curiosity to go exploring buildings," Eck says. "The whole purpose of Corner Concerts is to get people to value these buildings that they drive by every day that have overgrown bushes in the front, so that they have more value than just a boarded-up building."
Eck always works with the property owners and whatever other relevant agencies for the concerts, dotting all his I's and crossing all his T's, so concert goers don't have to worry about their safety or being shooed off the property.
"I had the hardest time convincing people to do it the first time, so that's why it was held on a parking deck," he says. "Once I had one under my belt, and they could see I didn’t burn it down, that they can trust me, and that I have insurance and everything in place, the building owners were more convinced."
Eck's goal is to reinvigorate interest in these overlooked and largely forgotten spaces. "While I have the key I try to give people tours and get as much interest in it as I can. I would love for these buildings to get turned into something and get used. When people go in they get their creative wheels turning."
While none of the properties Corner Concerts has visited have found a new life as an occupied building quite yet, Eck says, "All these people went from not knowing the name of the building to knowing its name and its history. They've been inside and seen what it looks like. They know its story and why it's important."
Corner Concerts has held events in venues as varied as the historic Shriner Temple downtown, built in 1929, and a brownstone apartment building built in 1880s. This year, the Historic Macon Foundation is a partner in Corner Concerts and will refer buildings and provide accompanying written history.
In addition to alternating locations, Corner Concerts also alternates genres. The focus is on promoting Macon's local music scene, as well as hosting unique shows – like a night with a local jazz band and an R&B show with kids performing soul music. On the schedule for this year so far is a gospel concert in March and a collaboration with Macon Pops in May.
But that's not all Eck and Murray have in store for 2016. As they plan the Corner Concerts schedule for 2016, they are also in the midst of opening a music incubator space in downtown Macon in the coming weeks. The 5/4 Music Space will offer practice space and a recording studio to incubate musicians and bands so they have a place to practice around the clock and also be able to record.
"We already have three bands signed up for practice spaces," Eck says. "That's the reason why we did this, because we knew there is such a demand for it because bands don’t have a place to practice 24-7."
In addition to that, he says, having a sort of co-working/incubator space also serves as a social and creative hub for the musicians.
"I'm a member of a makerspace downtown and the whole point is to bring in creative people of varying talent," Eck explains. "It makes all of them better by being around each other. There will be a band in room A, me booking in the next room, and in the break room we'll talk about all the business development skill sets they need. By seeing them on a daily basis we can really help them out. When someone is paying to be there, we can help them as best we can to incentivize them and motivate them to create and find success with their musical art."
Eventually 5/4 Music Space will be located in the Historic Capricorn Studio, which is currently undergoing renovation. The location opening soon at 340 Walnut St. will be used in the interim so that incubator can get up and running. They plan on running a crowdfunding campaign in the coming weeks as well.
While Corner Concerts has, by all appearances, been a successful series, Eck says it's difficult to quantify "success" for them.
"We struggled with defining success for our project," he says. "It's not all about attendance and revenue, but more about placemaking both in the music scene and in the architectural scene. How do you really define these non-measurable feelings? We just kind of have to trust that what we're doing is working."