Attic veteran tips hat to Eddie

Last year at Eddie's Attic, the Georgia Music Industry Association presented owner Eddie Owen with the Visionary award. The applause died down and there was a lull — and not because Owen was glad-handing his way to the stage. He was busy plunging a stopped-up toilet in the ladies' room.

This is the Eddie Owen I know best — shunning the spotlight and making things work behind the scenes. He's always hated attention. It belongs to his club and the musicians who play there.

Only now it's not his club anymore. It's still called Eddie's Attic, but it's under new ownership. It happened quietly. As people found out, they immediately planned big parties and tributes. True to form, Owen would have none of it. He was like George Bailey from the movie It's a Wonderful Life — and the Attic has been the Building and Loan for many a touring musician and songwriter trying to get a start, including myself.

The first time I showed up, it was to compete in the open-mic showcase. I played my two songs and felt roundly defeated when I walked out, vowing never to set foot in the place again. It was all rigged, I said.

"Just because you don't win it doesn't mean you suck," Eddie countered. "Don't give up."

So I came back. And I wound up becoming a finalist. That landed me a showcase gig at the club. The other finalist who performed with me that night was India Arie, who was just as giddy as I to finally be playing a professional gig. To see Arie nominated for seven Grammy awards only underscores the importance of the Attic stage.

I also became an employee of the club, where I learned more about Owen's impact. John Mayer is a prime example and beneficiary of the avuncular club owner's golden ear. Fans of Mayer certainly aren't aware of the phone calls Eddie made on Mayer's behalf after seeing him play an open-mic. If Eddie makes a call and says, "You gotta hear this guy," people listen — the right people. Hardworking, talented musicians will find success, one way or another, but the road was made smoother for a lot of them because of Owen.

When Caroline Aiken, the godmother of the Atlanta acoustic scene, didn't have any money to pay the performers at the first Dogwood Festival, Owen pitched in. Molly McGoldrick, a longtime regular of the club, recalls how Owen and Ani DiFranco used to smoke cigars and drink whiskey long before the fiery folkie had any drawing power. When Shawn Mullins hit it big, Owen got a thank-you note — not from Mullins, but from Mullins' mom.

I also learned that if you call Owen drunk at 4 a.m. and tell him you accidentally shot his guitar with that pistol he keeps in his office, he'll just laugh and go back to sleep.

The new owner of the club, Todd Van Sickle, has no intention of messing with success. But he's well aware of the shoes he's expected to fill. "I'm not Eddie," he says emphatically, "and I wouldn't dare insult him or his legacy by pretending to be him."

Eventually, I made it to the finals of the Open-Mic Shootout, a signature Attic event where past open-mic winners compete song-by-song in front of industry professionals and music critics. Two years later, I found myself on the other side as a member of the industry panel, writing for this paper. Yes, I'm bragging, but it proves a point. None of these things would've happened to me had it not been for Owen and his Attic.

The city of Decatur erected a street sign in front of the Eddie's Attic on Owen's last day, naming the walkway beside the club "Eddie's Alley." By sun up the next day, the sign — like Eddie himself — had quietly disappeared.??