Hourglass Recording Studio’s Trent Harrison and his wife, singer-songwriter Whitney Lanier, remember their first time visiting Ted’s Fun on the River about three or four years ago. Like many loyal patrons, after that Fourth of July show featuring local indie-folksters Stray Local, they were hooked on Ted’s unique listening-room atmosphere.
“When you’re at a show at Ted’s, you’re sitting, paying attention, maybe enjoying a beverage, but you’re listening to the music,” Harrison explains. “You’re not having a loud bar conversation with another patron.”
And like so many Wilmingtonians, the couple was disappointed to hear the 49-seat venue/convenience shop would close its doors earlier this year. Yet, it was serendipitous; the couple saw an opportunity to further deepen their connection and impact throughout ILM’s music community.
“[Shows at Ted’s] allow artists to engage with the audience more,” Lanier says. ”There’s more connectivity—and they can tell stories about why they wrote a particular song, or how they’re connected to it. It just makes it a more intimate music experience.”
The couple will reopen Ted’s Fun on the River this week as Live at Ted’s. They will host a four-day music fest from September 5-8. “We’ve always dreamed of owning a venue,” Lanier says. “It just seemed like a natural thing to take over Ted’s at that point.”
Harrison also wants to expand the offerings of Hourglass Studios. They plan to record every show. “My original thought was to have it available if the artist wanted to pursue it further and take it into the studio for post production, mixing and mastering,” Harrison says—”really turn it into a live record for them.”
While Harrison and Lanier have been working to make sure the venue is still recognizably Ted’s, they also have made improvements. Though the general flow of the space remains the same (with a bar to the left), they replaced the convenience store immediately to the right of the entrance with roughly 30% more room for audiences by knocking down a wall that split the room. “We’re hoping [capacity] goes up to 60,” Harrison says, “maybe a little bit more.”
Live at Ted’s will relaunch with a soft opening event on Thursday at 7 p.m., featuring one of Ted’s original mainstays the Port City Trio ($5). Complete with former owners Julia Walker Jewell, Kelly Jewell (Ted), and Woody Dobson, they’ll play from The Great American Songbook, plus blues and originals.
Friday will see the return of The Jillettes at 7 p.m. with their ‘60s and ‘70s pop tunes ($5). Americana singer-songwriter Jackson Emmer will play on Saturday ($7) at 7 p.m. The weekend will wrap on Sunday with a free show from L Shape Lot Duo’s Eric Miller and Alex Lanier at 4 p.m.
Based in Colorado, Emmer is making his debut in Wilmington. He appreciates how live music is becoming a more analog form of entertainment, especially one person singing with a guitar like himself. Venues like Ted’s are perfect for leaning into storytelling and interacting with audiences as he likes to. “I try to not perform at people,” Emmer says. “I try to perform with and for them.”
Despite being a DIY artist, Emmer is no stranger to recording live music and working with folks like Harrison. His previous albums were cut at home with friends, but 2019’s EP “Diamond Ranch Vol. 1” was recorded live and produced in a better-equipped studio with a real sound engineer.
“Those [EP songs] have a whole different kind of life to them that I really love,” he observes. “I’m looking forward to making the next album and in the decision-making process, like, who plays on it? Where do you record it? What kind of skill sets do the engineers, musicians and producers need to make the right thing come together?”
While Emmer will be solo at Ted’s, he’s working with a full band in preparation for his next recording project, which he’s currently writing. He plans to enter the recording studio sometime in November with hopes for a summer 2020 release. However, he’ll preview some songs during his set, alongside older tracks from “Jukebox” (2018) and “Diamond Ranch Vol. 1.” His preceding work is known for upbeat rhythms wrapped around introspection and often more carefree. His latest songs cover a range of topics: political petition and unrest, fatherhood and getting older.
“I think it’s more intense and better,” he says. “I’m enjoying the growth in my own perspective. And there’s something to be said for a bitter sweetness [to songs]. I think that’s kind of a really compelling component of songwriting. John Prine does this a lot, where he throws something completely heartbreaking right next to something funny, right next to a MacGuffin or a pointless plot twists.”
Emmer strives for a gentle touch in his own writing, too. Rather than beat people over the head with sad observations or topics, there’s more potency and power to darker seeds when planted sparingly. People also are more willing to engage with them.
For his most recent work, Emmer sought help from his friend and “honky tonk songwriting master” John Lilly in Charleston, West Virginia. Emmer studied this style of music and writing with Lilly, which resulted in three songs in three days. One tune, “Bad Habits,” is based on Emmer’s own flawed behavior. However, he started to disconnect with the main character in “Bad Habits,” and only recently began playing it again.
“It started to feel a bit disingenuous,” he clarifies. “Because I had been trying to iron out bad habits from my life—a sort of a seek-and-destroy mentality about the bad habits in my own world. . . . The character of the song is a lot more accepting and loving of their own negative quirks. For a few months, or maybe a year or so, I felt like, Well I don’t want to sing this, because this isn’t really me.”