Photos: Safety Harbor Art and Music Center opens for concerts with indie folk group Tall Heights
At the edge of a stage enveloped by artwork, Tall Heights singer-cellist Paul Wright told the crowd at the new Safety Harbor Art and Music Center how happy he was to be there.
“The only other space we’ve had the chance to be the first to play was the new World Trade Center in New York City,” he said. “But this is way more fun.”
After a grand opening extravaganza on Thanksgiving weekend, the long-in-the-works venue/artspace/gallery/labor of love was finally in the live music business, with its first ticketed concert by the Boston indie folk outfit.
Artists Kiaralinda and Todd Ramquist spent years raising funds, wrangling permits and hand-crafting the colorful building, affectionately known as SHAMc (pronounced “sham-see”). Built in and adjacent to a historic home a block north of Main Street, it’s a unique space, even for artsy Safety Harbor.
There’s the gigantic multicolored elephant greeting guests out front, the strands of glowing Christmas lights leading to the porch and patio, the hand-painted fence boards, the mirrored mosaics adjacent to the stage. Inside is an array of artwork on display – ceramics, paintings, handcrafted flowers, even a mural painted by singer-songwriter Joseph Arthur at Safety Harbor Songfest in 2015. And in the high-ceilinged performance hall: A backdrop of tapestries and plumes of decorative, echo-muffling umbrellas dangling from the steel rafters.
It’s the sort of three-dimensional art haven that photos can't do justice; curious fans will have to come experience it for themselves. The Ramquists are counting on that curiosity and word of mouth to keep the live music flowing.
“We want to turn this into a listening room that a lot of artists will talk about,” Ramquist said.
With a cool air blowing through a breezeway, the comfortably full crowd of around 75 was respectful and receptive as Tall Heights played serene but sweeping indie folk tinged with the occasional electronic pulse.
Wright and singer-guitarist Tim Harrington bantered softly with fans, joked about seeing dolphins and manatees, told stories about playing Conan a few months back, even covered Joni Mitchell’s Christmas song River.
So intimate was the setting that for a couple of songs, Harrington and Wright unplugged completely, letting their harmonies carry throughout the venue. In another compelling moment, Harrington instructed fans to pull out their phones and call one another on speaker, with the ensuing feedback loops creating an immersive, enchanting bed of cricketlike chirps.
“This is such a wonderful space,” Wright said, “and you guys are wonderful for being a part of it.”
-- Jay Cridlin