HASTINGS, Neb. (AP) – What started with a simple desire to give area singer-songwriters an outlet to perform their music has become something much bigger than Listening Room Series founder Robin Harrell ever imagined.
Harrell, who moved to Hastings from Virginia in 1983 as an aspiring musician who taught guitar, was able to grow the once-humble series into a bona fide destination location for musicians from coast to coast, bringing to Hastings a blend of folk, country and alternative music offerings that previously had been missing from the city’s musical mix.
As she prepares to hand The Lark venue’s executive director baton off to the most qualified applicant, Harrell reflects on the journey of a thousand notes that began with a series of local shows performed in an upstairs room of a local Mexican restaurant on First Street in 1991.
“When I met with a few other musicians in town I realized there was no venue in Hastings where people really came to listen to music,” Harrell said. “For the kind of music we were playing, the only venue was to go to a bar where people were really loud and we were background music.
“I was like, ‘You know, I think Hastings can do better than that. I think we can support some kind of series where people can just come to listen to the musicians.’ ”
Aided by sound engineer Don Robertson, the fledgling series proved popular, not only with local listeners, but also musicians from across the region.
“Singer-songwriters of Nebraska all came out of the woodwork,” she said. “It was really exciting to see the group of musicians who came out to play that venue because they were going to be playing to a listening audience.”
The series moved in 1993 to the Knights of Pythias Hall, which became its home base through 2014. Networking with other similar musical venues along Interstate 80, the series evolved to target national acts as they were passing through en route to other gigs. As with the original series, it quickly became a popular haven, both for national acts and those wanting to hear them.
“We called it the Kansas-Nebraska act,” Harrell said. “We had a consortium, so it really worked for us. We built the series to where we could afford to have these great musicians coming through.
“We got a reputation for being this venue with an amazing listening audience that just bought lots of CDs and supported their music. People loved coming.”
As the series grew, Harrell and her board of directors saw a need for establishing a permanent venue to host the series. Through fundraising and grants, the series relocated to a more centrally located venue in downtown Hastings. In a $1.5 million project, The Lark building at 809 W. Second St. was custom-renovated to accommodate both the series and other community uses.
“The Lark building is a gathering place, an event space,” Harrell said. “But the music will always be the central core of this organization. It’ll be that passion and central purpose of bringing music to downtown Hastings that is what is going to keep it going.
“That is the job in front of my search committee and board of directors, is to find that person who cares about the music and about carrying on the 30-year tradition of excellence.”
As she readies for the next chapter of her life – joining husband Roger Landes, professor of musicology at Texas Tech in Lubbock, Texas – Harrell said she would remain in Hastings through the summer months to help train her replacement.
Then it’s off to Lubbock, where Harrell expects her next go-around to look a lot like her transition to Hastings all those years ago.
“I’m going to stick with my roots, teach guitar, and try to build my teaching studio,” she said. “I’m going to go even further back and get back into doing painting and drawing, which I kind of set aside during this time.”
Hosting a concert series of some kind is certainly a possibility as well, Harrell said.
“Of course that idea comes to me because I know so many musicians,” she said. “Lubbock is really a music town, so I may be doing some kind of small house concert series for musicians passing through.
“I don’t think I’ll exactly be able to get that out of my blood anytime soon. It’s very selfish: I love these people, I love their music, and I have to find a place for them to play so we can enjoy their music. That’s where it comes from.”
Special events slated to commemorate the series’ 30th anniversary include a pair of limited-attendance concerts on June 11-12 by singer/songwriter Darrell Scott, a favorite son of the series.
Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC.