America is full of cities that boast legendary music scenes. In the South alone, Athens, Ga. and Nashville, Tenn. have established reputations for being musical breeding grounds with each possessing an endless list of iconic bands.
One well-known local thinks that the Mobile scene has the potential to become the next big music Mecca. Catt Sirten has spent the last 30 years spreading sounds around the Azalea City through his radio shows “Catt’s Sunday Jazz Brunch” and “Radio Avalon.” Over the past year, “Radio Avalon” has become popular for featuring in-studio performances from a variety of local musical talent. Sirten is now taking “Radio Avalon” into a different medium with the television show, “Live from Avalon.”
On Tuesday, July 29, an invited crowd gathered at the Joe Jefferson Playhouse for the taping of the pilot episode of “Live from Avalon.” Sirten wants to develop this television show into an “Austin City Limits” style program that focuses on Mobile’s music scene. He also does not want to limit the viewership of “Live from Avalon” strictly to the eyes of Mobile. Sirten wants to broadcast this show as far and wide as possible.
For Sirten, “Live from Avalon” represents the adaption of “Radio Avalon” into the modern age. Sirten said as he has observed more and more people shifting away from radio. The public is now delving into more Internet-based mediums for music, and “Live from Avalon” will be a chance for local acts to cater to a younger and more tech-savvy listening audience.
“They (younger demographics) don’t relate to the concept of owning music,” Sirten said. “It’s not on their radar. I was shocked to find out that no one takes stereos to college anymore. Nobody owns speakers or receivers. Everything is on their phone.”
“Live from Avalon” is a combined effort between Sirten and Bill Rowan. Rowan and Sirten first met as instructors at Spring Hill College. Rowan was one of the driving forces behind the development of a multimedia department at the college, and he donated what Sirten called a “trove” of production equipment to the department.
Eventually, he approached Sirten about teaming up on an extracurricular multimedia project. With an extensive career focusing on multimedia creation, Rowan offered a plethora of high-end production equipment and a wealth of knowledge.
“I told him that I had several projects on the drawing board,” Sirten said. “He said, ‘Well, you know, Catt, the school has all this equipment, but I have all the same equipment at home.’ I said, ‘Let’s do something here.’”
At this point, Sirten and Rowan are totally focused on the pilot filmed at Joe Jefferson Playhouse, which features The Mulligan Brothers. For them, it was a test-run/learning experience for both the format and filming of the show. At this point, the duo is not sure how they will mold and shape the footage into the final, broadcast-ready product.
Viewers can expect the show’s format similar to be “Austin City Limits,” which means that it will be performance based with the possibility of taped vignettes with band members. Sirten and Rowan have made plans to tape 13 shows, and he already has bands committed to fill the projected episodes. He also plans to film at a variety of venues.
As far as which venues have been chosen, Sirten just said that he wants the “music to match the venue.” For example, he mentioned the possibility of filming at The Frog Pond at Blue Moon Farm for the episode featuring Willie Sugarcapps. As far as future performances, Sirten revealed that Beverly Jo Scott and Eric Erdman are two of many that have committed for episodes. He also said that viewers can expect a wide variety of strictly local sounds.
“It won’t be one type of music,” Sirten said. “In Mobile right now, we have a plethora of singer-songwriters. They have great music, but there’s a lot more going on. I like to use Roman Street as an example. Who in the world would ever think that a flamenco guitar group would be popular in Mobile or that we would ever have a flamenco guitar group?”
After finishing production on the pilot, Sirten and Rowan will start searching for various outlets to broadcast “Live from Avalon.” Sirten mentioned that Comcast has a portal for submitting content for local, regional and national exposure. He said that the high quality of the show should make it attractive to the cable outlet.
Alabama Public Television has also expressed a strong interest in broadcasting “Live from Avalon.” No matter what media outlet decides to feature “Live from Avalon,” Sirten remains focused more on getting the word out on Mobile’s rich and diverse music scene than getting enormous ratings.
“We’re trying to have an entity that is 100 percent Mobile-centric,” said Sirten. “If we have quality programming and interesting programming at a high technical standard and if these media providers are looking for content, then why don’t we give them the content.”
Bands will also benefit from appearing on the show. Sirten and Rowan plan on giving the show’s content to each band that appears on “Live from Avalon.” Featured bands will be able to utilize this content for promotional purposes.
In addition to promoting the local music scene, the creation of “Live from Avalon” is also a way for Sirten to display his “civic pride” for Mobile and promote a music scene that he sees as one link in a metropolitan chain. Sirten feels that the more attention that is drawn to the Mobile music scene, then the more attention will be drawn to other aspects of local culture.
“When I first came here, I didn’t plan to stay here for over a year,” said Sirten. “It was just another stop on the tour, in a manner of speaking, but I really liked it. I liked the music and the food, and it’s all interconnected to me. It’s the atmosphere, the location, the culture, the music and the food. They’re all interconnected, and I’m pretty passionate about it.”
When the pilot is complete, Sirten and Rowan will begin planning for future tapings of “Live from Avalon.” While the taping of the pilot was an invitation-only event, Sirten said that the public will be invited to attend future tapings through announcements and invitations on various social media. He also said that there is a possibility of tickets being sold for some tapings. In that event, the featured band would receive any funds from ticket sales.