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Citrus Park couple turns back yard into concert venue

The name of every artist who has played the Yard is etched in wood. Photo by Andy Warrener.
Published Jun. 17, 2016

CITRUS PARK — When Mark Leverett retired from construction management in 2007, he needed something to do so he built a little stage in his back yard in Citrus Park.

"It was kind of a shock, retirement," Mark Leverett said.

Leverett, already with the skill and tool set from years of working in construction, had all sorts of odds and ends material laying around his property.

He propositioned his wife, Sharon, about building the stage. Her words were basically, "Go ahead and build it and we'll see if I like it."

Neither could have guessed at the time the tiny project would launch the couple into being hosts of one of the state of Florida's finest house concert venues.

What's a house concert venue?

Basically, it's someone's back yard that they have dedicated for musical performances. It's not a business. There are no written contracts between the Leveretts and the performers. Door prices are technically donations and, at least in the Leveretts' case, all funds collected go straight to the performers. It's bring-your-own-everything, as in drinks and food, although the Leveretts usually have a handsome spread.

"It started slow, with people we knew and music we wanted to hear," Sharon Leverett said. "Then people would come because they were following the artist; music was a driving force."

The venue began to evolve.

In 2008, musician Kelly McGuire of Texas was the first to play the venue, which still did not have a name. The show drew 20 or so people. In 2009, Georgia-born Jim Morris was playing his second gig at Mark and Sharon's. He looked out into their back yard and uttered, "I'm happy to be back at the Yard."

Thus the venue's name was set in stone.

Or wood rather. Mark Leverett began putting his woodworking skills to use. Structures began going up all over "the Yard." A signpost with engraved names of each performer, now has four posts filled with names.

The Leveretts always recorded the shows in their yard and built a platform later in 2009, to elevate the camera angle. Not long after that, Mark Leverett expanded and covered the stage where the artist(s) performed.

He got a tree house he'd originally built for his grandkids back and added it to the viewing area. The Leveretts grew weary of lending out their bathroom facilities inside their home and built a free-standing male and female bathroom facility.

The Green Room, dubbed "Hillbilly Beach," went up in 2012. It was originally supposed to be a man cave for Mark Leverett, but it now serves as a motel for visiting artists, complete with electricity, wifi, a bed, a couch and breakfast in the morning.

Finally in 2014, the Yardome went up to provide cover for fans from the summer sun and rain.

"It has been interesting and fun for artists when they come back and see the new additions," said family friend Shurl Gates, who helps with promotion. "There are a lot of people looking for new music and they know this is an avenue to find new music."

According to the Leveretts, typical house venues draw about 15 people per event. The Yard averages 40 to 60. When Jim Morris plays, they draw as many as 150. More than 200 people showed up for the April 16 show by Southern Drawl Band.

The Yard only has one show per month and it is booked through May of 2017. There is a long waiting list.

The Leveretts consider themselves Parrottheads (Jimmy Buffett fans) and many of the artists that play at the Yard are Trop Rock artists.

In 2010, the Parrottheads' Meeting of the Minds in Key West came up with an award to be given to the best Trop Rock House Concert Venue. The Yard has won five of the six years the award has been given out.

The Leveretts don't advertise. They don't have to. Between word-of-mouth, regulars and fans following artists, it's about all the Leveretts and their dedicated group of volunteers can handle.

"It takes a lot of friends to put something like this on even one time a month," Sharon Leverett said.

The Yard is often used as an anchor show for artists traveling through Florida en route to more Southern venues. It's a boon for both artist and fan.

"I've played a lot of house venues and this is the most elaborate by far," May performer Matt Hoggatt said. "Typically, people (at house venues) will offer their couch, but this is pretty well planned out, I've never seen anything quite like this."

The good vibes aren't lost on the fans, either.

"This is a great getaway for people right out of work, they can kick back with a beer in their hand and relax among friends," longtime attendee Jerry Thoman said. "This place is No. 1 in my book."

Contact Andy Warrener at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

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