Grant Park has had the distinct pleasure of playing home to Matt Arnett, who in turn has given back to the community through converting his humble abode into the beloved music venue Grocery on Home. Honoring the mission of intimacy between artist and audience, Arnett has slated the performances with a limited number of seats to enjoy mostly acoustic shows. The platform he's cultivated has served as an authentic introduction between performer and invested Atlanta appreciators. BANG! checked in with Arnett to discuss the mission.
BANG! Now that Grocery has gained notoriety, what steps are you taking to preserve the intimacy inherent with the shows?
Matt Arnett The truth is, nothing has really changed. Because the space is the size that it is, it will never grow beyond what it is. RSVPs are still handled the same way. Once an event is full, it’s just full. As far as the art is concerned that happens inside the Grocery, my philosophy hasn’t and won’t change. I’ll keep bringing great things that deserve to be listened to into the space.
BANG! Do you think Grocery on Home came to be out of necessity, invention or perhaps both?
Matt Arnett Certainly a little of both. There are some wonderful venues in Atlanta, and I patronize all of them. There was just something missing in terms of intimacy that is very hard to get in a traditional music venue. I saw a need, for sure. I also lived in a very special place that demanded something happen there. Ben Sollee was traveling through town and I invited some friends and neighbors to come here him play, as I didn’t feel he was as well known as he should be. His first solo record had just come out which was fantastic. He came and people loved his music and certainly loved hearing him play it in the Grocery. Lonnie Holley had never performed live, so there was no way he could have gotten a gig somewhere. I invited a few friends over to listen and it was really powerful. Lonnie is now performing and recording music with Dust-to-Digital. His second record on D-t-D comes out September 3rd and he just booked a tour with the great Bill Callahan. I love traditional music venues (and host the open-mic at Eddie’s Attic). I also love what happens in the Grocery. They’re different, but both so important to songwriters and musicians.
BANG! Is there a particular demographic that frequent the showcases? Who would you like to see more of in the audience?
Matt Arnett I think different music attracts a different group of folks, but the audience is usually comprised of a pretty diverse demographic. The Grocery is for people who love music and actually go to listen to music. I’m not sure I’d change much about the audience, even if I could. People are polite to each other and the artists. And super supportive. I’d say the average age probably skews a little older than most traditional venues, but that’s because they’ve come solely to listen. Hopefully they’ll meet some other people who appreciate music, hear some music they didn’t already know, or hear music they knew in a different way, and have a good time. The model is pretty simple.
BANG! Due to the kind of platform Grocery provides, have you ever noted a ripple effect from the performances into the community?
Matt Arnett Absolutely. And mostly those ripples have been overwhelmingly positive. Many artists played their first Atlanta shows at the Grocery and now have devoted listeners within our city. Many of the artists who have played the Grocery have gotten other gigs around town and made great friends here. Lucy Wainwright Roche got a part on a television show that was filmed here after her performance. Many of my friends (and theirs) now routinely come to Grant Park to eat at the great restaurants here, restaurants they first went to on their way to see music at the Grocery. I’ve also become much more involved in my neighborhood due to the many great neighbors that have come to the Grocery. I also get contacted by people all the time who want to emulate the model of the Grocery in their own homes or neighborhoods. So many artists have met each other at the Grocery, too. Jim White is producing the Skipperdees record. They met when I brought them to the Grocery on the same night. Those are the kinds of ripples that make me very proud and keep me doing this.
BANG! Are there any requirements for an artist to be considered to perform?
Matt Arnett They have to be really talented. It helps if they don’t have a following in Atlanta. It also really, really helps if they are someone I know or we have great mutual friends and they fit both of the other categories.
BANG! Have the shows leaned toward a certain genre more than others?
Matt Arnett It is an intimate space, so not everything I love would work at the Grocery. Acoustic music works best, obviously, and it doesn’t really work to have a loud rock band. But I’ve certainly had bands that scaled their set down for the intimacy of the space. I’ve had everything from a cappella African American gospel, Reverend John Wilkins (the great gospel blues singer and preacher), to Jon Dee Graham (the legendary Austin songwriter), to Delta Rae. I don’t think there is a particular genre I’ve leaned toward. My personal tastes are eclectic and I suppose the music has been, too.
BANG! Looking out, why do you think venues have become so damn costly, and what kind of effects do you think that it’s having on the Atlanta music community?
Matt Arnett I’m not sure I see venues as costly. Sure, if you are going to see some traveling circus show at Phillips Arena, it might be cost prohibitive to pay $75 for that. Add in the fees and all that and it cost you a few hundred bucks to go see music. I think you could go see music every night of the week somewhere in Atlanta and not spend $200 in a month. I also don’t mind spending $20 at Eddie’s Attic or the EARL to see someone great, especially since that’s how these artists support themselves. Earlier this year, my friends Joe Fletcher and Joshua Black Wilkins played at the Grocery. The show ended about 9:30 and we went over the EARL to see Shovels&Rope. We had a few passes from the band, but tickets were only $10. At most venues, a lot of the ticket revenue goes to artists, so I suppose to keep the doors open they charge a premium for drinks. I guess that’s just business. I think all entertainment has gone up. Go look at the prices to go to Six Flags or some other place like that. I see music as still being an affordable option.
Maybe I’m the wrong one to ask. You won’t hear me complain about that. I went to see a show at WonderRoot a few weeks ago and they wanted a $5 donation to hear 3 great bands.
Music is one area where I feel like the money I am paying is actually supporting the creation of something vitally important to my community.
BANG! In reference to the discussions, do you see Grocery as more of a retrospective apparatus or a “stirring the pot” forum?
Matt Arnett I suppose I will always stir the pot. But I’ve got no problem with being a retrospective apparatus, too. I guess both, without thinking too much about either while I’m doing it.
BANG! Where does Grocery on Home stand within its community in the future?
Matt Arnett If, by community, you mean Atlanta, I’d say that I want to continue to develop audiences for great music and keep providing an opportunity for great music to thrive. I hope that artists who play the Grocery will spend some time here (Atlanta) and realize that there is a great base of support for what they do here. I’ll also continue to support art that needs supporting.
If, by community, you mean Grant Park, I’d say that I’ll continue to do whatever I can to let people know that my neighborhood is one of the best neighborhoods in Atlanta. So many great artists live in Grant Park. It’s a diverse and wonderful place to live.
You can catch all the happenings with the Grocery on it's Facebook page here.