By Tessa Resko, Studio M staff //
Nestled on a hill in the sleepy town of Woodbury, Tenn., sits a reimagined Presbyterian Church with a soft yellow door. This is the site of Robyn Taylor’s Bird Song Studio. The main room has been transformed into a concert venue, a home, a recording studio and a weekend getaway.
In 2014, Americana artist and Rockin’ Robyn Productions publicist Robyn Taylor, originally from Ann Arbor, Mich., was looking to relocate from Nashville when she stumbled across the church for rent on Craigslist.
“I was looking for somewhere quiet that I could focus on my songwriting. It’s a little further out than I wanted to be, but I just fell in love with this cute, little quaint town. I really liked the arts scene here,” said Taylor. “I was of course very curious and thought ‘well, I need to try that out!’”
Using the worship room of the church, owner, Neal Appelbaum, was able to dedicate and convert corners to create a studio apartment complete with a bedroom, two bathrooms and a kitchen. The only furniture, though, were two original pews.
“When I walked in, I immediately recognized the incredible acoustics. As an artist, you just look for those things. But I saw it as so much more. It was my refuge, my sanctuary.” said Taylor.
Taylor signed the lease, fully furnished the space and soon opened the doors to others looking for a unique, creative space. Taylor was inspired to use the stage at the pulpit, MacGyver a crude audio system and publicize her residence as a concert hall operating from May to October as well.
“I feel like I am serving a need to introduce and expose people to artists and music they wouldn’t otherwise get to hear. I like to focus on, not so much discovering new talent, but providing for and introducing a new avenue for talent on the rise,” said Taylor. “I didn’t intentionally do it, but this past season, I booked a female feature act almost every month. I want to showcase female artists as much as I can.”
When you think concert venue and house show in a sleepy town, you might expect a slew of noise complaints circling the little church.
“The neighbors just don’t care. Considering on one side you have the post office and an old folks’ home on the other, they’re all deaf and in bed by the time the shows start,” said LuAnn Curlee, local librarian, CPA and Studio neighbor. “The biggest complaint is parking, that there isn’t enough of it, but the businesses are usually fine with taking in the overflow after business hours. But I’m close enough, I just walk.”
For shows, there are only a couple of pews set up; the rest of the seating is bring-your-own or settle-for-back-pain metal folding chairs.
“When I have a free evening during a show night, I have to make the decision. ‘Do I want to deal with back pain tonight, or do I want to carry my own folding chair for two blocks and still risk having back pain?” said Curlee.
Refreshments are set up in Taylor’s own kitchen, where donations are taken for snacks and wine. Shows cost around $15 per ticket. The stage original to the building was doing well for the time being, but even the beautiful acoustics couldn’t make up for the poor sound system. Due to the collection of donations, Taylor was able to install an official sound system that compliments the church’s high ceilings. She was also able to renovate the original stage to be more attractive to both audiences and artists and appropriately set the scene for an Americana ambiance.
“I’ve never seen a bad show,” said Curlee. “But I will be honest, I did go to Open Mic Night. By the time I realized I was the only non-performer there, it was too late to leave. I sat through amatuer act one after the other and had to grit my teeth through the each of them asking ‘So what’s your act?’ I wanted to leave, but I didn’t want to be rude!”
Since its opening, Bird Song Studio has welcomed acts from all over the Eastern United States but focused its 2017 season on Tennessee. The Robyn Taylor Opens Hills of Tennessee Roots Music Series was aimed to bring exposure to acts spawned in and around Nashville. The series opened with The Honey Dewdrops, consisting of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, who were named in NPR’s Favorite Songs of 2015 for their song, “Same Old.”
On July 29, the studio showcased 12-year-old prodigy Emilie Sunshine Hamilton, or better recognized as EmiSunshine. The preteen captured national audiences after being discovered yodeling online. Since then, her rising stardom has catapulted her in front of audiences at the Grand Ole Opry and The Today Show. In September, she was named as one of Rolling Stones’ Top 10 New Country Artists You Need to Know.
One thing is for certain, concerts at the studio bring people together in a way that feels more like a private house party than a public concert. Barbara Holton Daingerfield, a local registered nurse, recently visited Bird Song Studio to see Tennessee blues singer Sarah Potenza perform in June.
“The studio is a charming, intimate venue. The music was exciting, yet it felt personal. It was like being in a friend’s house that just so happens to have a stage and fantastical musical artists just happen to stop by and perform. It was marvelous!” said Daingerfield.
Taylor decided a summer season of concerts and recording was not enough. She wanted to find new ways to to connect with her community and give exposure to her world. Therefore in 2014, she listed the church on Airbnb as a business-friendly space for travellers, artists and weekend warriors alike.
“Robyn was a great host! She was very responsive to all our questions, and when we arrived the church was even nicer than we expected. She even added lots of thoughtful touches to the place to make our stay feel like home,” said Maggie, a visitor from Falcon Heights, Minn. who came to view Woodbury’s expected totality during the Eclipse in August.
Taylor has hosted people from all over the world. Four men from Brazil not only stayed and recorded in the studio, they recorded a music video there. Becky Buller, bluegrass fiddler from St. James, Minn., followed suit in spring of this year. Her most memorable guests, though, were BBC radio producers looking to interview Sandor Katz, a pioneer in local fermentation projects.
Woodbury not only has a renowned theater and art gallery, Arts Center of Cannon County, home to the White Oak Craft Fair and the weekend Farmer’s Market, its historic square is composed of antique shops such as The Old Feed Store and local eateries like Lion’s Den Pizza. It’s roughly an hour from Nashville, 20 minutes from Murfreesboro and 45 minutes from the Bell Buckle Craft Fair and Bonnaroo making it an ideal location for travellers.
When asked if it is difficult to accept strangers into her home almost weekly, Taylor said, “The short answer is ‘yes.’ It is difficult to give up your space, especially your home, for any length of time. I’ve even considered putting in a tiny, tiny house in the backyard!
“My favorite times there are at midnight when I’m alone with just my writing, and I think, How is this my house? But to tell the truth, I feel that my role is to be a hostess. It’s not about being in the commercial market. It’s the social aspect of bringing people together in a place as comfortable as, well, someone’s home. I either have 75 people in my home, or it’s just me, and I enjoy it all.”
Tessa Resko is a senior majoring in journalism at Middle Tennessee State University.
Studio M, a project of the College of Media and Entertainment at MTSU, allows student journalists to be published statewide and nationwide. It’s made possible through grants and donations from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Tennessean and BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.