When Savana Lee sings, you’ll want some cornbread and sweet tea to go with that pure syrup. Luckily, The Frog Pond’s Sunday Social has a little bit of cornbread, sweet tea, fried chicken, potato salad, and banana pudding waiting in the Kitchen House and Sugar Shack for all to enjoy – a Southern potluck dream.
The Frog Pond at Blue Moon Farm is a hidden gem in Lower Alabama that may just be the best live music venue in the South. Held each week, their Sunday Social is the brainchild of Alabama-native Cathe Steele, with help and prodding from local musical legend Grayson Capps of Willie Sugarcapps. Modeled after Levon Helm’s Midnight Rambles, it’s an invitation-only house concert shared weekly with up to 300 folks in return for a $25 or $30 donation each. The Frog Pond is not a place you’d find if you didn’t have directions and an invitation. But once found, it’ll stick with you like grits on Sunday morning.
The performance area resembles that of the cabin stage at Merlefest, settled into a clearing in a thicket of live oaks, under the shade of a giant 200 year-old cedar. The artists sit side by side across the porch, backed by a top-notch system that seems to emanate sound from the trees themselves. A cooperatively enforced listening zone confirms the exquisite intimacy of the setting. A typical Sunday starts around 2 p.m. and finishes at 6 p.m. or so – just late enough in the winter months to ensure a shaft of subtle dusk settling across the porch as it should in a utopian dream.
The various musicians play their own original music in round robin fashion, the others joining in as they pick up on the tune. Most come with a short preamble giving some context as to why their song seems right for the particular day and setting.
On the last Sunday in January we attended with our hosts from Gulf Shores, who were Frog Pond regulars. The lineup consisted of the husband and wife duo who record together as Sugarcane Jane and are also members of Willie Sugarcapps, the aforementioned guitarist Grayson Capps, Colin Linden, a legendary Canadian musician currently serving as musical director of the hit television series Nashville, and Phil Maderia, also of Nashville, with splendid guitar and vocal chops honed on tours and sessions with the likes of Emmylou Harris, Old Crow Medicine Show and Alison Krauss. Corky Hughes, who plays with Willie Sugarcapps, provided thoughtful and nuanced support on bass. The musicians dubbed their session as a “Gibson moment” when they noticed each played a coveted instrument from the same famed manufacturer.
To list specific songs risks pulling attention away from the experience as a whole. Each was its own nugget, a veritable hush puppy that cries out with flavor even as it becomes part of the whole meal. It would be like calling out just one dish from the Kitchen House and diminishing the amazing array of covered dishes brought by the participants. Better instead to just let your imagination do the work, sitting there under the shade in your camp chair with your head back and eyes closed, maybe licking the last tastes of fried chicken off your fingers and letting the songs run one into another as the afternoon wanes. Occasionally you open your eyes to take note of the elegance with which Linden laced a perfect winsome riff into a Capps tune he’d never heard before, or to sit up and lean into a Crawford solo so infused with power and mettle that your own heart longs to do something that passionately.
At intermission some folks headed for the back forty to roam around and pet the horses while others ventured towards the Sugar Shack to taste just one more little bit of pie. The artists mingled and trade stories with participants – did you know that Anthony lost a small irreplaceable screw from one of his tuning pegs at Grand Targhee and never did find it?
As the second set ended and the fire pit glowed with its last embers, hugs and promises were exchanged. Whether it’s ‘see you next week’ or ‘see you next time,’ you somehow knew that what’s really being said is, ‘thank you for sharing this experience with me,’ and, ‘I sure hope you bring that cornbread again!’
For more information on The Frog Pond at Blue Moon Farm, visit their website.
Written by Chuck Flournoy
Photos by Kathy Kilcher