Karen Pulfer Focht
Tucked away off a quiet, country road in southern Alabama is a music haven named the Frog Pond at Blue Moon Farm. Each week, music enthusiasts come from surrounding states for music and an old-fashioned Sunday social. “Every week they are from everywhere,” says founder Cathe Steele. Guests bring a covered dish and put out their folding chairs in front of a homemade stage, where traveling musicians from all over the world stop, play, and tell stories through music and song. “The whole idea was to bring community and music together, so we developed community through music,” says Steele, who began this musical journey in 2010 on her 10-acre farm in Silverhill, about 10 miles east of Fairhope, Alabama, and Mobile Bay.
While the event can draw up to 300 people, it is not public. The musical gathering is by invitation only. It takes place late on Sunday afternoons, usually October through March. You can gain an invitation by writing the owner, Cathe Steele via her website.
People can camp on the farm overnight, bring their own chairs and beverages, and are encouraged to participate in a potluck covered-dish dinner. “Musicians create art here,” says Steele. “Visitors hear a story or a thought expressed through music and people hear what they need to hear.”
Steele has a passion for creating a unique and intimate musical experience for songwriters and listeners alike. “What happens at the Frog Pond you will never hear anywhere else. Once it happens, it’s just like magic; it is in and out the window and it is gone,” Steele says. “What’s left is that feeling people have when they leave here. I like passing that on.” The outdoor house concert is held on the grounds of Blue Moon Farm, her home in Silverhill, Alabama. The “Frog Pond” itself is an outdoor wooden stage set under a 200-year-old cedar tree on the farm. It is an earthy stage decorated with Christmas lights, hand-painted signs, decorative lamps, flowers, and shutters.
Steele is a member of the Folk Alliance International, formerly based in Memphis. She used to book music professionally and says that many of the country’s best singer-songwriters and musicians have graced the “humble little front porch” of the farmhouse, which was built in 1909.
Each week four different musicians join Grayson Capps, an Alabama-based singer-songwriter, to create a unique and new musical experience. Musicians try out new songs and perform old favorites with other musicians who may or may not have ever played together. This season the Frog Pond concerts will host Tony Joe White, Kinky Friedman, “Americana troubadour” Mary Gauthier, The Wet Willie Band, and many others.
At Blue Moon Farm flowers bloom, horses graze, chickens cluck, and folkies chatter. People mingle, snack, and nibble on slices of watermelon, enjoy homemade desserts, and then wash everything down with glasses of sweet tea or adult beverages.
Candle-lit chandeliers hang from the trees and bonfires burn at various locations on the property. The crowd stops visiting and starts listening as soon as the musicians tune up. Steele, a musician herself, is known to pop up on stage to add a bit of harmony, as the songwriters sing their stories to an attentive and appreciative crowd.
House concerts originated as a way to help support traveling folk musicians. Artists would stop and play while passing through the smaller towns as they journeyed from one gig to another. Today, the house concerts help them pay for food, gas, and hotels. People open up their homes, churches, and yards to provide an intimate space for folk music fans to come together, singing favorite tunes and listening to their favorite music and artists.
“This is less about the money and more about the music,” says Steele. All funds donated at the door go to the artists. That is a stipulation with house concerts in Alabama; these are private gatherings and tickets can’t be sold.
People find out about the Frog Pond house concerts mainly by word of mouth. Regulars donate common items such as toilet paper, wood, and coffee. During the off-season, people donate their time to help with venue chores and upkeep. “It’s amazing how we are all interconnected,” says Steele. “When we started the Frog Pond it was kind of to bring people together — to develop this community of folks who support each other and musicians who support each other and give back.”
“The first time I went there and met Cathe I felt like I had known her all my life, and sitting in her back yard was like going home,” says Joe Fulmer, who lives in Fairhope. “It was the most relaxed I had been in 20 years.”
Some of the guests have long hair, beards, sunglasses, hats, and boots. Baby boomers fill the majority of the chairs and they often bring their dogs, children, and grandchildren. Parents and children throw Frisbees around, while young lovers swing on benches and aging hippies raise their arms, singing and dancing to their favorite music.
Some of the musicians come often, others are just passing through, but they all entertain guests as they sing harmonies, perform original songs, and play guitars, fiddles, banjos, and even washboards on occasion.
Steele would love to see her shows broadcast somehow, over the airwaves or posted online, and have the opportunity to share the special place that she has created with the rest of the world. “My hope here is to have the Frog Pond continue to grow, because as it grows, everybody grows.”
For more information: facebook.com/FrogPondCafe.BlueMoonFarms thefrogpondatbluemoonfarm.com