Future uncertain for ‘Concerts in the Woods’ in Coyle

Posted 11/20/19

Norman Johnson insists his retirement from leadership of Coyle’s “Concerts in the Woods,” is not an ending but a chance for a new beginning.

“Yes, this was my last concert …

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Future uncertain for ‘Concerts in the Woods’ in Coyle

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Norman Johnson insists his retirement from leadership of Coyle’s “Concerts in the Woods,” is not an ending but a chance for a new beginning.

“Yes, this was my last concert in this current series that I have been hosting for 10 years here in Coyle,” he said of the guitar show Nov. 17. But, Johnson is continuing to search for a new host, or for co-hosts who could share those duties, though he conceded that there’s currently “no firm plan to report.”

“I still have hopes that others will see the value of continuing these concerts at our community center in Coyle,” Johnson said. “We have a fine building for live music, a lovely room with great acoustics and a huge, avid following of loyal music lovers.”

After hosting 10 years of “Concerts in the Woods,” Johnson and his wife are planning trips to visit friends and relatives, and to check out concerts and festivals across the country.

As always, Johnson would rather talk about his guest acts than about himself, and when he spoke to The Leader, he was effusive about the return of Don Alder to the Coyle Community Center on Nov. 17.

“Don was here in 2016, and wowed the crowd with his lightning-fast hands, switching between fingerpicking, strumming and hammering on one guitar, making it sound like multiple guitars playing at once,” Johnson said. “We were thrilled to have him back.”

Those who visit Johnson’s website at CoyleConcerts.com will note a bit of a gap between Alder’s show and the next scheduled performance, by singer/songwriter Buddy Mondlock at 3 p.m. on April 19.

Johnson credited Karen Gale with volunteering to host that show in 2020, and while it’s the only other one left on schedule for the “Concerts in the Woods” series, Johnson said, “At least it’s a start.”

Johnson is leaving the door open for future concerts, and will keep the CoyleConcerts.com website and group email running.

“We may never restart a year-round concert series, that requires hosting on every first and third weekend, but we might create a randomly timed concert, when conditions are right for a particular band, and when someone is available to host it,” Johnson said. “Or the music may take a different shape, and become a song circle, a community sing-along, an open mic or a local talent show. I’ve been toying with a number of ideas that might appeal to local music lovers.”

Johnson is more than willing to provide a sound system and his knowledge of promoting events to help whatever new hosts step in to generate an audience.

“I’m also thinking that, after I end my regular hosting, and it begins to sink in people’s minds, others may come up with their own ideas of what would be fun to offer at the community center,” Johnson said. “It could be a local high school garage band, or a comedy night, or a movie night. I would support whatever entertainment people would like to try in Coyle.”

One of the key ingredients that’s missing from any new set of concerts is simply people, both to act as host and to set up the room on the day of the concert.

“I would love to get more people interested in doing something, and they don’t need to duplicate things the way I did them,” Johnson said. “To take ownership of a concert, they need to take it on as their thing, not my thing.”

Johnson turns 72 years old on Dec. 12, and his career, as a civilian analytical chemist for the U.S. Navy, had nothing to do with music. But he always loved music, and tried to learn several instruments, even though he claims he was never successful with any of them.

“I grew up listening to the music of the 1960s, during the folk revival period,” Johnson said. “That background is reflected in the bands I’ve presented in Coyle, and the like-minded audience that has developed around it.”

Johnson’s first foray into hosting began in 1998, assisting his daughter’s piano teacher with her recitals by setting up chairs, baking cookies for intermission and collecting donations at the door.

“Later that summer, we put on our own backyard talent show with my daughter and some of her friends,” Johnson said.

As a frequent attendee of the concerts at the Pegasus Coffee House on Bainbridge Island, Johnson volunteered to step in when the original host took a job in Seattle, because he didn’t want to see it end.

Seven years layer, Johnson had made multiple connections with the local music scene, and expanded the shows to every weekend.

The subsequent departure of the host from Cafe Allegro in the Seattle U-District led to him picking up hosting duties there on Friday nights, as well as connections with even more local musicians.

Starting in 2006, Johnson was the founder and event coordinator of the Bainbridge Bluegrass Festival until 2014, and he kicked off the “Concerts in the Woods” series in 2009, when he and his wife bought property in Coyle.

“I discovered the wonderful natural acoustics of the community center here,” Johnson said. “It has developed into a destination venue for intimate concerts, in a listening room environment that continues to attract audiences who prefer our friendly venue over noisy bars and restaurants, or expensive, crowded concert halls.”

Johnson even went so far as to declare his hosting at the Coyle Community Center as “my most successful and rewarding series” of all of the venues where he’s presented live music.

“I’m only a wannabe musician, but I am an avid concert listener, and I would enjoy putting on a concert even if I was the only one in the audience,” Johnson said. “I have stayed motivated to produce concerts for one simple reason — I love live music.”

Johnson advised any prospective successor to his hosting duties to devote equal time and effort to both sides of concert production:

1. Find bands that your audience will enjoy.

2. Promote each show to reach its intended audience.

“Having reliably good bands and reliable audience attendance are the two things needed to keep a music series running,” said Johnson, who urged any would-be hosts to be present on the dates that the bands are booked, to prepare the room, greet the bands, help them set up their equipment, welcome the audience, and clean up after the show is over.

“I spent a lot of effort making the bands that came here feel welcomed and honored,” Johnson said. “Treating the bands like royalty helps to get really good bands to make the trip to our extremely remote venue, and having lodging available is a big plus, especially for nationally recognized bands on tour.”

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