Fresh Produce Records cultivates indie and local music in Macon, Ga.

Arts / Article

Fresh Produce Records in Macon.

When you first walk into Fresh Produce Records in downtown Macon, it’s like you’ve stepped into a clubhouse for fans of independent music rather than a retail shop.

There may be someone sitting on a couch reading a magazine. Obscure experimental rock music plays in the background as people standing around the counter discuss music of all types. All the while, there is a band setting up, getting ready to perform.

These small, little-known bands travel the country with a desire to play their music for anyone who will listen. The normal route these artists take through the Southeast leads them from Atlanta down into Florida, usually to Orlando. The area between these two cities is often considered a musical desert, with few chances to stop and play. In a city such as Macon, a place like Fresh Produce Records must is an oasis to these weary travelers. They are welcomed by people who are as passionate about listening as the band is about playing.

Since Fresh Produce opened in September 2013, owner William Dantzler has been inviting bands to play for his modest, but always growing, group of regulars. When the rest of downtown is alive with nightspots hosting bands with bigger followings, Fresh Produce buzzes with indie music and eclectic listeners. Dantzler’s “do-it-yourself” attitude to bringing these shows to Macon caught the attention of Knight Foundation, which gave the store a $10,000 grant as part of a recent package of funding to the Macon arts community. Now Dantzler is seeking to improve the quality of the shows he can offer by upgrading the sound equipment and attracting bands that while still independent, are more recognizable to the Fresh Produce community.

Dantzler believes it’s important for any city to have outlets for small, independent artists to play and sell their music.

“I want one roof where you can be sure to find independent and local artists’ music and where they are welcome to come, play shows, and connect with other like-minded people,” said Dantzler.

When Nicole Chipi, Knight Foundation’s arts program associate, visited Macon and caught wind of what was happening at the newly opened store, her own love of music and entertainment took control.

In a previous job, Chipi had worked closely with the owner of Sweat Records, an independent record store in Miami, to produce and promote music events in Miami. Sweat Records has been providing entertainment that gives a home to alternative culture, booking live musical acts, as well as comedy shows, and even workshops on repairing and altering musical equipment. At Knight Foundation, Chipi’s colleague Tatiana Hernandez helped Sweat Records receive a Knight Foundation grant.

“It’s sort of a model that we look for in other communities,” said Chipi. “Sweat Records was the ideal Knight Foundation grantee. It’s a grantmaker’s dream to encounter a group that has been doing the work on their own and put in the sweat equity to make their idea happen—especially with the kind of personality where given the right tools or the right financial support, they can take their programming to the next level.”

The similarities between Sweat Records and Fresh Produce led Chipi to encourage Dantzler to apply for Knight funding. Fresh Produce became one of 11 groups in Macon recently to share a total of $363,000 in arts funding from Knight.

Dantzler said $2,000 of the funding the store received will pay for a new public address system for bands to use during performances. Another $2,000 will be used to market the store’s events, and the remaining $6,000 will pay visiting bands, keeping the shows free to the public.

Chris Nylund, a member of the Macon-area band Widow Pills and a frequent patron of Fresh Produce shows, believes that being able to see live music in an environment other than a bar is a refreshing change of pace in Macon.

“Playing in bars is all well and good but when you go to Fresh Produce, you are going for the music and that is a cool and important thing,” said Nylund. “I hope they can continue to expand the audience and bring new people downtown who start supporting not just the store, but the music scene as a whole.”

Roger Riddle is a Macon-based writer.