Cape couple turns their home into cozy, comfortable music venue
Walk into the Underberg house and step into a home that's somehow also a music venue: at once welcoming and professional, with a dining room above a den, separated by a railing, all red brick and dark-stained wood with white walls and low lights.
It's an intimate setting, with room for 38 people, plus Larry and Jean Underberg, and a few more can squeeze in at the edges. A tip bucket for suggested donations is emptied into the musicians' hands at the end of the night. But Larry Underberg said he and Jean don't collect any money from this.
"It all goes to the artist," he said.
Jean Underberg said they started offering home concerts about 15 years ago. At their peak, the Underbergs hosted 15 shows per year.
"We've had everything from two girls and their guitars to a six-piece blues band, full drum kit and everything," she said, which got a little interesting in the small space.
Jordyn Shellhart and Baylor Wilson were Sunday's two singer/songwriters with guitars. Both live in Nashville, Tennessee, where the music scene skews to country and blues, with an edge of alternative, Larry Underberg said, and Shellhart and Wilson's music fits that bill.
Shellhart and Wilson are quick to point out they are not a musical duo. Cape Girardeau is on the final leg of their Real Friends Tour, show No. 17.
Wilson said she was excited to be able to stop in Cape Girardeau.
"It's our second leg, after we went through Texas and Oklahoma," she said.
Their final stop will be Bowling Green, Kentucky, next week.
Wilson graduated from Belmont University in Nashville last year, she said. While there, she met Alex Mehner, whose father, John, is friends with the Underbergs.
"That's how this came about," Jean Underberg said.
Wilson said she and Shellhart have almost opposite stories. Wilson, who was a contestant on CBS' "Survivor" with her mother and made it to the top five, went to school at Belmont and signed with Seagayle Music, Brad Paisley's publishing company in Nashville.
Shellhart, who said she has written music "forever," signed her first publishing deal with Seagayle when she was 14 and landed her first recording contract at 15.
Larry Underberg said at one time, he and Jean were scheduling acts well over a year out, "but we're a little more flexible now." This allows them to pick up more artists heading to St. Louis or Nashville -- drop-ins, he called them.
Wilson and Shellhart's tour consisted mostly of house shows, Wilson said during the set, which they preferred.
"You've heard of the Bluebird Cafe?" she asked the crowd, referring to a Nashville venue known for its intimate setting and first-rate performers.
House shows such as the Underbergs' were more like the Bluebird Cafe, Wilson said, not like playing in a bar.
"We tried to do a Bluebird show in a bar once -- didn't go well," Wilson said.
Shellhart said she thought they'd wind up playing nothing but covers after the first couple of original songs weren't well-received, but both musicians are singer/songwriters and would rather perform their work.
Shellhart and Wilson took turns performing, with Shellhart going first. She opened with a song she wrote about a boy because, she said, "no one does that," to the crowd's laughter.
Shellhart's songs took a more confessional note, as if drawn from real-life experiences. Shellhart's light twang with a hint of soul behind it played like a rainy night in cowboy boots, drying in front of a fire.
Wilson's approach was more dynamic, opening with a song of her own and segueing into Sheryl Crow's "All I Wanna Do," urging the crowd to sing along.
Larry Underberg said the concert series grew out of his work as a communication studies professor at Southeast Missouri State University, where he delves into the relationship between music and protest.
"[The series] kind of grew out of my interest in protest rhetoric," he said. While the series has evolved over the last 15 years, Larry Underberg said he hopes it continues as it has been.
Pertinent address: 1122 Patricia St., Cape Girardeau, Mo.