On a recent Sunday, renowned Atlanta-based singer-songwriter Deidre McCalla settled in for a Bold City Circuit performance. Born and raised in New York City, McCalla cut her teeth in the highly competitive busking scene around Macdougal Street, which later produced legends like Suzanne Vega, Patti Smith and Tracy Chapman, among many others. McCalla’s album Don’t Doubt It (Olivia Records, 1985), was placed in the Smithsonian’s LGBT History collection; it also made the top 25 “Classic Women’s Music Albums” by Ms. Magazine, famously founded by Gloria Steinem herself. Last year, McCalla released her sixth album, Endless Grace.
Locally-based duo Nick + Millie opened the show. On this or arguably any day in Northeast Florida, the bill would qualify as one of the better lineups on offer in any venue in the region. But McCalla’s performance goes down in a particularly special and intimate space: The living room of a local resident.
Since its launch three years ago, Bold City Circuit has established itself as one of the most unique vehicles for presenting live music in Jacksonville.
The McCalla concert is just one of several house shows slated to run monthly through year’s end. The organization was founded in 2019 by Pamela and Joel Bernkrant, along with Dennis Negrin, who’s really been the driving force behind BCC, as well as the local outfit Crescendo Amelia Big Band. Over the past four years, BCC has promoted more than 30 concerts, giving the rub to nearly 70 different acts from Northeast Florida and all over the country. The shows usually take place in living rooms, yards and other unconventional spaces. Events are BYOB, but savvy fans bring extras.
Here’s how it works: Ticket buyers receive an email on the day of the show providing the address of the performance. The music is uniformly fine, as the promoters are careful to curate content from artists that they are fans of, and their aim is typically true. While the music is obviously the highlight, don’t sleep on the audience itself, a mix of new attendees and grizzled veterans of the venture. Audience members are often also creators in their own right, sharing a passion for the music and the people making it. This random chatter often evolves into all kinds of subsequent business.
Most importantly, perhaps, the booking is always on point. You’re bound to hear something profound. Veteran BCC house show performers include popular Jax singer-songwriters like rickoLus, Jackie Stranger, Jessica Pounds and Stacey Bennett, Blue Jay Listening Room Songwriter-Night impresario Andy Zipf, and Dillon Basse, frontman of the hugely successful Jax indie rock band flipturn, among many other nationally touring acts.
The house-show concept’s roots run deeper than downtown tunnels, way back to the days of “rent parties”, a popular feature up north during the Great Depression where musicians would play music in people’s homes, and fans/friends would all chip in toward the owner’s expenses.
These parties were cited as a key incubator for what later became known as “Harlem Stride Piano”, with legends like Fats Waller, James P. Johnson and Willie “the Lion” Smith embodying a style that Art Tatum later mastered, becoming in the process a foundational influence on Bebop. Crucially, a young Duke Ellington made his bones playing piano at rent parties in Harlem. He even wrote a song about it, “Rent Party Blues”, for his orchestra in 1930. Fast-forward to 2023, where BCC is keeping that tradition alive, with six-packs of craft beer in place of the bathtub gin.
Bold City Circuit will return on Saturday, September 16, with a show that features Duval’s own Alice Rix opening for Virginia’s Bryan Elijah Smith. Sunday, October 1 features local favorites Junco Royals, with the headliner TBA. Orlando’s Matthew Fowler comes up, with some special guests, on Saturday, November 18. They will wrap up the year with Two Crows for Comfort, who’ll be coming all the way down from Canada (and surely enjoying the climate, like proper snowbirds) on Friday, December 8.
The organizers are always looking for new and established artists to elevate from their platform, and you’re encouraged to seek them out via the BCC website, which is truly a work of art, in and of itself. You can be sure that pretty much every act you see at a BCC is on their way up in the industry, and you will likely never see them working for a crowd this small ever again–at least, that is the goal.