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Louisiana Grandstand showcases local, regional talent

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Will Broyles was frustrated.

 

He and his then-7-year-old daughter, Nell, both loved music.

It was their “thing.” But in Shreveport, there was a lack of places where father and daughter could hear a singer perform live.

“There were so many great artists that I felt like we could not go see because they were either playing in a casino or a bar,” Broyles said. “On rare occasions, they would play in an arena — The Strand or the Municipal (Auditorium). Those are great, but I just wanted to be able to take her to a place where she could learn and see new music and new musicians.”

So, Broyles, who admits “I really didn’t know what I was doing,” worked out a deal to lease the Women’s Department Club’s 400-seat auditorium (802 Margaret Place). On event nights, it would be called Louisiana Grandstand. Broyles quickly started booking singers and musicians. The first show was in June 2021. Since then, several well-known area artists, like Jimmy Wooten, and others with ties to the area, like Dan Smalley, have graced the stage.

“We wanted to create something that would showcase and grow local and regional musicians,” Broyles said. “When you call someone a local musician, it has a bad connotation. People tend to minimize those artists. But we believed there was so much talent that just wasn’t being realized here. Like the days of the Louisiana Hayride, where we were a net exporter of musical talent. That was really the goal from the beginning, and we’ve adapted and grown and stayed true to that as much as we can.”

Broyles’ venture started with a friend who had to back out of the project. But then stepped in a high school buddy, Stephen Gillum, who has played music most of his life and has a real interest in the production of live shows.

“We have put the effort behind trying to make sure the theater is considered to be a legendary listening room,” Gillum noted. “When people are in there, they are not sitting at a restaurant and there’s a musician in the corner, and maybe you’re paying attention to (the singer) or maybe you’re not.

When everybody is in the theater, it’s all about the music. … That’s what we are striving to do — make sure the people can have a seat, and for the next two or three hours, they’re going to be immersed in a musical experience that’s not the big arena concert, and it’s not going to hear someone in a bar. It’s not going to see a show that’s randomly happening at some random place. It’s all about the music.”

Minden’s Braydon Watts, a 20-year-old singer trying to find his way, has performed at Louisiana Grandstand 12 times.

“You’re in an atmosphere of love,” Watts said. “Everyone around you loves what they’re doing, and they love music. To play in front of an audience that loves music and loves to listen is something that is very valuable to an artist.”

Municipal Auditorium was Broyles’ first choice as Louisiana Grandstand’s home. However, Broyles said he never received a response to his inquiries. Broyles was familiar with the Women’s Department Club’s venue because he had previously rented it and “fell in love with that auditorium,” commenting that “it was like a time capsule with 400 seats that had almost been perfectly preserved.”

But before the auditorium could host concerts, it needed some repairs. Broyles and Gillum paid for those repairs not with money, but with knowledge.

“We helped (the Women’s Department Club) navigate the insurance process to get a new roof on the building, which it really needed, and to help with some of the interior damage that was caused by those leaks.”

Then, there was the need for lighting and sound equipment, as the Club didn’t have a long history of hosting concerts.

“We started with largely nothing,” Broyles recounted. “They didn’t have a (public address) system that was in operation. We had to bring in rented equipment. Over time, we bought a little more and bought a little more.”

And, over time, Louisiana Grandstand has earned respect, and not just here at home.

“Shreveport doesn’t have the best reputation of how people in Nashville look at Shreveport,” Gillum said. “Even back in the days when we were the competitor with the Grand Ole Opry, it wasn’t necessarily perceived as a great thing. Nowadays, the artists we’ve had who have moved from Shreveport to Nashville to pursue a music career, often times are given flack for coming back to Shreveport to play, because people in Nashville don’t assume there’s a market in Shreveport. But we’re slowly changing that. People are calling us now, asking if they can come play here.”

You can’t talk about Shreveport’s musical history without talking about the Louisiana Hayride. From 1948-1960, the Hayride, which began as a radio show and then overlapped into television, was held at the Municipal Auditorium and helped launch the careers of numerous artists, most notably that of Elvis Presley.

It’s easy to draw comparisons between the Hayride and Louisiana Grandstand, but Broyles wants the Grandstand to stand on its own.

“The Hayride was great, but if I’m being honest, the Hayride is dead. It’s part of history at this point. People who are in their 20s and 30s hardly know what the Hayride was. We don’t want to be the Hayride. We want to be in the spirit of what was good about the Hayride, but also our own thing. I think the Hayride had a lot of great things about it, so we want to glean from that. I would hope, in time, that the Hayride is part of that history, and we’re the continuation of that history here in Shreveport. That had its place, and (the Grandstand) has its place.”

You can’t really pigeonhole the Grandstand into featuring a particular style of music. But there is a common thread. Broyles calls it American Roots music.

“We definitely lean heavily into country, Americana and folk,” Gillum said. “Some of it has to do with the demographics of live music listeners in the area and us knowing there are those people who will come out. But it also doesn’t mean we’re not going to have your occasional blues artist, or bluegrass artist, or somebody else who is going to draw an audience for that particular genre. I wouldn’t say we’re genre specific. It’s about the live music experience more than anything else.”

While the Grandstand is helping launch musicians’ careers, it’s also giving young people a hands-on education about all that goes into producing a live concert.

“We’ve partnered with the communications department at Bossier Parish Community College,” Gillum explained. “Those students are learning how to do videography and production. …We do more than live music, when you look start to finish. We have pre-production, live production and postproduction that all goes on. We’ve even gone so far as building some recording rooms with state-of-the-art equipment. Artists have been able to come in and record some tracks and release them on Spotify and iTunes, things these artists never thought they would be able to do without somebody coming in and doing it for them.”

Boyles and Gillum don’t know what the Grandstand will be a few years from now. They want it to grow, but they don’t want it to outgrow its purpose.

“The hope is that it’s the same as day one,” Broyles said. “We want to be a conduit for rising musicians to go out and be known. I would hope that in five years, if it evolves more, it evolves more toward more regional artists being able to find an audience that really supports them locally.”

Gillum added, “What I hope to see is not only have we created a place and a legacy for generations beyond where Will and I currently are, but something families will continue to enjoy, and something that will make Shreveport and north Louisiana get the recognition it deserves as far as the talent.”

To learn more about Louisiana Grandstand, you may visit louisianagrandstand.com.

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