Music venues in Sandy Springs, like in most cities around the country, took a hit during the pandemic, with several small music scenes closing up. But as Covid restrictions recede – especially as the city moves into spring and summer — a variety of bands and locations are screaming out for attention and audiences.
It probably doesn’t hurt that the Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center at City Springs recently hired an interim executive director, as part of its staff rebuilding, who has placed “no restrictions on types of music” he plans to offer.
Michael Pauken said it was the Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center that drew him to Atlanta after having served as general manager/executive director of the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie, Ill. for 20 years. When he heard about the opportunity, he thought it would be a good fit for him, having worked for a municipally owned theater like the one here.
The Skokie North Shore Center is a two-theater complex containing a total of 1,185 seats. The Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center also contains two theaters, one the Byers Theatre which seats 1,086 on three levels, as well as the Studio Theatre which has adaptable configurations with up to 400 seats.
History of Attracting International Artists
In Skokie, Pauken attracted international artists such as Al Jarreau, Art Garfunkel, Graham Nash, Herb Alpert and the Indigo Girls. “We go after whoever is out touring to play in a venue of our size,” Pauken said. “We’re always searching and have dozens of offers in [for] various artists.” His job is made easier by the fact that there are a lot of venues in the Atlanta area that want the same acts.
Although he said he was not ready to announce a fall schedule, he was more than ready to speak about a few upcoming outdoor opportunities for music lovers. A new entertainment program, Sundown Social, will be held most Thursday evenings in the plaza on the City Green, featuring local musicians, food and beverage, starting May 11 from 5:30-7:30 p.m.
The popular City Green Live Friday monthly music series returns on April 28 with the alternative rock band, Better Than Ezra. Another popular music tradition for Sunday evenings, Concerts by the Springs on the Entertainment Lawn at Heritage Park returns May 7 with The Geek Squad.
As in previous years, lawn seating is free and reserved table seating is available for purchase for both City Green Live and Concerts by the Springs. City Springs members enjoy pre-show receptions featuring complimentary hors d’oeuvres and a private cash bar.
According to Pauken, Byers Theatre has been underutilized, partly because it opened just months before the pandemic. He wants to diversify the genres to help increase growth, citing jazz, blues, country, rock and pop.
Music Aficionado Steve Grossman
Helping him attract a variety of artists is long-time Sandy Springs resident and musical aficionado, Steve Grossman. Former owner of Steve’s Live Music which opened in Sandy Springs and closed in 2016, Grossman has “reinvented” himself by booking musicians in different venues.
“I have a passion to create a music culture in Sandy Springs and Pauken supports me,” said Grossman. Most recently he brought Michelle Malone to Studio Theatre to an “almost sold out” crowd. “Michelle plays around the world. She’s one of those local but larger than life people.” He noted that more than 200 attended Malone’s concert while Steve’s Live Music could only hold 100.
In the past few years, Grossman has welcomed artists and small audiences to his home for concerts. People can sign up for his mailing list at firstname.lastname@example.org. In April, he is showcasing Jimmy Robinson who has been recording and touring for more than 40 years, as well as Hannah Thomas, a local favorite songwriter.
Grossman said he brought five shows to Studio Theatre last year and hopes to double that this year. In discussions with Pauken, Grossman has on his wish list a mini jazz series as well as international music. “I’m exceeding their goal for revenue” for the Malone show, he said noting that ticket sales cover costs.
“I personally love what Steve is doing,” said Pauken, bringing in Atlanta area performers. “I’m excited about what other acts Steve can bring in.”But Grossman also would love more music venues in Sandy Springs. “If you want to build the culture, you can’t just open on weekends,” he said. However, with both the indoor and outdoor areas at City Springs, he said, there could be entertainment every day. “This could be the center” of Sandy Springs’ music culture.