One night a month, the Bartlett transforms into a hybrid rock venue, coffee house and art gallery for an ongoing series of concerts known as the Round. Started in Seattle in 2005, the Round is a regularly occurring multimedia presentation combining live music, performance art and spoken word.
The Round has been adopted by several venues over the years – there are Rounds in Tacoma, Portland and Austin – and the Bartlett began its own version of the format last year. Bartlett owner Karli Ingersoll worked with local writer and poet Mark Anderson, both of whom had participated in the Round in Seattle, to get it started, and the idea was to get musicians and poets in the same room.
“We both felt really passionate about doing an event that would bring each audience into the same room,” Ingersoll said. “We’ve found in the past that it’s really hard to get the poetry community to pay attention to music, and vice versa. We thought it’d be a cool way to connect.”
The Round format works like this: Three singer-songwriters share the stage, each taking turns presenting one of their own songs. They usually explain the origins of the tune, “MTV Unplugged” style, and while they’re playing it, the other musicians are encouraged to contribute to the music or the vocals.
After those three songs, there’s a poetry reading, and sometimes the musicians play softly in the background as a soundtrack. Then each of the songwriters performs another of their songs, and so on. While all of this is going on, an artist creates a piece in the moment, which will be auctioned off at the end of the night.
Tonight’s event will be the ninth Round to be hosted at the Bartlett, and Ingersoll says the events have already established a devoted following.
“It’s so different than anything we do at the Bartlett, but it’s developed its own audience – there’s a core group of people I see every time,” Ingersoll said. “They’re coming because of the type of event it is, rather than for one artist or another, which is cool.”
The Round is all about collaboration, and Ingersoll says she deliberately books artists she hopes will be compatible with one another.
“We had Mama Doll and Cedar and Boyer play at the same time, and because they already know each other, that worked out really well,” she said. “They all felt comfortable on stage, and they just jumped in with that third person we scheduled. They played with each other on every song, even though they didn’t know the songs beforehand.”
And with the Round, artists who don’t normally have access to a stage are having their voices heard: You may not have the cache to headline a show, but you still have the opportunity to perform for an audience.
“It’s a chance to book some of our open mic-ers for an actual gig,” Ingersoll said. “It’s giving some singer-songwriters in town an opportunity to play an event that’s in front of a different audience.”
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