The first time John Burns walked into the old Dyson House gift shop on Jefferson Highway, one thought kept bustling through his mind.
“I walked in here, and I thought, ‘Man, music would sound good in here,’ ” he said. “The next day, I brought a little jam box in here, and, sure enough, it sounded good.”
That was October.
By the end of March, Burns and Kevin Sweeney’s Dyson House Listening Room has become the place to play if you’re a local musician.
So far, the new venue has hosted local musicians including Clay Parker and Jodi James, Ben Bell and the Fugitive Poets, The Rakers and Elsah as well as touring acts like Urban Pioneers, Robert Ellis and Caleb Caudle.
What is Burns’ and Sweeney’s secret?
It’s simple: They both love music.
“Our goals are to promote and have as much local music as we can,” Sweeney said. “Original music — that’s the focus.”
“We’re just having fun,” Burns added. “We’re just trying to give musicians an opportunity to play.”
Dyson House Listening Room sits at 7575 Jefferson Highway.
Baton Rougeans might remember the new venue as the old Mail Bag shop. The house was built around the 1940s, Burns said. The Dyson family owned and lived in the house for about 50 years.
When it came up for sale, Burns, who owns Christian Street Furniture, saw an opportunity to possibly move his business to the one-acre plot.
“I was going to strip this place down and make it my new place of business,” Burns said.
However, his lease at 7474 Corporate Blvd. for the furniture store is six years away from expiring.
And once he got the idea of putting musicians in the old Dyson House, he was reticent to just sit on the space.
“As long as I can keep it empty and make it work financially, we will continue to do this and have shows,” Burns said.
Bringing a new music space to Baton Rouge was an idea Burns and Sweeney had been batting around before the space became available.
Childhood friends from the Capital City, the duo started brainstorming about a year ago, Burns said.
“(Sweeney) knew all the great music in town,” Burns said. “(Sweeney) started introducing me to all these bands, and I started to realize the wealth of music that we have right here.”
After getting the property in October, Burns started contacting musicians. First, he Facebook messaged Alex Cook with The Rakers, then singer-songwriter duo Parker and James.
The latter act wanted to do something different, so they took Burns up on the offer to play at Dyson House.
“They played a gig in December without even seeing the space,” Burns said. “They had 60 people show up. Our max capacity is 65. It was a fun night. Thank goodness we had them for the first show, because then, all of the sudden, we had a little bit of a reputation.”
The success has continued.
Earlier this year, Bell and the Poets played to a sold-out crowd.
“(Bell’s show) was the best one yet,” Burns said. “We filled up the place, then had to open up the porch, and about 20 more people were outside dancing. I think those people outside had more fun than the people inside.”
The shows have kept piling in, and it’s become work, Burns said.
While Burns is busy at Christian Street Furniture, Sweeney has his own 9-to-5, working for the state Department of Environmental Quality.
“I’ve become a janitor,” Burns said. “(Sweeney) will come and clean up. I’m not paying anybody to do anything.”
The busy-ness will die down for a bit at the venue, as the duo will take April off.
But Burns and Sweeney stress Dyson House Listening Room isn’t a business.
“This is not a money-making proposition,” Burns said. “All the money that comes in goes directly into the bands’ pockets. If we started taking money, then it becomes more complicated. Then you have to become a business.”
“The best thing we can do here is to try and achieve success for the show. That’s my goal. I want 60 people in here, all paying. I want to see maximum dollars go to the band.”
On a Saturday night in late February, Dyson House Listening Room is nearly packed.
Patrons line the hall, sitting in chairs and couches, ready to hear acoustic music.
First up is Joel Willson, a violinist known for playing with Minos the Saint and collaborating with many other Baton Rouge musicians. After him, Dave Hinson’s new dance/classical music collaborative project, Treble Bass Movement, performs. Then, it’s See Schaff Run, singer-songwriter Caroline Schaff’s acoustic band.
During each song of each performer, there’s silence.
And that’s something you won’t find at another venue.
“These bands, they play everywhere in town, but here, the people are paying attention to what they’re doing,” Sweeney said. “You get people in here who are appreciative of what these musicians are doing, and they enjoy the music.”
“That’s what musicians love.”
Follow Matthew Sigur on Twitter, @MatthewSigur.