by Britt Chester

Local couple brings live music to their backyard venue


For Jim Halsch and Sue Hunt opening a music venue in their backyard wasn’t something they always dreamed would happen. After attending a concert in someone else’s yard, though, they decided to do just that.

“We were invited to a backyard concert last year, and it occurred to us that we could do this and have concerts in our own yard,” said Halsch, a 59-year-old financial planner at Gate City Advisors in Greensboro.

That was in late 2013, and for the next eight months, Halsch and his wife of three years, Sue, began investigating what they needed to do in order to hold events in their backyard.

Looking at the layout, it made sense for the couple to build a permanent stage and hang strands of lights. A spotlight shines on the performer while other lights illuminate the canopy of leaves and branches that naturally insulate the audio and venue.

After deliberating with neighbors and friends, and looking at their house, it was settled that the venue would be named Big Purple; Music at Big Purple is what they would call each event.

“Sue and I were writing down a bunch of name ideas, and we asked around the neighborhood, but finally settled on Big Purple,” said Halsch. “It fits pretty good.”

The first show at Big Purple was held in June of 2014, and they have held an event once per month since then. The final show with singer/songwriter Jacob Johnson of Traveler’s City, S.C., is scheduled for Oct. 11.

Johnson, 28, has been playing guitar for as long as he can remember. Growing up with what he describes as “just an old plastic guitar that you have as a kid,” Johnson recalls pulling it out and strumming along to the music whenever he’d be watching “Hee Haw” or when the Darling Family came on the “Andy Griffith Show.”

“When I was two, three, four-years-old, my grandmother would come over and occasionally play something, like “Happy Birthday” or something like that, and that was really intriguing for me,” Johnson recalls.

Like most children growing up, Johnson was attracted to anything that held his attention, but a few years after his tenth birthday the guitar came back into his field of interest.

“At 12, I thought that since I was all grown up I should learn to play,” he said, laughing at the idea that being 12 years old is all grown up.

The same grandmother that used to occasionally play for him when he was younger taught him his first three chords, and he hasn’t put the guitar down since.

Through high school, Johnson played in bands covering acts such as Stevie Ray Vaughn, Prince and Jackson 5.

“We’d travel around and play various wing joints, bars “” really anywhere. If you’re carrying a guitar, you always look of age,” he said.

At 18, Johnson began writing his own material. It was in songwriting that he came to develop a more personal relationship with his music as well as learning how much he enjoys delivering his craft to a live audience.

“Different people get artistic fulfillment out of different parts of the artistic process,” he said. “But I really get my fulfillment from playing my music live for people.”

On his latest album, One Take Jake, Johnson recorded what could only be described as the closest thing to a live show recording but within a studio setting.

“A lot of the reason I did that album is because people would come up after shows, and they would ask for a CD that sounded the most like what I just did live,” he said. “I didn’t have anything like that.”

One Take Jake is a mix of new songs, a few covers and even a couple of his old songs from albums that are no longer in circulation. Each track is a solo acoustic version recorded in one sitting with no added guitar layers, overdubbed vocal tracks or enhanced audio production.

“I may have recorded the songs more than once, but each song sounds exactly like you are sitting with me in the studio as I play them,” said Johnson.

Johnson’s sound draws influence from the music he grew up on, which creates an eccentric mixture of rock and roll and folksy songwriting style. And though guitar was the instrument that led to his career, it’s the emotional inflections he injects in his singing that has cemented him in this path for life.

As far as touring, though, Johnson likes to keep a fine balance of being on the road too much and being comfortable at his home in Traveler’s City.

“I like to tour less and tour smarter, which means I might be on the road for two or three days, then I come home for a couple days,” he said. “I’m a full-time musician, but I keep a comfortable schedule.”

It was in July of 2014 when Johnson played at a Fiddle and Bow Society show in the Underground Theatre at the Community Arts Café in Winston-Salem he connected with Halsch and Hunt. Following that introduction, the couple decided to book him for their final show of 2014 at Big Purple.

The events at Big Purple are capped at around 150 guests, and spots fill up rather quickly through the Facebook event page. Unlike traditional venues, all the ticket revenue goes to the touring artist, which can make for a pretty comfortable payday for solo touring acts.

“Several of the performers have commented about how much they appreciate the attentiveness of the audience,” said Halsch.

He also mentioned another venue “out in the country” that draws a crowd of around 300 but can sometimes get a little rowdy.

“We try to keep ours around 120 and 130 people,” Halsch added.

Because the venue is located in a backyard of a house in a neighborhood, seating is not provided. Halsch recommends attending patrons bring their own lawn chairs, blankets and whatever else they would like to enjoy during the show. There is a community table where attendees can bring food they would like to share, and some people bring their own picnic baskets to snack on during the show. !


To RSVP for the concert, go to Tickets are $15 cash at the door. Gates open at 7 p.m., music starts at 7:30 p.m.