Part of the excitement of living in The Shoals is seeing how the area has changed over the years. Though we have such an impressive collection of musicians in the area—musicians who have been an important part of the American musical landscape—when I was young, it was difficult to find a place to hear live music. There were family gatherings with guitars and impromptu songwriters’ nights—but there was no real place for people to gather and listen to a live band. On the flipside, local musicians—whether upcoming or established—had no place to play, reach their audiences, and try out new material.
The renowned FAME and Muscle Shoals Sound musicians were primarily studio session players. They created iconic sounds, but often during business hours and behind closed session doors. Because those musical talents were being developed in studios and not in bars or venues, we never had much of a music “scene” to speak of. This directly impacted the musicians who eventually founded Single Lock Records. Each learned their trade in makeshift music venues like garages, house shows, or anywhere that would have them.
That is why The Shoals’ newest music venue 116 E. Mobile (conveniently, the physical address) gives locals and visitors a place to see musicians from at home and abroad in a comfortable space. 116 (as it is often called) is located in downtown Florence and is owned and operated by Single Lock Records, in tandem with Billy Reid.
In an interview with Billy Reid, John Paul White said, “In terms of the space and what it can offer, the thing you can tie back to anybody who makes music (professionally) from here is that they had somewhere to hone their craft. The only way to learn how to make music is to make music. If you don’t ever get the chance to stand in front of people and get booed and get cheered, you are never going to get it figured out. You can’t skip that step; there have been those who have and they get found out. And if they can’t do it here, they go somewhere else.”
As venue owners, the 116 crew have unique perspectives because they are in touring bands themselves. They understand how difficult it often is for young and upcoming bands to book shows, both at home and on the road. They are also great supporters of local talent and have a tendency to pair a touring band with a local band on the same bill; that way, no matter which musicians you came to see, there’s a chance you will walk away having discovered something new.
The 116 E. Mobile philosophy—and its mere existence—is attempting to address a specific issue that many mid-size cities face when it comes to live shows: how can we convince emerging and established musicians to make The Shoals a stop on their tours? The Single Lock owners know that not many touring acts make stops here—though they frequently stop in neighboring cities like Memphis, Nashville, Birmingham, and Atlanta. Locals have to travel to larger cities to see bands they love. Single Lock’s Ben Tanner notes that because of our city’s physical location, many bands could stop here, if we created a desirable space. “There’s a bit of a mystique around this area, so I think if people knew there was a decent, cool venue in Florence, (bands would say) ‘Yeah, I’ll go play there. Why not?'” Because Florence is a college town with a growing market, it is feasible to see The Shoals as an emerging tour stop, eventually.
The 116 management team also places importance on things that house parties and dive bars don’t always prioritize: creating great sound and a comfortable atmosphere. Because they’ve endured their fair share of terrible sound systems and smoky bars, the Single Lock folks want to find great sound engineers and maintain quality sound equipment. Most 116 shows are all-ages, which combats something that all music-loving teenagers encounter: being too young to get into a club and see your favorite band. Families can attend shows together; everyone is made to feel welcome.
116’s very first shows were played by renowned artists JD McPherson and Tift Merritt during Billy Reid’s Shindig celebration. Other acts that have played shows at the venue include Rosanne Cash, Shonna Tucker, Jonny Fritz, Donnie Fritts, Steelism, Benjamin Booker, Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires, Willie Watson, Patterson Hood, Jonathan Richman (among others), our own Maggie Crisler, and (former shipping coordinator) Louisa Murray have both played there with their bands—as has extended family member, Doc Dailey.
For a list of upcoming shows at 116 E. Mobile, check out their calendar here.
P.S.: As part of our recent project on design and scale, we reduced and expanded our New Leaves stencil and looked at how graphic elements have different effects when you change the context for the design. We extended our exploration of scale onto a completely new canvas for Alabama Chanin: public space—specifically the street outside of 116 E. Mobile. We took a design that would normally be utilized on fabric for a garment or a home good, enlarged it and painted it outside.
And find your own ways to use these stencils by downloading the original New Leaves design —free for a limited time with the code ZENFONE2 at online checkout—and tag #SWOCS and #theschoolofmaking on your finished project.