After overhearing a conversation while attending a folk music conference, Chris Maxwell was inspired to start a venue of his own in Baton Rouge.
During that event, Maxwell heard two musicians discussing the Blue Door, a singer-songwriter venue in Oklahoma City.
“One of the guys said, ‘It’s a real listening room,’ ” Maxwell said. “I took that into the back of my head. I said, ‘If I ever open a music venue, I’m going to call it a ‘listening room.’
"It tells you exactly what you’re there for. You are there to listen.”
Around the same time, a restaurant and music venue on Third Street, Marion Pickett’s M’s Fire and Mellow Café, closed. There was a gap that needed filling, and Maxwell rose to the occasion.
By April 2002, Maxwell founded the Red Dragon Listening Room. He staged an impromptu concert in the vacant first-floor space of a building he’d bought and renovated. A follow-up show in May featured the North Carolina-based songwriter and storyteller Chuck Brodsky.
“One thing led to another,” Maxwell said. “We just kept doing show after show. People started approaching us. We decided we’d do one show a month.
“Fast forward 16 years, we went from one show a month to seven.”
Starting at 6:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Maxwell and his wife, Liz, will celebrate the nonprofit venue’s long-standing reputation in the capital city with its annual Palooza fundraiser.
Dozens of singer-songwriters from Baton Rouge and New Orleans will volunteer their time and talent to play at the two-day concert. Performers include Jodi James, the Wilder Janes, Eric DiSanto and Denton Hatcher. Donations will be accepted.
What separates Red Dragon from other venues (besides its snug-size and off-the-beaten path location) is that Louisiana artists are big part of each concert there. Most of Palooza's performers have opened shows at Red Dragon for national headliners such as Roseanne Cash, Joan Baez and Peter Yarrow.
“It gets them in front of a larger crowd than if they’re playing at daiquiri shops and other places in town,” Maxwell said. “When audiences are put in front of a local artist, they say, ‘Wow, I never knew this talent existed here.’ I’ve heard that so many times.”
Clay Parker is one of many local singer-songwriters who is grateful for the stage Maxwell provides.
“The Red Dragon Listening Room is the back porch for Baton Rouge’s music scene,” Parker said. “It’s where homemade songs get sung.”
Eric Schmitt, another performer at this weekend's festival, said he feels honored when he's invited to perform at Red Dragon.
“(Maxwell) has created a folk music scene in Baton Rouge that wouldn’t exist without his relentless work," Schmitt said. "We owe him a lot.”
RED DRAGON LISTENING ROOM PALOOZA
WHEN: 6:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday
WHERE: Red Dragon Listening Room, 2401 Florida St., Baton Rouge
COST: Donations accepted
On Friday night
6:30 p.m.: Thelda Adams and Chris House
7 p.m.: Nancy Broussard and Ralph Goodson
7:30 p.m.: Kaycee Kersch and Kelly Maples
8 p.m.: Ryan Harris and Eric Schmitt
8:30 p.m.: Clay Parker and Jodi James
9 p.m.: Patrick Cooper and Bill Romano
9:30 p.m.: Chris Fry and Keith Pavlovich
10 p.m.: Tony Cobb and J.M. Fritz
10:30 p.m.: Will Wesley Band
On Saturday night
6:30 p.m.: Wilder Janes
7:15 p.m.: Fugitive Poets
7:45 p.m.: Eric DiSanto and Kristin Courville
8:15 p.m.: Barry Hebert and Steve Judice
8:45 p.m.: Denton Hatcher, Kristin Foster and Ben Bell
9:30 p.m.: Martin Flanagan, Jim Standley and Keith Harelson
10:15 p.m.: Tommy Ike Hailey and Mariana Rocks
10:45 p.m.: Cupcake Strippers