There’s something about a room that can be truly magical. It’s something you can hear and feel immediately upon setting foot across the threshold. The walls could be thick with history—a vibrant meeting place where thought provoking literary mavens across generations sipped scotch, or a musty nightclub where some of the world’s musical greats had their start at open mics. Or maybe the room just happens to have been built with the foresight for a great sound system and acoustics.
While I’ve certainly run the gamut of those many types of rooms of late, it was the latter sort of which I’m fondly holding onto the feeling as I write this. I experienced that ‘gasp’ of excitement when I walked into the TriBeCa location of the City Winery restaurant and music venue in New York. Refreshingly modern in its approach to music and food and drink, City Winery’s ceiling, covered wall-to-wall in acoustically friendly material, high-end loudspeakers, and multiple projection systems, reinforced my initial gut reaction to the space.
But I wasn’t there to see the room. It was bluegrass that called me there, specifically, Jeff Austin Band, a new solo project from this Colorado-based mandolin-maestro. Just a few weeks back, I caught the quartet at another incredible sounding room, San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall, which straddles a few of the categories I outlined above (sound and history coupled with stunning architecture). I knew that night that I’d be seeing more of Mr. Austin et. al.
Austin is a captivating artist who really shines in live performances, unconstrained by prescribed forms and strict timeframes. The contrast between seeing him at two very different venues highlighted a more personal side that really thrived at City Winery. He frequently stopped to joke between songs—watching taxis drive by was “exciting” to the Coloradan, and a cardboard cutout man poised in the window across the street perplexed him. Improvisation is not simply a strongpoint for Austin, but more of a life philosophy. In interviews, he has expounded on an artistic mentality to build on what feels right, not what any establishment deems as such. The idea is echoed through his career path.
While so often in AV, we remain fixated on that end result, often our biggest successes snowball from an abstract idea or off-the-cuff moment. As we barrel into InfoComm this month, it’s easy to be over-scheduled and tied down every minute each day. One of my personal goals will be to seek out the unexpected, both on the show floor and off, and be ready to go where that takes me. I’m looking to balance my necessities with the freedom to foster spontaneous moments, where I know that my best work starts. Whether it’s an exquisite space setting a scene or a passing comment overheard, the roots of innovation and inspiration can happen at a moment when you least suspect.