As the woman slowly made her way from the back of the parking and through the grassy area packed with lawn chairs at Lowe Mill, a crowd of more than 700 people shared one question: What in the world was Billiter doing?
“The poor girl. It took her forever to walk up there. Everybody’s staring. She’s embarrassed and has no clue at all why I’ve called her out. I just felt so bad for her,” remembers Billiter, Music and Events Coordinator at the Mill.
“But I knew it was going to end well.”
“There’s someone back here who would like to say something to you,” Billiter told the young woman when she finally climbed onto the stage.
With that cue, her boyfriend emerged from behind the dock landing door, got down on one knee and pulled out a ring.
Just like that, Concerts on the Dock had its first-ever marriage proposal.
“That place erupted, man,” Billiter said. “People were crying, it was just beautiful. It was probably the most emotional moment in Concerts on the Dock history.”
A new Huntsville tradition
It was also the latest example of how the Lowe Mill concert series has become every bit as much about community as it is about the music played on the dock.
While the numbers vary from show to show, influenced by weather and other factors, Concerts on the Dock attendance has nearly doubled every year since the series began. The shows drew an average of 600 to 800 in 2012, with a handful of dates peaking over 1,000.
“There is a chunk of people who really pay attention to what band is playing,” Billiter said. “They look it up ahead of time to see who’s playing to decide if they want to go. But then there’s a large group of people who come because it’s a community experience. Concerts on the Dock is also a gathering of people who want let their kids play together, drink a glass of wine, share a pizza, tell a story.”
The reputation grows
Of course, the music is pretty good too. The unique setting and an emphasis on original music has established the dock at Lowe Mill as a venue that local and regional musicians want to play.
One example from last year’s lineup is the South Carolina duo Shovels & Rope, who played Concerts in the Dock in early June – a little over a month before their album O’ Be Joyful dropped. By the end of the year, the album and the band were a staple on national music critics’ best of the 2012 lists.
“It’s not that I’m this guru of booking bands,” said Billiter. “Some of it is just luck, where the universe just drops it in your lap. Other parts are definitely research. When I first watched a video of Shovels & Rope, it just floored me. I was immediately like, ‘Why are these people not playing on David Letterman and opening for Jack White,’ like they are now.”
Billiter also gets a lot of suggestions from Huntsville musicians and music lovers.
“I love it when the community is involved,” he said. “If it’s me just sitting in a cave somewhere on a computer, that’s not enough on its own. My research is now a drop in the bucket compared to what I used to do, because the dock has gained a reputation around the southeast. I’ll get phone calls and emails from bands in North Carolina who are like, ‘Hey, our buddies played at the Lowe Mill and we want to play there too.’”
Billiter isn’t surprised that the series has become so popular, but he never expected it to happen so fast.
“I have faith in the city of Huntsville and the community here,” he said. “I knew it was something Huntsville would support, I just didn’t know at what level and how quickly. So the biggest surprise to me is how quickly it caught on.”
The Concerts on the Dock spring season, which begins April 5, will feature two new bands and six repeats. That ratio will flip in the fall season, following a summer break, as Billiter continues to aim for a 50 percent mix of new and repeat, local and regional artists.
“There is a balance between bands I’ll ask to come back again compared to first-time bands,” he said. “Concerts on the Dock is an opportunity to bring in a band or even a genre, like Americana or bluegrass, that’s not always played in most venues here and share that with the community.” [spacer size=”0″]
Springing ahead: Concerts on the Dock Line-Up
Here’s a look at the Concerts on the Dock spring lineup and a quick take from Billiter on each artist. :
Kush, April 5: “The perfect season opener, hands down. You don’t get many chances before the first week of April to spend time outside. It’s the island feel, you listen to reggae and you have a feeling of sunshine.” Find KUSH on Facebook.
St. Paul and the Broken Bones, April 12: “For me, this is one of the most exciting first-time bands to play on the dock. They will shock every person out there. They will be everybody’s favorite band by the end of the night.” Find St. Paul and the Broken Bones on Facebook.
Pine Hill Haints, April 19: “I’ve been trying to get them on the dock almost since I started booking. They are almost family-friendly punk. You see them on stage, and they could be playing at some dive bar. But they are very sweet people. They will be a lot of fun.” Visit the Pine Hill Haints website.
Unknown Lyric, April 26: “One of Huntsville’s hottest bands, even though they are from Atlanta. And that’s well-deserved. Everybody freaks out on them.” Find Unknown Lyric on Facebook.
Ian Thomas and the Band of Drifters, May 3: “He is like Bob Dylan revived. He’s a great singer and songwriter with a strong connection to old American music. Ian does a great job of capturing the sound and energy of America’s musical past. It’s like he just stepped out of the Dust Bowl of the 1930s and started writing songs.” Visit the Ian Thomas website.
Megan Jean and the KFB, May 10: “They are on the darker side of Americana music, but they helped pave the way for younger musicians to be original. Megan Jean and her husband are troubadours.” Find Megan Jean and the KFB on Facebook.
Mandolin Orange, May 17: “The songwriting is poetic and they are just beautiful on stage. On the quieter side of things, but they will be the quiet giant. Incredible mandolin and fiddle players who write awesome lyrics and songs.” Find Mandolin Orange on Facebook.
Christabel and the Jons, May 24: “Christabel moved to St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands and there was a farewell show at the Flying Monkey last year. So there was an assumption that they wouldn’t play again here. But she’s coming back to Knoxville for a visit and they are putting some dates together. So it will be a treat for all those people who thought they’d never get to see them again.” Find Christabel and the Jons on Facebook.
Hymn for Her, May 31: “A husband and wife duo, she plays cigar box guitar and he plays drums. They drive around the country in this awesome old-school trailer with their four-year-old girl. They have a family element, but then they have a really raw rock element too. It’s kind of the best of both worlds with them. And it leads into the cigar box guitar festival that weekend, so it’s a super cool way to end the spring season.” Find Hymn for Her on Facebook.
Concerts on the dock at a glance:
- When: Fridays from 6 to 9 p.m.
- First Concert: April 5th
- How it works: Concerts are free but donations are accepted. All donations go directly to paying for future bands.
- Bring: Chairs, blankets, food and drink, coolers, dogs on a leash
- Where: Lowe Mill Arts and Entertainment, 2211 Seminole Drive
- More information: lowemill.net or 256-533-0399