Perhaps the only thing better than seeing a great live performance, is seeing it in a beautiful and intimate setting and that’s precisely what makes The Artists Den such a special evening of music. Currently in its third season airing Friday nights on PBS, The Artists Den showcases an eclectic range of musicians performing to a small invite only crowd at an equally interesting venue. Some of this season’s highlights include Elvis Costello amid the exquisite beauty of The New York Public Library, Ray LaMontagne in a boss-ass barn on the Don Strange Ranch in Texas and Robert Plant and Band of Joy from the humbling War Memorial Auditorium in Nashville with a few more enticing pairings still to come. Beautifully photographed and intercut with artist interviews, it’s really music at its best. Because we’re such big fans of the series, we contacted the show’s creator Mark Lieberman and Director of Programming Alan Light to tell us how it came to be and what goes into creating this unique vibe. Oh, and that thing about invite only, you have to be a member of their email list to be eligible for the random ticket giveaway. Next season shooting starts soon (though Adele is already in the can), so get ye over to The Artists Den, your VIP seat may just be a click away. But be sure to read the interview first.
Tell us how The Artists Den originated and what was your mission in creating it?
Mark Lieberman (ML): The Artists Den began in my living room in San Francisco as a space for musicians to perform private concerts for friends. My mission was simply to connect great music with great audiences.
Now in its third season, how has The Artists Den evolved from your initial vision?
(ML) We continue to innovate the venues- I’m very proud of our diversity of our productions from the New York Public Library to the Nashville War Memorial to the Don Strange Ranch in Boerne, Texas. The initial vision is the same, but now we reach millions of viewers on PBS and online.
The performances and interviews take place in unique and beautiful settings, how do you choose the venues?
(ML) We select these iconic venues with the artist and their work in mind. Ray Lamontagne perfomed his Artists Den in a barn on a ranch in the middle of nowhere. It was a good fit.
What comes first the artist or the venue?
Alan Light (AL) The top priority, of course, is the artist – we can compromise a little on location, but obviously can’t compromise on the quality of the music. But basically, we have to keep parallel lists going – music we’re interested in shooting, and venues we’re interested in using, and then try to match column a with column b as best we can.
The Artists Den features an eclectic assortment of artists, how do you decide who to feature?
(AL): Mostly, we look for bands that are great on stage, and who we think can sustain a full hour of national television – which is setting the bar pretty high. There’s kind of a complicated matrix in matching an artist we love with a location we want to shoot and have it all come together at the right time, so it’s just a matter of paying attention to who is going to be where when. One great thing is that we’re not limited by style or genre, so we’ve been able to present music from Robert Plant to Raphael Saadiq, from Dierks Bentley to Adele.
How do you approach the interview/story telling process?
(AL) The story that goes around the performance really has to do with the artist’s relationship to the location. Sometimes that has to do with the city we’re in (Robert Plant in Nashville, where he made his last two albums), sometimes the general vibe (Ray LaMontagne, from rural New England, on a ranch in Texas). Sometimes there’s something very specific we can pull out – Elvis Costello sitting in the map room of the New York Public Library talking about his aspiration to be a cartographer – and sometimes just a look or feel, like Raphael Saadiq and band in old-school suits set in the elegance of the Harvard Club.
Who is on your wish list in the future?
(AL) Wish list always changes and grows. For me, someone like a Neil Young would be a dream, someone who represents such an independent spirit who I think would react very differently depending on where a show was set. But there’s always more great bands out there who would be fun…
If you could sum up The Artists Den in one or two words, what would it be?
(AL) Surprising performances.
(ML) Always special.
Here’s a sample of The Artists Den with Ringo Starr, Ben Harper and others from 2010.
The Artists Den