When the Louisville Palace began its second run at greatness in 1994, after nearly a decade of silence, one component of its business plan was to spotlight local music in what was then called Stage Door Johnnies, which is now simply the first-floor bar.
It was a good idea that never quite worked, and the Palace quickly returned to concentrating solely on national acts in its theater. Sydney O’Bryan had other ideas.
When O’Bryan began working as the Palace’s director of sales and marketing 18 months ago, she immediately began thinking of ways to get Louisville music back into the Palace. She came armed with local music experience, both as fan and promoter, having produced the successful Rooftop Concert Series at Glassworks for several years.
She didn’t want to resurrect a failed idea, so she turned to the Palace’s interior lobby, called the Faces Lobby because its ceiling is covered with plaster sculptures of 139 faces, including those of Beethoven, Dante, Socrates and da Vinci.
The monthly Faces at the Palace concert series, presented by WFPK (91.9-FM), debuted in September and continues tonight with A Lion Named Roar, Field of Kings and The Foxery. Music starts at 9 p.m. sharp, and cover is $10.
Like the rest of the building, the lobby is a treasure-trove of architectural detail that many fail to notice as they motor from bar to theater — some may never even glance up at the actual faces — and it holds 500 people, making it ideal for smaller shows. Drink and food prices are lowered for the shows, and minimal lighting effects transform a lobby into a venue.
“The overall goal is to create a new platform for people to play in that’s not like a Zanzabar or Zazoo’s, but is a new place, a place of notoriety that bands can add to their resume,” O’Bryan said.
It worked last month, when The Tunesmiths, She Might Bite and DJ Matt Anthony performed, drawing nearly 200 people. The Tunesmiths’ Bryce Gill praised the general vibe of the show, especially the outstanding acoustics afforded by the high ceiling, and said that the band got a 500 percent bump in online hits afterward.
“The overwhelming response to the show was not just that people had a good time, but most have said it was one of the best shows they’ve ever been to,” Gill said. “I think one of the most appealing aspects to the series is that local bands’ fans will be seeing a show in a completely different type of setting than they’re used to seeing them at. Simultaneously, I think the Palace will benefit by having a completely new body of Louisville culture through their doors.”
November’s show will star Bodeco, one of Louisville’s most iconic bands, performing for the first time in two years. The Ladybirds will open. Looking ahead, O’Bryan wants to add lobby shows that aren’t a part of the local music series.
“The Palace does only 80 to 100 shows a year, so we have this beautiful lobby area where we can do filler nights, so we can certainly rival somewhere like Headliners. Moving forward, bands like Hacienda or Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, we can certainly have them here. Hopefully, within the next two years we can embark on that, kind of like the Palace had a little baby venue.”