When Penni Guidry moved in with David Mooney in 2009, she had no plans to connect with the neighborhood.
“I said, ‘OK, I’m not interested in making any new friends. I’ve had friends all these years. I’m not going to nurture a friendship. I just want to come here and stay behind my fence,’ ” said Guidry, 62.
That’s not how it worked out.
A garden of whimsy, the yard beside this Capital Heights property, practically invites passers-by to stop and explore. On many Friday nights, the invitation is more explicit.
Guidry and Mooney have turned their yard into a concert venue, where dozens of neighbors show up to hear performers willing to play for whatever the crowd puts in the passed hat. The neighbors like it. The musicians like it.
“This is the best kind of venue,” said Joel Paul Wilson, who performed with his wife, Amy, on July 31. “The best music happens in people’s backyards or in the underground or off-the-wall places.”
This space meets two of those three criteria. It’s a backyard — technically, a side yard — and it’s a bit off the wall. Guidry is the inspiration for that.
There are three vintage travel trailers parked there, plus a pink Volkswagen microbus. There’s a decoratively painted upright piano that was rescued from the side of the road, and a telephone booth that once belonged to Guidry’s then-teenage son.
Tall, corrugated metal fences provide seclusion. Teacups hang from tree limbs. A surfboard leans against one fence; empty bird cages hang on another. There is no apparent theme to all of this, but it seems to work.
“She really is very gifted,” said Julie Baxter Payer, who joined the concert crowd.
The trailers dominate the landscape, and not by accident. Well, mostly not by accident.
Guidry, who grew up in West Monroe, lived for a few months in such a trailer in Biloxi, Mississippi, when “life threw me into Plan B.” When she came to Baton Rouge, she missed it, so she found one online.
After moving it to the backyard, she and Mooney got a great deal on another and brought it in. Then, when two Canadian tourists needed a place to leave their trailer so they could return home quickly before their visas expired, it joined the crowd.
“It just kind of grew around that,” said Mooney, 62. “We wanted something kind of Key West-y.”
Which would make it a perfect spot for a Jimmy Buffett concert. But, while the man from Margaritaville hasn’t appeared, a variety of local and area talent has, including Grammy nominee Yvette Landry, of Breaux Bridge, who shared the stage with Steve Judice and Brian Regan.
The concerts are Mooney’s idea.
The Capital Heights Neighborhood Association used to occasionally hold concerts across the street in the Ingleside United Methodist Church parking lot. When those ended, Mooney and Guidry took over.
Mooney, who had already installed a metal roof over the original trailer to protect it, added another one in the opposite direction, then built a deck that serves as the stage. On this Friday night, along with the Wilsons, Emily Davies and John Renshaw, known as The Renshaw Davies, sang to tambourine and guitar on the deck.
Louie Lipinski finds the performers. Years ago, Lipinski organized open mic nights at the old La Fonda’s restaurant, which introduced him to numerous area musicians. Lipinski also performed at one of the concerts, and introduces the acts.
“We told them going in I can’t afford them,” Lipinski said. “But we can put together a venue, and I think the people will be generous, and they have been generous.
“This has gotten very popular. I had to call people at first and ask if they would play or not. People are calling me now.”
A sign decorated with a bee invites those traveling along Capital Heights Avenue to the “Bee Nice” concerts, and people drift in as the music fills the backyard.
Those who want to focus on the music bring lawn chairs and sit up close. Those who want to socialize stand at the back, where the neighborhood association raises money through concessions.
Another concert is scheduled for Aug. 28, and they’ll decide afterward about the future schedule.
“So many people feel they can just come as they are,” Payer said. “They can come just however they’re dressed on a Friday afternoon. You see how it’s every age — kids, older people, couples, young people.”
Along with a Halloween party Guidry holds annually, the concerts have turned the yard into a neighborhood meeting area.
“I’m not an artist, but (Mooney’s) daughter-in-law says I’m a visionary,” Guidry said. “I just started doing things out in the yard that I guess people considered interesting. That whole plan of ‘I don’t need any friends and don’t want anybody around’ didn’t work out too good. Everybody started stopping by and coming in, and I got over whatever I was going through, and it grew into what we call our little park.”