The Origin Story: Part One

At some point, it was no longer fun to say how bored you were.

If you’re like me and you’re not a native Lynchburger, you hold a particular class of disdain towards this City of Seven Hills. It becomes a language, all its own.

You know how it is. You run into a friend at the store, and after some brief chit-chat, you ask how their weekend was. They reply, “Oh, you know. We went to Walmart. Since there’s nothing else to do in Lynchburg. Ho hum, ho hum.”

It had become embedded in our small talk, a cruelly driven nail in the coffin of the Burg’s social scene. For me, it had gotten to the point of becoming very annoying.

I’ve written before about how I’m not from Lynchburg, how my expectations of engagement are different, and how there needed to be something to do. What I haven’t explicitly said was how, at the beginning, all I wanted to do was to find something to do.

I was tired of complaining about being bored.

Before there was “The Listening”, there was always music and poetry. I wanted to be a part of something that involved the two, in a raw, genuine way. I wanted open mic spots to be consistently LIT. I wanted music that didn’t need a bunch of flash and flare, just undeniable talent and passion. I wanted to be around people that didn’t need to Snapchat everything for it to count as a memory. There was so much that I wanted and needed from my art, as a creator and a consumer.

My first taste of this came while working at Liberty University’s Center for Multicultural Enrichment, casually known as the Center for ME. Stationed at our modest offices on The Hill, we did various events throughout the school year, hoping to engage and educate the student body on the different cultures around us.

At this time, I grew weary of the lackluster events and movie nights. I wanted to try something different, something engaging, something that felt genuine and actually interesting.

I’ve been a huge fan of the Harlem Renaissance for as long as I can remember. Michael Jackson probably had something to do with it, but it spun past his influences. Learning about the literature and the creative endeavors and the musicianship and the artistry that spawned from this time period – the Harlem Renaissance was the bedrock for much of the art that we enjoy today. I thought, why not bring that passion back? Why not invite artists on campus to revisit that time period, without 808s or Autotune. (No shots at T-Pain or Kanye. I promise.)

Poster created by Jodie Walton III

It was called “A Renaissance at Liberty”.

For all intents and purposes, it was a success. People were dressed in their best, with gowns and head pieces and bow ties galore. Artists performed their poetry, did covers of classic songs, and presented dances that were a definite throwback to the style of the early 20th century.

But it wasn’t enough.

Some time later, another effort came, called “Underground 2.0”. This was my “hip-hop” phase, where all I wanted to do was freestyle.

Was I good at it? No. Not by a longshot. But I missed the cyphers back home, on the corner of Broad and Market.

Once again, people seemed to be receptive to this idea. Once every two weeks, spitters from the campus met at DeMoss to do exactly that: spit. (For those who don’t know, “to spit” in this context refers to the act of rhyming without premeditation. #themoreyouknow)

A very unique throwback. Please hold all snarky comments.

It wasn’t enough.

I began to talk with my friends. We regularly chatted about a place where we could just hang out, indulge in some dope art, share ideas and passions without judgment or without having an agenda. Essentially, that's all we wanted to do. Could such a place exist, especially in this creative wasteland? Can I kick it, basically, was the main question.

Yes, I decided. Yes we can.

There, in the midst of all of that, were the seeds of The Listening.

(Stay tuned for Part Two!)