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On a Friday night in early October, a small crowd sat scattered across the lawn next to City Church beneath the stars and strands of bright globes. Other than the fait noise of traffic flowing down Staples Street, the only sounds heard inside The Churchyard were the folk melodies and gripping lyrics of The Independent Thieves, a local folk duo.
The audience, both young and old, listened and swayed along to the music. This was the exact scene Steven Hansen envisioned three years ago when a member of City Church (where Hansen works) who designs music venues and clubs around town decided to take advantage of a large empty lot sitting on the churches property.
“He really liked the music at City Church and helped us get into this building and saw we have this nice outdoor courtyard area, all fenced in. And he asked, ‘What if we make a venue out of this?’ I didn’t think he was serious, but he did it,” said Hansen.
As a musician, Hansen lives and works here and is always looking for places to play. Hansen is a singer-songwriter first in his approach to music. He loves the poetry of music and then listening to the story. When he first envisioned The Churchyard, we wanted to try to create an environment where people listen to the music and lyric poetry.
The Churchyard is designed to be family friendly. All ages are welcome and 12 and under are free. They don’t serve alcohol, but there is always free water and pizza and Green Light Coffee for sale. The whole point of this venue is to build a listening environment. It’s always original music and writing. Hansen wants the next generation to learn to enjoy original music and build a culture that supports original music in our city.
Before moving to Corpus Christi, Hansen worked as a studio engineer at Music Lab in Austin and has engineered live sound for South by Southwest (an annual film and music festival in Austin). So when he was handed the keys to this intimate, outdoor venue, he knew he had a special opportunity – he just had no clue where to start.
Hansen wasn’t a promoter or a venue manager, so he called his friend Casey Lain. As the owner of House of Rock, Lain has been an active proponent of the local music scene for decades. “Casey helped me envision a contract and what it would look like to reach out to this group of people. So he helped us get in touch with Terri Hendrix, who was our first show. She came down here with Lloyd Mains, and about a hundred people came out to the show,” recalled Hansen.
“We’re not a bar, we’re not a club, we’re a listening room,” said Hansen. “We’re not trying to push an agenda other than promoting good music and listening environments in our town. We want to get better music here and help people listen to and enjoy it live.”
The first two seasons were tough for Hansen. As a one-man operation, he was running a little thin. It was a challenge getting people to come out to shows and handling the misconception that The Churchyard only promotes Christian music and artists. However, just this season, he started seeing some response from the community and more people came along who shared his vision. Garrett Wieland, of the band Independent Thieves and host of Some Call It Folk on KEDT, made it out to a couple shows and jumped on board to help book musicians and promote the venue.
Both Hansen and Wieland connected with the Corpus Christ Songwriters (CC Songwriters) association, the brain child of Jimmy Willden and David Martinez. The organizations goal is to promote the writing of original music in Corpus Christi. Together, with the help of CC Songwriters, The Churchyard hosted the first Songwriters Showcase, where up-and-coming local musicians can play an extended set to an attentive audience.
“We put it on and opened the doors as a free event. We had four local artists, and it was a really good show. Most of the time, we are very careful about who we bring in. I want to make sure that the quality is at a high level. I want people to know that no matter who is playing at The Churchyard, it’s going to be good,” said Hansen.
For Garrett Wieland and other local musicians who write and produce original music, it’s difficult to find places to play, so they adapt and play covers. But sometimes playing covers just doesn’t promote a community that encourages artists to write and produce their own art. Two years ago, The Independent Thieves recorded their own studio album at Sound Machine Studios with Mason Shirley, located on the same campus as The Churchyard.
“We want to be highly invested in the local scene and help develop the local artists so that they can be inspired to keep producing art in this town and inspire local artists and inspire our culture to love original music,” said Hansen.
Waiting in the wings for next season are bands like David Ramirez and Shaky Graves[w1] . However, it’s not too late to catch the last show of 2016 featuring Nathan Bonneson November 18th at 7:30 pm. You just may walk away with a favorite new song.
[w1]I think Shaky Graves is a person, not a band – so I removed “The” and did not italicize it. We should look into this further though to be sure that’s right.