Jeb Brown is one of the most respected and loved promoters in the business of independent country music. That is not hyperbole or innuendo, I say that as fact because, well, it is. Jeb was one of the first people to reach out to me when I started the Armadillo some years back and show his support for what we were doing, and he’s been a dear friend and ardent supporter ever since.
In the last couple years Jeb has re-focused the efforts of his Jeb Brown Productions company into a new venture that may seem more simple than any he’s ever tackled before, but in truth is much more intricate than maybe anything he’s ever done as a promoter:
The Back Room Lounge. An intimate 50 seat listening room set up to produce excellent sound quality during shows that take place there, and an audience whose full attention is on the show. Talking over the music is the cardinal sin, and even the use of phones to record is discouraged, and sometimes even banned. Patrons know that a ticket to the show is an agreement to show full respect to the artists on stage and the others there who have also bought the same ticket to see the same show.
To understand the meaning of the Back Room Lounge you have to understand the history of Jeb Brown as a promoter.
“If you want to go all the way back to the start, my mother owned a bar 20 years ago exactly and she would pay these local bands ridiculous amounts of money,” he began, recalling how he got into promoting shows. “I went to a show with Chris Knight and Hank 3, and speaking with both of them Chris was like ‘Hey man, you can book us for almost the same price as you’re paying those guys’ so we did it. Once you see a guy like Chris in your building you want to see even more like him, and that’s what we’ve been doing for 1,200 shows now.”
Today Jeb’s love for the independents is apparent, he’s one of the biggest supporters of the independent country movement that you’ll find, but like most things in life it was a journey to get him there. “Back when I was still green and new to the business we would be booking top 40 guys. I had Blake Shelton in before he was a huge name and I even lost plenty of money on him. As time went on we started getting more into red dirt style country, Cross Canadian Ragweed, Stoney Larue, Turnpike Troubadours, but I eventually really found my niche and what I enjoy with the real independent country scene,” he explained.
Putting the work in and taking chances on booking talent hasn’t been something that Jeb has ever been shy to do. He possesses a deep understanding of what it means to take a chance on working with someone to put on a show, and he understands that taking that chance goes both ways telling me “Working with all these folks who have rolled the dice with me that we’ve made relationships with through the years has been fun. It’s been fun to build relationships with them and watch them grow. They know the deal. I treat them as fair as anybody in the country and it’s helped lead to making my contacts, making more contacts through me and my room.”
As the years marched on and the crowds got bigger and rowdier Jeb admits that it took a toll on him personally and from a business standpoint. “It’s crazy to think, but I used to be one of those rowdy ones,” Jeb recalls. “Sometimes I was putting on shows to prize fight in the parking lot or see if I could drink the most beer out of everyone there. It took me getting sober to figure out what I needed to do, what I wanted to do.”
What he wanted to do was bring it all back home again and put his, and the audience’s focus back where it belonged: On the music.
“I just got tired of the bullshit”, he recalls with a laugh. “All the bullshit. I got tired of the drunks and the people falling all over each other and everyone else. I got tired of people not respecting the artists or the other people in the crowd with them.”
Taking a large walk-in cooler Jeb lined the walls with sound suppressing material, brought in tables and chairs and brought his vision of ultimate intimacy and superb sound quality to life. The Backroom Lounge was born.
It took little time for the venue to earn an admirable reputation. “The first sellout there was with Josh Morningstar and it was really special to me because Josh and I had worked probably 150 shows and no one else in the country was taking chances on him and selling tickets, and I put a $20 dollar ticket on him and when it sold it I had tears. Those people all knew what Josh was capable of and weren’t afraid to pay $20 to see it in a room that he calls his favorite to play.”
As we discussed the environment that made the room so great to play and see a show in I asked Jeb what happens if any of the patrons run afoul of the expected behaviors while in the Lounge. “They don’t,” Jeb deadpanned to me. “We’ve never had any real serious instances where I’ve had to get involved but if I ever do they’ll be given their money back and asked to leave. Or everybody in the place will look at them and let them know to shut up or stop acting out of line. It’s a whole different vibe, the people get it and it’s the real deal.”
Beyond building an incredible environment to see a show in, Jeb has worked tirelessly to build an incredible environment to play a show in. One of the cornerstones of Jeb Brown Productions is treating the talent like family, making sure they are well taken care of and happy to play shows for him.
“That’s just the way I was brought up,” Jeb told me of how he treats those playing the Lounge. “When I had a lot of money and I didn’t know exactly what I was doing I figured out that you have to make connections and lifetime friends. You gotta treat people the way that you want to be treated. These artists are all independent, they’re all out here laying it all on the line giving everything they’ve got to play this show and make it to the next and I want to give them the best reward for that that I can.”
Speaking about the buzz surrounding the Back Room Lounge from both the fans and those in the music business Jeb said that he feels like the room is making an impact and turning heads. “Times are changing, that’s for sure,” he said with pride. “People are definitely paying attention to the independent artists these days, but people are also paying attention to how to attend a show. The concept of paying the money to see the talent and not be so wasted that you can’t remember it, or having to put up with people who are is something that a lot of people spending a lot of time and money going to these shows just don’t want to tolerate. It’s definitely getting rooms like the BRL noticed, and I’ve had plenty of contact about dates. “
Jeb even told me the experience provided by the Lounge paid itself forward in the middle of a show. “I had tried to get Channing Wilson for years, and I finally did and he was in the middle of the show and he pulled out his phone, opens his calendar and booked a return show right there on the spot. He said ‘I don’t do my own booking, but I’m coming back to this room!’ The next day Dave Kennedy calls me and says ‘Hey I hear your room is badass, let’s get something set up!’ The word is getting out, and that makes me proud.”
The word is getting out there indeed, as the Back Room Lounge was named the 2018 Venue Of The Year by our friends over at KVOK, an award that Jeb says took him by surprise, and that he owes to more than just himself. “That award isn’t just to stroke me ego, that award means the world to me because it’s for every person in that room who comes out to all these shows and makes them as special as they are. They deserve it even more than I do.”
The reputation of the Back Room Lounge grows into an actual legend with each and every passing show. Artists and fans alike want the privilege to be a part of the experience, and Jeb simply could not be happier. “I’m just enjoying staying on the smaller side of the business these days,” he said leaning back with a smile. “I seriously love what other places like Dukes in Indianapolis are doing with the ‘Shut The Fuck Up’ concert series and I’m glad that I have a room where that sort of environment is the rule and not the exception. It makes me so proud of my people that are coming out to all of my shows and creating that environment. Those people are the backbone of Jeb Brown Productions, and I’m enjoying that now as much as I’ve ever enjoyed anything else I’ve ever done as a promoter.”
Back Room Lounge Links: