When Val Minett got word that Kings Highway School in Zionsville was being turned into the Upper Milford Municipal Center, she decided that the town needed more music, and transformed its 180-seat auditorium into the Lehigh Valley’s newest music venue.
She and her partner, Ami Lanning, are now chair and co-chair of Listen Live! Music (LLM), a nonprofit organization that brings affordable live music to the audiences of Upper Milford Township. Each month, LLM blends local music with popular music by hosting an open mic night and a national act concert.
Having worked with numerous artists (including renowned blues musician Johnny Walker), Minett is no stranger to the music industry, and wanted to be able to bring talented musicians to a small area. So when she read an article about plans for the school’s renovation, she immediately got in contact with Dan DeLong, the township manager.
“It happened pretty fast,” she says. “He latched on to the idea right away. He loved the idea of having a community music organization and being able to utilize the [auditorium].”
Because they began the project so quickly, Minett and Lanning formed LLM under the International Folk Alliance in August 2009 with money out of their own pockets. “We launched into it out of nothing,” says Minett. “We put seed money in that I don’t know if we’ll ever get back.”
But the two women soon had the backing of various sponsors, including the Martin Guitar Charitable Foundation. “They’ve been really supportive from the beginning,” Minett says of the men at Martin Guitar Company. “We didn’t even apply for a grant. They just saw what we were doing and wanted to be supportive of it, so they just sent us a check one day.”
Minett got the idea for LLM from Music at the Mission, a music organization that she volunteered for in West Milford, N.J., that is also non-profit.
Both organizations are run solely by a staff of volunteers, and some LLM volunteers travel all the way from Philadelphia and New Jersey to contribute their time.
“Everybody’s been so great,” Minett says. “We’ve been really fortunate with the people involved. They really pour their heart and soul into it.”
And in an interesting turn of events, not only does LLM benefit from its volunteers, its volunteers benefit from LLM. “We had people who were going through some hard times who said volunteering helped them through those hard times,” she says. “[It’s] an unexpected benefit.
“We recently had a father start volunteering with his son because his son is a musician,” she says. “And we had a couple of kids… who did their community service by volunteering with us and ended up staying after their service was done.”
In addition to the Kings Highway performances, in July LLM is teaming up with Power Chords, another non-profit music organization, to hold a fundraiser to promote organ donor awareness. And later in the summer, LLM is co-producing the Maidencreek Old Time Music Festival, a day of instrumental workshops and concerts.
Most of the concerts that LLM books are folk acts like Lucy Kaplanski, who performed on April 23. “When we pitched the idea to corporate sponsors, we said ‘We’re going to book artists like Lucy Kaplanski,’” Minett says. “She was our prime example.” But LLM also caters to the genres of blues, pop, rock and jazz. “We’re still trying to figure out what’s going to rock out here in Zionsville.”
Concerts at Listen Live! Music are held on the last Saturday of each month, while open mic nights are held on the second Saturday. LLM’s next concert is on May 28: Angel Band, a female folk/country act whose drummer is from Emmaus. Tickets and more information can be found online at www.listenlivemusic.org or by calling 610-966-6419.