When I was a kid growing up it seems that there was always a grainy black and white science fiction movie on the television. The movie inevitably began at the end of some great apocalypse, usually some instance of nuclear annihilation.

Many times the opening scene was a long shot in which the movie’s protagonists were stumbling out of some bomb shelter looking to explore what remained of their shattered, decimated world, trying to determine what was left of their world.

Some of us were locked down pretty tight, for some long periods of time during Covid, some longer than others.

Freedom during the last two years has often been fleeting and when it came, it was often strange.

I remember the excitement of being able to sit with a friend on his back patio after weeks and months of being trapped indoors. Being able to sit 10 feet apart in the cold while drinking a beer and conversing with one another across the distance seemed like a great luxury.

The first couple small road trips I took during the beginning of the end of Covid felt like traveling in a new but not necessarily welcoming world.

I remember going to a friend’s funeral early on in Covid. Everyone sat inside a long line of cars waiting until we could wind our way through the cemetery. I remember looking at friend’s cars behind and in front of me, frustrated beyond words that I could reach out to them, angered that we couldn’t share this important life event together. But no one left their cars that day, no one hugged, no one stood in line to offer their condolences to the family. Eventually we were only permitted to slow as we drove past the gravesite to wave to the family who stood next to the grave.

In surviving Covid, we did not survive a nuclear holocaust or even an actual holocaust, but we have, undoubtedly, survived a life defining event.

And now it’s time to stumble out of our shelters and onto the scorched landscape to what remains of our world.

Over the last couple of months, we’ve been doing that here. And now we’re ready to report back, to share what we’ve found.

Fortunately, we have mostly good news. There are a significant number of people who battled on throughout the plague and kept the places and venues we love open. Over the next month’s we’ll be talking about those people and places.

One of the survivors, and one of the places that has been a very large part of our lives for a long time, is the Southgate House Revival (SGHR) which was originally The Southgate House (SGH) which was located down on the waterfront across the street from the Newport Levee.

A family rift led to Morrella Raleigh and her father Ross Raleigh (who owned and ran the SGH with other family members) leaving the SGH and moving up the road to 6th St in Newport where they created the Southgate House Revival (SGHR) in a 19th century church. They invested, with the help of many, much time money and energy to open the doors.

SGHR was not open long before the venue was forced to shutter because of Covid. As Morrella relates in the interview below, it took a lot to keep the doors open and the doors stayed open only through community generosity and the hard work of a lot of people.

There have been victories over the last several years, reasons to be grateful at the end of Covid.

The fact that Morrella and her staff succeeded in keeping the SGHR alive is one of those reasons to celebrate.

A post Covid world without the SGHR would be a far bleaker place than it is today. A functional SGHR today means a place to gather with friends and a place to listen to music, much of which has been an important part of our lives for many years.

As Morrella states, SGHR is, for many of us, our church. It is a place where we come together in a positive manner.

Having a place to commune and celebrate the arts means the world to many of us. Many who consider the SGHR home are artists. Community and the energy generated by this community is, for many of us, our spiritual life blood. Being deprived of this gift of community, of artistic synergy, was debilitating.

The fact that we have this special place back and are free to bond and create again is crucial for many people.

For all these reasons, we’ve chosen this interview with Morrella to be our inaugural piece for this, our new venture.

The SGHR is a positive venue which welcomes everyone willing to keep an open mind and behave themselves. It’s a first-class concert venue in a historic church. SGHR supports a diversity of viewpoints, a multiplicity of visions. It possible, in one night, to see a bluegrass, heavy metal and a pop show, all with their own distinct crowds. And filtering through each room guarantees an opportunity to meet new friends and greet old friends.

This is type of environment is largely what we are seeking to create with Amalgam Photos: a diverse digital publication where all reasonable persons are free to congregate, a place where artists of all stripes are free to offer a diversity of visions.

We have no doubt that the Southgate House is in no small part responsible for our desire to create such an endeavor.


307 Steps

There are any number of reasons to love the SHGR, in addition to Morrella and the venue itself.

One of the main reasons is the neighborhood which invites, begs a good walk.

Which is fine with us because we believe that one of life’s great joys is a good walk.

Whether it be a brisk walk through the city between errands or a leisurely stroll through the forest, a  good walk is wonderful thing.

The two are different, of course, a country ramble and a city stroll.

A walk through the woods is generally more relaxed without concern for time or destination.

A walk through the city is inevitably tied to some mission and accompanied by heightened senses, given the need to be alert for other people, cars etc.; which is fine, because one of the highlights of a good city outing is a sense of exploration.

And while both nature strolls and city walks entail the opportunity to watch the environment change on a day by day- even hour by hourly basis (if we’re attentive), a walk in the city is always, for me, a little more exhilarating- especially if I’m walking through uncharted territory and the neighborhood is not sketchy or rough, but contains a healthy sense of mystery; it’s not just a corporate neighborhood wasteland polluted with Starbucks and Jimmy John’s. There’s a need to keep one’s eyes open, everyone on the street isn’t dressed the same, driving the same oversized late model SUV and offering fake smiles as they pass.

Newport Kentucky is a neighborhood which retains enough of its history to be interesting.

The very best walk in Newport is from La Mexicana Taqueria to The SGHR on show night at SGHR.

This walk, while short, spans two great destinations- a first class, unpretentious taqueria with stellar and reasonably priced food; and one of the country’s great music venues.

The last time I clocked it, the walk, it was 307 steps. I say last time because I’ve made the walk many many times and it varies each time depending upon the exact course taken, the density of traffic on the sidewalk and even the time of the year. When it rains, or if I’m late, there’s a tendency to hurry- which means taking longer faster strides. In such cases the walk can be as little as say 285 steps.

On the rare occasions, say when it’s snowing or sleeting and the walk is slick, one slows, ensures one’s footing, takes shorter steps. The journey on such rare occasions can then balloon to say 340 steps.

The distance also differs if one travels the east side of the street, as opposed to the west side of Madison- though there is no clear advantage to walking one side over the over the other as there are strip clubs and restaurants and all forms of interesting people, as well as independent businesses, on both sides of the street.

There is a costume and independent theater company on the west side of the street and an argument could be made that the west side of the street is a little more interesting, though the people one meets on this walk are always a wildcard and they populate both sides of the street.

One could meet- for instance- an old man in a new but wrinkled suit pulling an ancient chihuahua in an equally ancient child’s wagon on either side of the street. So to say that one side of the street is inherently more interesting is not really possible.

And if I have a camera in my hand- which is often- then forget counting.

Sometimes, this walk is more stellar than others. On the very best days there’s a great show, a personal favorite at the SGHR (say John Dee Graham, Dave Alvin or Alejandro Escovedo)- or a new artist who blows me out of the water- like the night I saw St Paul and The Broken Bones with just twelve other people (there was an ice storm that night).

Catching a good solid show and discovering something new on the menu can also add up to a great night. Like the time I saw Chuck Prophet and found chilaquiles on the menu. They’d been there along- the chilaquiles- I’d just never paid attention to them. Chuck Prophet was good and the chilaquiles were very good, which amounted to a great night all the way around.

I’d been making this was walk for a long time as I’ve been a frequent visitor to the SGHR. As a music photographer I’ve shot quite a few shows there over the years.  I love shooting there. First and foremost, the people who work there are phenomenal and venue itself is historic and the acoustics are also first rate. And so is the lighting. In most small clubs the lighting is barely adequate. The SGHR, and in particular Morrella, also treats photographers better than any other venue I’ve worked.

SGHR, at 11 E Sixth Street, was built in 1866 and is- as stated- a former church, specifically the Grace Methodist Episcopal Church. The venue, these days, is divided into three rooms, The Sanctuary (the largest room which is on the first floor), The Lounge (also on the main floor and adjacent to the bar) and The Revival Room, upstairs.

The main room, The Sanctuary, still has an original pipe organ and it maintains much of its ecclesiastical atmosphere thanks to the nearly floor to ceiling stained glass windows throughout the room. The big shows are held here.

The Lounge hosts open mic nights, artists in residence and other smaller acts.

The Revival Room, the mid-sized room located on the second floor, hosts up and coming and local acts and veteran performers who still have their chops, but don’t necessarily draw large crowds.

I sat down with Morrella, one recent bright spring April evening to discuss the last few years.

What are three of the best shows that you’ve held in this building?

Marty Stewart with the Fabulous Superlatives with Whitney Rose opening. She’s one of the one of my favorite up and coming country singers. Second would have to be Dave Alvin and Jimmie Dale Gilmore with the third being…. Jim Lauderdale with Buddy Miller.

We also do a lot of other genres and I have very much enjoyed many of those shows as well, such as the Menzingers- (a Scranton Pa. punk band).

When you look back over the last two years, do you have a single memory which is representative or summarizes the whole Covid period?

I can’t really remember the exact day, but I walked into work and I saw the bulletin boards which are normally covered with posters about upcoming shows and they were completely bare, they had no posters…. Inside, everything was put away…. everything was clean and empty. I just lost it…. not knowing whether we would ever reopen….if people would ever come back.

How long were you shut down/operating under restrictions?

I don’t remember the exact dates I know that we were closed down on March 13th when we had a sold out show and we had to cancel that show (which we just reheld in the last month). We were closed for long while before we could reopen to any degree…. we couldn’t do anything…. I had a few small events like selling merch for Christmas….. but it was a long time before we could reopen

What was hardest about keeping things going during Covid

Definitely the hardest part about Covid was paying the bills. Contrary to their claims, Duke was not interested in helping small businesses pay their power bills during Covid.

If it wasn’t for The Cincy Music Live Streams I don’t know if we would have gotten by. they really saved the day. And then there were people who simply and anonymously mailed checks in out of the blue. When we were closed, I could really feel the ground support…. I felt that people wanted us to survive, wanted us to succeed. Ultimately such generosity and…. SBA grants that we received…..allowed us to keep the doors open

I also felt a tremendous obligation to take care of my staff. We employ 18 to 25 people and even if it’s part time, they depend on the income….We lost some very good people during Covid. Some people had no choice but to leave….I have no hard feelings…. people have to do what they have to do to get by….but the pressure to take care of those good people was very difficult.

Did you ever lose hope?

I did lose hope several times during Covid.

I never quit doing what I had to do to make the best of the situation… but on those days that Duke was threatening to shut us down…and this all happened not long after my dad had passed…. it was all very difficult.

I did have a lot of moments where I wondered if this doesn’t work out…when I thought, what am I gonna do?

What kept you going?

Ultimately what kept me going is that I’ve always had a strong support system friends and family…. we had a strong outpouring and support from friends. I think it also helps to be a little crazy and very stubborn.

In some ways things have been difficult from a business perspective but…also in many ways… I think that we were better off than most people. The nature of this business teaches you how to get by…. it teaches you to be scrappy. So at the end of the day….. I think we were better prepared than most people.

Do you feel as though you’re out of the woods?

I don’t feel that we’re completely out of the woods yet. We’re certainly in much better shape than we were two years ago and there are some hopeful signs… we just sold out a show for Sierra Ferrell in advance… but you worry about people deciding to sit on the couch and keep watching Netflix.

We don’t want people to forget about the gigs in the smaller rooms and supporting smaller and upcoming bands

Has there been a show yet or a series of shows which have given you a sense of relief, that give you a sense that things may turn out all right after all?

The recent Wabs show (The Buffalo Wabs and the Price Hill Hustle) who played with The Harmed Borthers) was very encouraging. we got to see lots of old friends…and we also filled up the big room.

At the same time, and I’m probably gonna get in a lot of trouble for saying this, but that was a special night because it was a good example of what we do….people sometimes ask me about turning an old church into a music venue…. and I feel we both serve the same purpose… we bring people together in a positive manner. We’re both about community

What new thing(s) have you learned about yourself over the last two years.

One of the few good things about Covid is that it taught me that I love what I do…. I learned that I don’t do well sitting around at home… I love being around people and that friendships mean a lot. The people that come in here are not just customers…. they were and are friends I want them to keep coming back.

Throughout Covid… throughout the pandemic there were lots of what if moments… what if we have to close…the uncertainty was the hardest thing. I learned a lot through Covid …but one of the best things I learned was that I love this life, and this job, and I wanna keep doing it every single day.

I’ve been in this business in one form or another forever…. for going on 30 years…for my entire career. I started out of school at Music Hall and I helped open the Aronoff and also at Memorial Hall as well as with lots of other arts organizations.

What upcoming shows are you especially looking forward to?

I’m really looking forward to having Jim Lauderdale come back I think he’s one of the better singer songwriters working today also we’re very much looking forward to the Sierra Ferrell show on April 30th…. there’s a guy from my part of Kentucky that I’m very much looking forward to having here on June 23rd, Ian Noe. There’s also Coven, a legacy metal band that we’re having here on June 25th that I’m very excited to have here and of course there are lots of smaller bands that will always have my heart. We recently announced a singer I’m obsessed with, Melissa Carper, she’ll be playing solo, she’s normally part of the Sad Daddy Band.

Is there a dream show you’re personally determined to host in this building?

I’m always thinking about shows that I’d love to host in this building… but the reality is that a lot of the bands I’d love to book are simply too big for this venue. There are a lot of performers that we have hosted on the way up such as Sturgill Simpson, Tyler Childress, The Queers, The Menzingers. Saint Paul and the Broken Bones was a great show… Shovels and Rope also played here.

What’s the hardest thing about running a club like this

The hardest thing is probably keeping up with things at the speed at which they happen… you never get a chance to sit back stop, take a deep breath and enjoy a successful show…. There’s always something immediately following that needs to be dealt with…. there’s always work to be done.

Is there anything you’d like to add that I haven’t asked.

The main thing I’d like to say and that I’ve said before is, it like to tell people… go out and be adventurous and don’t forget about local music.