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Keeping the music alive: Spring Street turns out tunes in Jonesborough

By MARINA WATERS

Staff Writer

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The Spring Street Music Room is yet to see a live audience walk through its doors, but that hasn’t stopped its team from bringing music to the people — even amid a pandemic.

“Our mission has been to try to give some sense of normality in all of this,” Spring Street Music Room Host Roxanne McDaniels said. “We’re trying to keep the live music experience alive in a venue as if things were normal. You have a lot of musicians and live bands doing livestreams from their homes, but we wanted to try to reproduce the experience of having an actual experience people can log in to.”

The music room used to be known as the Mockingbird Music Room, but now that Jonesborough musician Don Burger has rebranded the venue, his team has been working to offer live music during the pandemic.

So far, the venue has been home to numerous live stream performances from dulcimer artists such as Anne Lough and Don Pedi as well as Burger and McDaniels themselves. The Spring Street Music Room was also the main location for 2020’s Jonesborough Dulcimer Days Festival which was hosted online. 

“Since people weren’t able to come to the town in person,” McDaniels said, “we did on-location video shoots that were socially distanced to not only spread our music, but to allow people to virtually visit some locations in historic Jonesborough. 

“I was surprised with how successful it was, considering it was our first time doing everything remotely. We had people tuning in as far away as Australia.” 

But the music room isn’t just a home for dulcimer players.

McDaniels — a master dulcimer and guitar player who graduated from East Tennessee State University’s bluegrass program in 2018 — said the venue is also open to other types of music and instruments. So far, the venue has hosted artists and bands such as Helena Rose, Thistle Dew, the Playwrights, and Jim and Cheri Miller. 

“We’ve done things that have really focused on folk music and country, a bit of old-time,” McDaniels said. “We haven’t actually done any proper bluegrass, at least not yet. But in the future, we’re also going to have some singer songwriter stuff. Whenever things return to normal, we’re hoping to have full bands come.”

Coming up, the Spring Street Music Room will host a ticketed workshop weekend hosted via Zoom with Janie Rothfield and Allan Carr on Oct. 24 and 25. That event will include a series of classes for old-time clawhammer banjo, old-time fiddle, and a class on traditional Scottish songs led by Carr. There will also be a couple of old-time jam sessions.

“There will also be two concerts,” McDaniels added. “We have a decent audience in Europe, so we had a complaint that our shows began too late for our European viewers to watch them live. So we are going to do one earlier in the day for the audience in the UK and one later in the evening for American and Canadian viewers.”

Keeping the music alive has certainly been fuel for McDaniels, but that hasn’t been easy in trying to scrounge up money to pay performers all during a national health crisis.

“It’s been interesting because we’ve really had to learn everything as we go. Everything we do, we’re doing it for the first time,” McDaniel said. “It’s kind of amusing to me that when we really got started was right at the time this pandemic took hold in America. Our entire startup has existed in a pandemic world. 

“I’m kind of proud of that because I feel like if we can make it during this year, especially with it being our startup year, we should be able to continue to do well when and if things return to normal.”

Though the Spring Street Music Room is yet to see a bustling crowd gather to hear a billowing bluegrass band or a dulcimer serenade as it might have before COVID-19, McDaniels has been happy to provide a bit of normalcy to online viewers in Jonesborough and across the globe.

“I’ve got people who message us from Canada, UK, Australia, various parts of Europe saying, ‘I really look forward to tuning into your shows when you all go live.’,” McDaniels said. 

“It’s a stressful, anxious time. I think just having that one piece of normality present, no matter how small it is, some continuation of normality is a small release during COVID.”

For more information, go to the SSMR’s facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/SpringStreetMusicRoom/ or visit https://springstreetmusicroom.ucraft.site.