Blue Plate Special
Kodac Harrison serves up tasty ongoing series of music, poetry
Not to be confused with Kmart's recently revived Blue Light Special, Kodac's Blue Plate Specials are a much more attractive and sumptuous proposition. Scheduled for the last Wednesday of every month at East Atlanta's cozy Gravity Pub, singer/songwriter/beatnik-folk-soulman, label owner and general Renaissance guy Kodac Harrison has been holding the wildly eclectic gigs since July 2000. Spun off from his now-defunct Bohemia Night at the Margaret Mitchell House, as well as an earlier incarnation of the pass-the-hat event held in Savannah, the unique evening now incorporates music with poetry and spoken word offerings, dished out by a diverse pastiche of local, occasionally national and even international talent. Subtitled by Harrison and Gravity Pub owner Dorsey McBride as a "potluck performance of poetry and song," the invitees change monthly but always remain true to the grassroots, nonprofit concept.
It's a noble labor of love from Harrison. The steadfastly cover-free show is definitely not an open-mic. Yet the well-traveled and connected songwriter, who for years has been an active participant in Atlanta's folk and poetry scenes, invites friends and acquaintances in an effort to support unproven talent. Additionally, he encourages established names to swing by and try out new material.
Last month's Special featured a predominantly female-oriented array of poets, as well as an interpretive dance accompanying spoken word, a trio of actors reading from an early draft of a movie script, some slam-worthy verbal intensity from Tesauro, and local singer Caroline Aiken's expressive folk. It was capped by Harrison's own gutsy, heart-wrenching version of Otis Redding's "That's How Strong My Love Is" joined by two saxes, one played by Amy Lee, who tours with Jimmy Buffett. In other words, the night was a mélange of moods and styles juxtaposed like a 3-D collage whose diverse elements may be neatly arranged or frustratingly jumbled. And that's the appeal.
The makeshift library-style stage is appropriately bedecked with musty, cracked hardcover books, antique table lamps and a rickety old couch. The emphatically varied, entirely unplugged showcase is boosted by the black-attired, shock-haired host Harrison, whose expressive, gravelly voice and amiable, low-key confidence guides the proceedings through three hours of words and song. The performers are generally solo since the limited confines and primitive equipment don't lend itself to bands, and Harrison adamantly sticks to the songwriter/poet focus. "Sometimes we'll have more music and less poetry. It changes every month and I never know exactly what to expect," explains Harrison and it's precisely that open-door attitude that makes these nights so charming. "I really like this because it gives me a chance to do poetry and music, and stay involved in both communities." Since he tries to keep money out of the equation — a unique concept in itself — few quality headline acts are announced ahead of time.
Each month, Harrison personally e-mails notices of the date and time for the next BPS, and encourages recipients to contact him to get on the program. No one who has expressed interest in ambling up on stage and having at it has ever been turned down. That leads to potential rough sailing as capable yet unrefined poets and folkies take a stab at the microphone in front of what can be a noisy, unappreciative crowd, but typically the response, even from Gravity Pub regulars, is more positive.
The only requirements are that the works be original — no cover acts allowed — and bands need not apply due to space limitations. Although headliners such as Aiken, Michelle Penn and Bill Taft on the music side, and poetry slam pros Ayo Dele and playwright Karen Wurl from the spoken word world often attend, the typical BPS is predominantly populated by enthusiastic, keenly talented amateurs looking to hone their craft in front of a live, and sometimes not particularly tolerant, audience.
While the crowds haven't exactly been wall-to-wall since the packed Christmas 2000 show, the BPS progresses at its own determined albeit leisurely pace, reflecting the selfless energy instilled by Harrison. Because of the self-imposed shoestring budget — there are no print ads, flyers or radio spots promoting the event — it falls on Harrison's shoulders to find the talent and spread the word to the public.
Like discovering a funky new 24-hour diner, you're never certain exactly what will be offered on any given Blue Plate Special, but it's sure to be intriguing. And led by discerning chef Kodac Harrison, no matter who's on the menu, it's likely to hit the spot.
Kodac Harrison's next Blue Plate Special is April 25 at the Gravity Pub in East Atlanta. Show time is 9 p.m. Harrison can be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.??