Like most show-goers, I’m a sucker for the thrills that come with being in a packed venue: the chaos of bodies squeezing past each other, the buzz of unintelligible chatter, the sense of anticipation in the air. It’s an experience like no other, and I feed off the crowd’s energy every bit as much as the musicians on the stage. The magic of the audience is what really makes a show great, and I often wonder how musicians engage when there isn’t a crowd to draw from. “It doesn’t matter if you’re performing for an audience of 5 or 5000. You give them the same show,” a band once told me when I asked this this very question in an interview. “If you can captivate them, then that’s five people you’ve just won over as fans.” So, as I walked into the dimly lit Juanita’s nightclub, I didn’t expect that I would soon be living that reality.
I paid no mind to the booming echoes of sound check as I walked in to secure a good place by the stage. I was here to see Bridge To Grace, a hard rock band from Atlanta, Georgia. Just a few days before, they’d released their debut album after three years of consistent touring. Having enjoyed their sound, I admit I was eager to see how the songs would translate on stage, and I wasn’t at all shy about hiding my excitement as I introduced myself to the band’s drummer, Justin Little.
“So, we have some bad news,” he told me as he let go of my hand. “The headlining band broke down an hour outside of town. There’s a chance we might be headlining tonight instead.” His voice was somewhat grave, but I read the twinkle in his eye for what it was: unexpected mishaps; challenge accepted—bring it on.
Two hours later and the looks on the band members’ faces had changed. I understood why. It was minutes to 8, the show was scheduled to begin soon, and the venue was still as empty as it had been when I had first walked in. The house manager gave the band a choice: call it a night or take to the stage. The members of Bridge To Grace took no time to come to a decision, and 15 minutes later, four lucky others and myself were granted an exclusive, private show by the band. I thought, perhaps, because there were so few of us, the band would take it easy and hold back a bit. Maybe they were initially planning that when they took to the stage, or maybe they were being driven by a need to prove themselves. Either way, as the red and blue stage lights washed over the four musicians, and the first chords of “The Fold” rang out, “holding back” seemed to be the last thing these guys were going to do.
There’s something about being in a truly intimate setting with a band, such as this, that makes you appreciate the transformation that happens to musicians when they’re on the stage. David, who was usually soft-spoken, growled the lyrics with such passion I had to wonder if this was the same person I’d spoken with only moments before. Alex stood to the side, calm and collected, as he methodically ran scales up and down the neck of his bass guitar. Christian, in a whirlwind of twirls and hair flips, shredded his guitar in a frenzy that the small crowd wholly appreciated. Justin pounded mercilessly on the drums, hammering out beats that resonated like musical Morse code to the listening audience – “This is who we our, we are Bridge To Grace.” And it wasn’t the lack of bodies on the floor that kept my eyes drawn to the stage. It was the vehemence with which they played that demanded my attention.
The momentum continued on for the next few songs, the energy the band exuded was infectious, and by the time they played a tour favorite, “Take It All,” two of the five of us listening were on the dance floor. The crowd engagement was heartfelt, the audiences’ reaction was genuine, and the energy in the room more than made up for the lack of people there. Playing for an impressive 40 minutes, the set ended with their highly popular single, “Bitch,” which the band happily dedicated to “All the people who aren’t here right now.” The shouts of encouragement from the audience seemed to spur the band on, and by the time the final notes echoed out and the house lights came up, the clapping that rang out was truly genuine. The show had been fun, energetic, and for a lack of a better phrase, pretty-fucking-fantastic. As a faithful Juanita’s goer, I knew this had been a show that other show-goers would have been upset they had missed.
I wasn’t sure if Bridge To Grace would ever come back to Little Rock after tonight. After all, playing for an empty venue just days after releasing your debut album has got to be a hard pill to swallow. However, as I left Juanita’s, I couldn’t help but compare what I’d just seen to a phoenix raising from the ashes. There’s no doubt in my mind that if the energy they used to play tonight fueled every other future show, then Bridge To Grace might just be the saving grace for a dying rock scene.
Lost In Memories
Take It All
All I Wanna Be
Singing in the Dark
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