In a way, Fort Worth chose Jody Jones.
The early-fortysomething Americana singer-songwriter was born here and spent a good chunk of his childhood here, but he and his family moved away a long time ago: He finished growing up in Waco, went to Texas Tech University, hung out in North Carolina, and spent most of his young-adult life in Los Angeles, working as a bartender, carpenter, musician, and film actor (Freaks and Geeks, B action flicks, national commercials). When the L.A. rat race finally got to him, Jones’ mind wandered back to Texas –– Austin, specifically. After moving to the state capital in the mid-oughts, he started scouting recording studios in Fort Worth.
“The [Fort Worth] scene just seemed right,” he recalled. “The people were right, and there were a lot of great gigs going on. Bands were getting paid. It wasn’t overrun by booking agents, and, musically, I felt like the players in this town were as good as in any city I ever lived in.”
Though Jones came to music relatively late –– he was close to 30 when he played his first gig –– he has grown into not only an impressive artist but also a connoisseur of guitar-based non-genre music. For the past 13 months, he has been curating and hosting an immensely popular songwriters’ showcase at The Grotto in the Cultural District. The artists, handpicked by Jones, get 40 minutes each, and there are usually three artists per evening.
The showcase idea came to him after he was offered a Monday-night residency by Grotto owner Cody Admire. Jones was a little skeptical. “Me playing for four hours would probably burn people out,” he said, “so what can I do to parlay this into something that’s not only good for me but good for the community and the bar?”
Another factor that ultimately led to the showcase’s creation was The Grotto itself: Small and dark with quirky architectural features, the room, Jones said, is perfect for active listening.
The showcase is unlike any other “open-mic” in town. Instead of a round-robin, each artist gets to be the center of attention. “I feel that, as an artist, sometimes when you’re sitting up there with three [other artists], as soon as you connect with the audience, [it’s time for] the next artist.” That’s fine, he said, “but for a weekly show, I really wanted it to be: Come in, sit down, and really hear what these people are doing.”
Modeled after the showcases at Nashville’s legendary Bluebird Café, Jones’ event has the advantage of being diverse –– not long ago, the lineup consisted of folky James Michael Taylor, rocking Carey Wolff, and old-timey C&W stylist James Nored. “I try to mix it up as much as possible,” Jones said. “There are too many different styles of music not to.”
He sees the showcase as vital to the health of the local music scene. “There’s an incredible amount of talent in this town that needs to be heard and needs to be heard in this [listening-room] format,” he said.
These Fort Worth cats, he said, need a platform not anchored by food and partying. And talking. (Jones initially enforced his showcase’s unwritten “Quiet, Please!” policy like a cop, but over the past few months, he said, he’s calmed down a little. A little.)
Veteran singer-songwriter Wolff, one of the most respected musicians in town, appreciates the atmosphere that Jones has cultivated. “There is a quiet, respectful audience waiting to hear your every note and word,” Wolff said. “Hard to find that nowadays.”
Jones sees the showcase expanding soon to encompass big-time touring artists. Jones intends to pair the likes of Buddy Miller, Martin Sexton, Ani DiFranco, and Darrell Scott with locals and charge maybe $20.
In late December, Jones celebrated the showcase’s first anniversary by throwing an all-day blowout: 43 artists, each performing a single song. “It was like listening to the radio live,” he said. Hundreds of fans came and went throughout the day. In 2012, Jones curated and hosted 52 shows by nearly 150 artists. This year, he’s already booked into March, because (A.) music is his full-time job, and he takes it very seriously and (B.) he wants to book as far ahead as possible –– as The Zephyr Brothers, he and Fort Worth singer-songwriter Jacob Furr plan to spend the bulk of 2013 on the road, starting next week, when they’ll travel to central and south-central Texas.
“You could write the greatest songs in the world,” he said, “but if you don’t get off your ass and go meet people, go out to shows, network, make friends, and play shows with other people, what’s it gonna do? It’s gonna sit in your bedroom. That’s not what I’m in it for.”
Getting into the studio is also on Jones’ to-do list. It’s been more than five years since his first and last recording, the album Tragedies, Broken Hearts, and Liars, laid down at Eagle Audio Recording Studios on the Near Southside. For his next work, Jones is considering cutting 50 songs live in the studio and selling them via jodyjones.com. He’s also pondering a double album: one side all solo acoustic, the other with a backing band.
With his life partner Akisha, whom he met in L.A., Jones has been living in Alamo Heights since 2008, and he doesn’t expect to return to his itinerant ways.
Well, except when he’s touring.
Jody Jones’ songwriters showcase
Every Mon at The Grotto, 517 University Dr, FW. Free. 817-882-9331.