One of the things I truly love about Atlanta is all the little hidden gems that pop up when you're in the right place at the right time.
A few weeks ago, the two correctly intersected for me at the Plaza Theatre on Ponce: I caught an old-fashioned variety show with a theater-junkie friend of mine (after prying her away from her Dragon Con costume prep ... hi, Alyssa!).
As someone who grew up on "A Prairie Home Companion" with Garrison Keillor, the Good Gracious variety show sounded right up my alley, but I had no real idea what to expect. I told Alyssa so. She came anyway — like I said, she loves her some theater — and we were both blown away by how amazing the show was!
When Good Gracious says "variety," that's what they mean. From singers to jazz to string bands to storytelling to short films to comedians to poets, the live acts just kept on coming. I found myself waiting on the edge of my seat for the next act every time the prior one wrapped, and I was never disappointed. I found new artists to check out, ones it would never have occurred to me to even look for. (I mean, when was the last time you heard a Guggenheim fellow read his poetry on a stage?)
The driving force behind Good Gracious is Boyd Baker (chief "Cat Juggler"), who says the inspiration came from the eTown live radio show in Boulder, Co. Boyd says seeing the nationally syndicated show live in 2014 gave him a new way to envision live performances, wrapped up with the "potential for adventure" and discovering new Southern talent.
Boyd came back to Atlanta and started a KickStarter campaign to fund Good Gracious. After raising just over $15,000 with the help of more than 100 backers, the show kicked off in June 2014. Since then, they've had seven live shows and nearly 50 podcast episodes — all part of Boyd's plan to spread Southern stories.
"I know the South has creative talent as good as anywhere else," Boyd says, "but I don't think we've given it a good platform up until now."
The show itself is, in turns, charming, funny, earnest, inspiring and, above all, entertaining. Each artist's act is impeccably timed for today's short attention spans, giving the audience a little taste of new things to love without dwelling too long on any one piece. Don't like the current style of music? Not to worry, something else is just around the corner! (I'll be honest, I liked them all, but I'm sure there are some cranky people out there who won't. You know who you are.)
In between the live shows, Boyd runs that popular little podcast I mentioned, where you can "hear great minds, music and mayhem." He started the podcast after realizing that it was hard to explain the show to people, but that they'd "get it" once they attended one. But with prohibitive overhead and production costs restricting the live shows to quarterly events, the podcast helps spread the word on a more regular basis and build the audience.
From the Founder: What's one piece of advice you'd give to other entrepreneurs, or something that you wish you'd known when you started?
"Don't wait for 'the perfect time.' There is no perfect time. Only by acting out your dream do you learn how to make it better. I should have started years ago and could have. I wish someone would have made me think more creatively about gathering an audience organically. I'm always about going big if it makes sense, but there are so many creative ways these days that you can fortify that Big Dream with some small, daily actions. Without an audience, it doesn't matter how great your concept is. They have to be in the mix from Day One. "
"The folks on the show are great supporters of what I'm doing and they're sharing the 'good word' with their tribes, so we're slowly adding more fans to our family," Boyd says. "The best part of doing the show is seeing the smiles and the 'aha! moment' when they realize what I was trying to tell them the show was like."
The artists who've appeared on the show also send referrals his way for podcast or live show guests. "They love spreading the love. ... I constantly get 'Thanks!' and 'This is great, keep doing this. Atlanta needs this,' from performers. That's what keeps me going," Boyd says.
I can't imagine the sheer amount of time, effort, and scheduling that has to go into a variety show. You're not just dealing with one artist and his or her requirements, you're dealing with many, and all of their logistics, all at once. But the Good Gracious team seems incredibly passionate about the cause (including the younger boys who acted as the enthusiastic, if somewhat inexperienced, furniture-moving stagehands between sets). Everyone who helps are friends and family who Boyd says have other jobs and full lives, but "love the screwball idea of 'putting on a show.' " He says that they're all really talented, and so giving of their time to make each show special.
While a few of the acts are a little more mature (not that kind of act, get your mind out of the gutter), it's still pretty family-friendly. However, if you want to introduce your kids or grandkids to the concept of the variety show geared specifically toward them, Good Gracious also puts on a children's show called GAZOYKS! It came about after Boyd saw a group of kids at the main show one night and realized how much fun they were having. After asking around and realizing there weren't any options out there for kids that were "like the old Saturday morning shows," Boyd decided to give them something that he says doesn't talk down to them, but relates to them, in a similar format to Good Gracious.
From the Founder: What was the hardest part of launching, and what was the best part?
"The hardest part was just putting my neck and reputation out there and doing it. Learning how to be a show producer, booking agent, show writer, and emcee is quite the juggling act, but I'm getting better at wearing so many hats. The best part is two-fold: seeing the artists enjoy themselves at the show and having audience be blown away by such a great night out that they never could have imagined. "
"I wanted it to be a show kids would love and parents would enjoy — like a good Pixar film," Boyd says. If that sounds like a good time for you and your family (and it should!), sign up here for tickets to the GAZOYKS! Variety Show for kids Saturday morning brunch show at Venkman's in Old Fourth Ward, coming up on Sept. 24.
Since I had no idea the two-year-old Good Gracious show even existed prior to attending, I know there is probably an entire unsuspecting audience in Atlanta who would love it. This blog post is my push to get the word out; you can also check out their podcast for a taste of how the shows go, and connect with some unexpected and impressive Southern musicians, artists and change-makers at the same time. Interested in being on the show, spotlighting a philanthropic cause, or hosting or sponsoring one of the events? You can find more information (and Boyd's contact info) here.
I encourage you to take a minute, listen to a podcast or two, and sign up for the next show when the date is set. The Good Gracious variety show is certainly a hidden Atlanta gem that's worth sharing.