Courtyard Concerts bring life to downtown Fort Payne

variety of live music sure to have multi-generational appeal.

The events happen every second and fourth Tuesday in the courtyard space next to the DeKalb Theatre and are completely free to the public to sit and enjoy while enjoying a drink from the cash bar. During winter months, the space is enclosed with outdoor heaters used.

Keef has performed in various traveling blues and rock n’ roll bands, most notably regional favorites like Electric Voodoo and The Handlers. The Courtyard Concert series showcases him and other local musicians.

Keef then approached Fort Payne Special Events Manager Maury Roberts about starting a concert series to revitalize the entertainment scene downtown.

It snowballed through the summer of 2018 and became a regular thing that people could get in the habit of attending.

Roberts said the city had “tried a few things here and there, but nothing seemed to have the support from both the public and from the local musicians. Ryan came up with the idea of having an event on the off weeks of RadioVizions so this would give the public something to do every week without any one event competing with the other. It worked very well and gave people something to do every week without overloading them, and with it being free, it wasn’t a burden on the pocketbook of the people who attended.”

An informal poll Keef took revealed that people liked having the event at a non-traditional venue so they don’t feel as pressured to purchase something if they’re not hungry or thirsty. Roberts said they want to encourage people to support local bars and restaurants where the musicians regularly perform, but the Courtyard series does not compete with those venues because it happens on Tuesday nights.

“Most venues book music Wednesday through Saturday so we’re not competing with the vast majority of restaurants, and it’s not taking any of the musicians’ prime nights away,” Roberts said.

“The reason I picked Tuesday night was that I never get to see any of my musician buddies,” Keef said.

Upcoming themes include:

• Feb. 25: Mardi Gras

• March 10: Classic Rock

• March 24: Songwriter’s Night

• April 14: British Invasion

• April 28: Country/Western

• May 12: 70s Night

• May 26: Beatles Night

• June 9: 80s Night

• June 23: 90s Night

• July 14: Elvis Night

• July 28: One Hit Wonders

• August 11: Muscle Shoals

• August 25: Theme Songs

• Sept. 8: MTV Unplugged

• Sept. 22: Songwriter’s Night

• Oct. 13: Dealer’s Choice

• Oct. 27: Locals

• Nov. 10: Coffeehouse

• Nov. 24: Southern Rock

• Dec. 8: Blues Night

• Dec. 22: Christmas

Although the players may vary from week-to-week, a core group of performers return fairly frequently, including Jared Cushen, James Roberts, David Lusk, Stuart Douglas, Dusty Smith and Marc Womack, to name a few. Some perform original songs, but it is mostly familiar covers.

“There’s an ebb and flow,” Keef said. “In the slow time of year, more people want to stay home, but once in a while, I’ll reach out to some folks I know in Huntsville or Chattanooga to come in and play. A few of my good friends haven’t even gotten down here yet.

“[Fort Payne is] a little treasure trove of talent that we have here that a lot of people don’t even know about. We have undeniable talent here that I would put up against any of the wrecking crew or even the Muscle Shoals guys. That’s not to say we are better than any of those places. Every place has a thing, and you’ve just got to find it. It’s pretty incredible that we have it and even more incredible that people don’t know about it.”

Keef, whose fourth album has a release date of May 5, and others also perform in periodic tribute shows, which are typically more structured and offer higher production values worthy of an admission. Past shows have included tributes to Creedence Clearwater Revival, Bob Seger, and Pink Floyd.

Keef said seven shows are planned for 2020 to include a repeat of CCR and Bob Seger, as well as Led Zeppelin, the Allman Brothers and others that are popular among multiple generations. The exact plans are fluid at this time.

“We tried to do the Zeppelin show last year but needed more time to prepare for it. Those are the shows that we do have to sit down and learn and have a few rehearsals to do. Some of the material is more familiar than the rest. I’ve been playing the Pink Floyd stuff for years and years, so I know most of that already. Those tribute shows are more about singling out the artist and trying to give our honest interpretation of their songs. Performances are not exactly like the original album as we put our own twist to the tunes,” Keef said.

The larger shows include VIP tickets where attendees can enjoy reserved seating. “It’s an opportunity to experience a professional live show without breaking the bank, and you’re supporting your local music scene in the process so it’s a win-win for everyone,” Keef said.

“I don’t try to make it what I personally like,” Keef said. “It’s not about what I want. It’s about interpreting the music and making it fun for everybody. When people suggest a popular artist, I really have to weigh whether there’ll be enough people passionate enough about that act to come see a tribute show. People throw us ideas that are so specific, like, ‘You should do TV show themes from the 1980s.’ I try to make the themes pretty broad so the musicians who are playing don’t have to go home and woodshed for two weeks, but can instead come down and hopefully have something in their catalog that fits the theme. Same goes for me as the host. Once in a while, I do throw one in there to keep people on their toes and keep me on my toes too and have to learn.”

The music has helped to breathe life (and a touch of coolness) back into a downtown business district that a lot of young people were rarely visiting but have now gotten in the habit of frequenting.

Keef said locals need to step up and make an effort to attend the Courtyard Concerts if they are going to continue and tell others because he has limited resources to promote them.

“People say, ‘There’s nothing to do in Fort Payne.’ There is, but you’ve got to seek it out,” he said. “It’s a free event. What have you got to lose? We almost get more people from out-of-town who hear about the Courtyard Concerts from the hotel where they are staying. We do have our die-hard locals who are always here.”

Roberts said the concerts have been successful overall.

“We’ve had our ups and downs. We’ve had 100 people packed into the courtyard and we’ve had five. We’ve only had to cancel a show once in two years,” Roberts said.

He expressed gratitude to the city for funding the events and said he and Keef have heard interest from downtown businesses about sponsorships.

Anyone interested in becoming a sponsor can contact Roberts at the DeKalb Theatre at (256) 997-0396 or reach out through the Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/courtyardconcertsfp/.

Keef said sponsors would help to more heavily promote the shows and cover expenses to rent the venue. He said N.Y.M.D. is sponsoring the Feb. 21 Creedence Clearwater Revival show.

The Courtyard Concerts are every second and fourth Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the Courtyard beside the DeKalb Theatre. “We would love to have people come play if they play guitar or can sing. Or just to listen,” Keef said.

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