By Karen Derr
“Loose Lips Sink Ships!” That’s what the sign on The Bugle Boy music venue in La Grange, Texas, warns. It’s an appropriate motto for this live-music listening room that is housed in a World War II Army barrack moved to its current location in 1948 from Camp Swift in Bastrop, Texas. Talking during performances is discouraged, explains Bugle Boy founder and executive director Lane Gosnay. “We’ve built our reputation on being a listening room. We are not the only listening room on the planet, but they are few and far between.” With theater-style seating for about 80 and a bar that sells beer and wine only before the show and during intermission, the experience is quite the opposite of hearing an artist at a noisy bar or concert hall. Because of this, funding a listening room can be difficult, according to Gosnay. The Bugle Boy Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation whose mission is to “elevate and sustain original live music.” Performances at the venue have been compared to private home concerts, which have gained popularity over the years. Sellout crowds and a long and impressive list of performers who have played The Bugle Boy during its 14-year history attest to the appeal of these up-close-and-personal performances.
“The majority of the musicians who play The Bugle Boy are coming in from Austin or Houston,” Gosnay says. “We do a lot of different genres, and a lot of the musicians are genre-jumping themselves.” The list of blues, jazz, and folk singer/songwriters who have played the venue in the past year includes Ruthie Foster, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Carolyn Wonderland, Sara Hickman, Junior Brown, the Chubby Knuckle Choir, and many more. “We do about 100 shows a year and we make a large effort to do 50/50 male and female headliners,” Gosnay says. “There aren’t as many venues for female performers in Texas. That’s really important to me.” Grammy-nominated Ruthie Foster, who played to a sold-out crowd at The Bugle Boy in 2014, says, “Lane has turned The Bugle Boy into a great listening room with an awesome vibe that we enjoy playing in.” The Bugle Boy is also a fair-trade music venue.
Gosnay, who has lived and worked with her partner, Dawn Darilek, in rural Fayette County for the past 10 years, has been helping musicians for most of her life. Herself a lyricist, she organized a gay and lesbian musicians’ network when she lived in San Diego in the late ’80s. She has also worked as a game warden on the Texas Gulf Coast, a scuba instructor, and obtained a degree in marine transportation from Texas A&M in Galveston.
Besides presenting singer/songwriters to the public in an intimate setting where the focus is on the music, the Bugle Boy Foundation facilitates several other music-based programs locally. According to Gosnay, “Music is incredibly powerful and important. That is why we’re doing these other programs.”
“Soldier Songs and Voices” is one such program that the Bugle Boy Foundation brings to Fayette County military veterans. Twice each month, the venue is open to veterans and professional musicians who volunteer to give music lessons and songwriting workshops. “We pay the artists a small stipend because they have to travel to get to La Grange, mostly from Houston or Austin. Some perform on Saturday, then stay over and do a workshop the next day,” explains Gosnay. “They may not have [served during] the same conflict, but they have a bond just being veterans. Some of the musicians are veterans or were Army brats. It can be very emotional for the musicians just hearing the veterans’ stories.” The Bugle Boy not only raises funds to implement the program, but it organizes volunteers and musicians to participate. Veterans who aspire to perform or record can also learn how to work with microphones and do sound checks with the help of Bugle Boy’s sound technician, Pete Sengler.
Another program that the Bugle Boy Foundation brings to its home community is “Music and Memory.” “Music and Memory is a national organization that does its training online via webinars,” says Gosnay. “The Bugle Boy raises funds for that training and also gets donations of iPods. This is something very positive and music-oriented that expands our mission.” Two nursing homes in La Grange have implemented the Music and Memory program. As documented in the award-winning Sundance film Alive Inside, personal playlists can have profound effects on patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia, sometimes even helping them to reduce their medications.
The newest of the Bugle Boy Foundation’s ambassadorships is with the Austin-based organization Swan Songs. The Bugle Boy Foundation recently produced their first live concert to fulfill an end-of-life musical wish for a patient in hospice care. Gosnay elaborates, “In this case, it was for an elderly lady who wished for a live concert by a polka band. The concerts are free to the patient and their family.”
Besides her work with the Bugle Boy Foundation, Gosnay and Darilek just finished building their own home on 22 acres, doing much of the work themselves. Except for doing outreach on behalf of the foundation, they lead a quiet country life and enjoy their privacy, tucked away in the woods. With the recent ruling legalizing same-sex marriage, they were immediately curious to see how their rural county seat of La Grange, a town with less than 5,000 people, would handle their request for a marriage license. They called the county clerk’s office and were put off for three days before they were finally told marriage licenses were being granted to same-sex couples. “I don’t even like leaving my house, let alone my county. I thought it was important to let them know there was interest in our community,” says Gosnay. “It’s important for us to go to our local county clerk’s office, as uncomfortable as we may feel, to show we are part of this community. This is who were are.” Darilek agrees that being able to marry where she lives and has deep roots is important to her. Her grandparents grew up in Fayette County.
With all the success of the Bugle Boy Foundation, Gosnay has not had much time lately to write lyrics, but she confides that she guesses she’d better get started working on vows. She adds, “And I’m not going to go in and ask for a same-sex marriage license, because [now] it’s just a marriage license . . . the same for everyone.”
For a schedule of performances and more information about The Bugle Boy, go to thebugleboy.org. La Grange and the surrounding area is home to several wineries, inns, and cabins. Information about lodging and tourist attractions can be found at lagrangetx.org. La Grange is about a 90-minute drive from Houston.
Karen Derr is a Houston-area Realtor and the founder of Karen Derr Realty and Town and Country Properties. She writes and speaks about home and small-business topics.