This is a story (or more or less a story) that will explain how a family’s living room evolved into a concert venue known as the Vertical Violet. Also, this is a story about just how the family’s very own annual music concert and art market, the Vibrant Variety, grew out of that. Vibrant Variety happens this Saturday, and the family is preparing by scheduling musicians, preparing food, and arranging their home to allow artisans to sell their wares. Every music and art-market fan is invited and will be welcomed at 665 North Volutsia that day.
But first, the Vertical Violet story.
Not so long ago, a woman from Viola, Kansas, married a man who was fanatical about old VWs, and they moved to Volutsia Street in our very own town of Wichita.
The two of them loved music, and ventured often to Lawrence and Kansas City and to other lands in nearby states to hear favorite musicians. They attended shows at Word of Life and at Ground Zero here in Wichita. And when two children, and then a third arrived, the woman and her husband “dragged” (as their mother puts it) the children along to other . . .oh, let’s call them villages.
This continued for years, and then one day, about six years ago at a concert in Lawrence, the woman and her oldest daughter struck up a conversation with a spoken-word-poet/musician. (“His name is Bradley Hathaway, and he’s from Arkansas.”) The woman, Mo Barnhart, volunteered to provide him with a home-cooked meal if he ever visited Wichita.
Mo Barnhart, be assured, likes feeding people. A reliable authority informs me that the enchiladas she sometimes serves in mass quantities are out of this world.
Bradley took Mo up on the offer, and brought musicians with him. A few months later, those musicians contacted Mo, saying they were touring but didn’t like playing the bar scene. Would she consider allowing them to do a show at their house?
“And at that time my baby was one; she’s just turned seven,” Mo says, “but she was just a baby and our house--if you think it’s full now—it was just babies and diapers.”
Her kindness and enthusiasm for the music won out, however, and musician friends of musicians began to contact her about performing and lodging there. She felt (and feels) very, very strongly that these musicians—most unsigned, and all of them approaching touring, producing, and selling music DIY style—needed a space where they could relax. They needed to have home-cooked meals. They needed a chance to perform for a small, welcoming audience.
The family turned a corner when a band with no connections whatsoever to the other musicians managed to find Mo by searching “Wichita house shows” on the net.
“I had to really think, like, Is this really, what we want to do?”
The answer was of course yes.
“We consider it a ministry. We really feel it’s what God wants us to do.”
They painted their living room in lavender and purple stripes, which partly led to their choice to call their venue the Vertical Violet. Usually the family hosts a Vertical Violet concert once a month, unless, of course, they need a vacation. A Vertical Violet evening includes a concert (tip jar near the door) and a homemade meal (donations jar in the kitchen), and no cover charge.
It is a family production.
“When it comes time for a show, we all pitch in, get the furniture moved, and my son sets up the sound system,” she explains, saying that everyone knows what to do. “My daughter does the bathroom. When the band stays, we have to make sure the basement’s ready for them. There are cots ready and clean linens, with the showers down there. Yeah, it’s a lot. So this couch goes on the porch, all the school supplies get hidden, all the toys go up and we clear that.”
This alone would be enough hosting for some. But say you are the kind of person who wants to add to that. What then?
After a few years of hosting the Vertical Violet concerts, the woman decided that they needn’t stop there. Even better would be an annual, larger concert, with bands playing while friends, neighbor—everyone who wanted to visit—shopped handmade items just before the holidays.
“It’s kind of turned into win-win, because I do massive Christmas decorating,” Mo assures me. “The worst part of decorating for me is having to clean up the surfaces and I’ve got all this junk everywhere. So I do this. I clear every surface before Thanksgiving for this event, because people bring their merch in. And then the day after Thanksgiving, I have all these clean surfaces that I’ve already put everything away off of. And then we can just boom Christmas decorate. So it’s really worked out well for me.”
The event will take place in the violet living room, and in the backyard with its chickens and pet pig, and in the garage that is normally the arts and crafts room, and in the kitchen of the Barnhart family.