We are the music makers. And we are the dreamers of the dreams.
Those opening lines from British poet Arthur O'Shaughnessy's 1874 "Ode" were never more relevant than for patrons Saturday at Matilda's Music Under The Pines on this sultry summer night in the Deep South.
About 100 live music lovers from across metro Atlanta gathered under string lights and waving hand fans amidst a colorful oasis of kindred kitsch as hundreds others like them do each and every weekend here between the spring and fall seasons.
They come from all across metro Atlanta to hear an array of local bands fill this intimate three-acre bucolic hollow with the soul-stirring sounds of live jazz, bluegrass, alt-country, and acoustic jam, among other up-and-coming and established regional acts.
Nestled along a quiet, quasi-industrial stretch along South Main Street just a stone's throw south of downtown Alpharetta proper, this seemingly impromptu outdoor forum is actually an aural extension of its namesake and frontage folk art gallery, .
Founded in the late 1990s by Mary and Mark Potter, Matilda's Cottage quickly caught on with folk artists and collectors alike as the married couple focused their efforts on emerging work. Those same efforts have produced a second gallery in downtown Roswell.
Naturally, many of the Potters' early art consignors also were musicians. And both she and her band of artistic augurs saw potential in the backyard property and outbuildings as both an interactive creative compound and live music venue, Mary Potter recalled.
But time quickly passed. And while many offered encouragement and input, good intentions were as far as it got.
Finally though, in 2004, it was New York state transplant Chuck Sitero who took the proverbial bluegrass bull by the horns.
Sitero, 35, of Alpharetta, heard about Matilda's in the early 2000s from mutual art and musician friends and found it the perfect venue to break in his then newly-formed but since disbanded bluegrass band, The Barn Rats.
And it didn't hurt either that Sitero had relocated just a mile or so up the road.
So he approached the Potters and got their permission to put on a show from the Hen House outbuilding's tin roofed front porch.
The Barn Rats show was a hit. And so it began.
And it's been going strong ever since, Sitero said.
"It's really just a terrific place to hear great music in a peaceful setting," he said. "I mean, a lot of people would never have guessed we'd have so much going on back here in such a peaceful and accessible setting. And literally on the outskirts of downtown Alpharetta."
While Sitero serves as the venue's booking manager, he gets pro bono marketing and promotions help from his girlfriend of two years, Lily Askue, an Ashland, Wis., native who relocated in 2007 to Sandy Springs after visiting her sister here.
The music venue operates on a threadbare marketing budget at best, said Askue, who works full-time in customer service. So to get the word out, she places heavy and necessary strategic emphasis on word-of-mouth and free social media Internet sites like Facebook - which ironically is how she and Sitero developed their romantic connection.
"All of the money we take in goes toward paying the bands and maintaining the grounds for the next show", Askue said. "So it really is our love of the music and each other that keeps us going."
Weekend performances have become for many a social destination, drawing crowds as varied and eclectic as the bands that perform on that plank board porch under the "Waltzing Matilda" marquee.
But it should come as no surprise that this musical spirit is alive and well here.
Modern Alpharetta was founded upon what was once known as New Prospect Campground, or the "Methodist Camp Ground" - revivalist roots that still today remain secured in the unique and timeless southern art of oral tradition.
"It's just a really chill vibe and a unique place unlike any other to catch a live performance," said Katie Elliscu of Lilburn. "The energy. The people. The music. It's just great."
Elliscu was solo Saturday evening but often attends shows with her husband and three children.
Children and leashed dogs are welcome at Matilda's. There's no on-site food or beverage service because that would require expensive permits.
So patrons are encouraged to bring their own coolers and lawn chairs at no added charge - similar to concerts at Chastain Park Amphitheater on a much smaller scale and sans the ostentation and hassle of Atlanta traffic.
Alcohol is permitted for adults 21 and older. Parking on site is free and at a premium. So patrons are encouraged to get there early or be prepared to park at an adjacent business and take a short stroll down the sidewalks.
Smoking, on the other hand, is prohibited in the common areas. But an open sided barn obscured by hulking privet bushes on the back of the property is designated for smokers.
And the volunteer staff dutifully recycles all glass, plastic and metal containers left behind by patrons, although they appreciate people picking up after themselves.
Admission is $15 cash for adults and pricing is tiered for minors; those six years and younger get in free.
Show goers on Saturday were treated to two popular jam bands who performed in memory of the late Grateful Dead lead singer Jerry Garcia's birthday: opening act gr8FLdüde & frenz and long-time Atlanta-based Grateful Dead cover band, Swami Gone Bananas.
But weekly line-ups are as different as the days are long.
"Man I just love it here," said Atlanta native, artist, musician, and former Atlanta radio personality Mike "Swami" Schulman before taking the stage Saturday.
Schulman worked with the Grateful Dead in 1992 and struck out with his own band after Garcia's death in 1995 to cover "the Dead".
He and the band were for years fixtures in Buckhead at the long-gone Mike n' Angelos pub on East Paces Ferry Road at what now is a parking lot eclipsed by residential high-rises and a Rodeo Drive-style retail construction project that's been stalled for three years.
"It's like the good old days. You get to perform in front of all types of people here," Schulman added. "And everyone is always so supportive."
"It's all about good vibes, man."
For show schedules and more information about Matilda's Music Under The Pines, visitn the Web site:
377 South Main Street, Alpharetta, GA 30009
Open Fridays & Saturdays 7 p.m. - 10:30 p.m.
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