Sonic Temple Live

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This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.

In a digital age, where people can enact their wild fantasies in a virtual world, it's far more satisfying to see people put their efforts into real greatness.

In Ferndale, California, population 1400, a small group of crazy dreamers are putting their utopian idealism to the test. Jon and Estelle Phelps moved to this small, rural community with the desire to build a better model for the music business. Using the funds from their parent company, DC3, and the Seattle coffee company, Storyville, the Phelps built a state-of-the-art 10,000 square-foot recording studio and performance space there. It's got to be one of the biggest buildings in town.

The premise for the center, called Sonic Temple Live, is to offer high quality music and arts events. Rather than following the traditional path of competing with other theaters and nightclubs to book well known talent, the Phelps decided to create a high-end branded venue, where patrons come for an evening's entertainment regardless of who is performing. The shows are advertised as Sonic Temple Live Mystery Concerts and tickets are $25 to 40 a seat. No one knows who the performer will be until just after the lights go out, when a short film about the artist is played . The artist then appears on stage, and performs in a beautiful concert hall, with top sound and lighting, to a packed audience only interested in the intimate performing experience. This is what most performers dream of. Sometimes, the artist is completely unknown--that's The Phelps way of presenting great talent who have been bypassed by the music gatekeepers that program media. And sometimes a well known artist like David Wilcox, Beth Neilsen Chapman, Jonatha Brooke or Willie Porter will give a show.

All of this would just be a clever marketing scheme to selling tickets to a new venue if it weren't for the financial element. But this is where Sonic Temple Live really shines. All the proceeds from the ticket sales for each concert reverts back 100% to the community, to help fund local charities. Since they began, every show has sold out , so there's a lot of money passing through this small town. Whether the local school needs music instruments, the boys club is running out of funds or the homeless shelter almost out of cash, the Phelps' little one-horse-town dream is quickly becoming an influential, sustainable and profitable center for the community.

The organization is poised for success. Sonic Temple Live is now going on the road, offering Mystery Concerts up and down Northern California in Napa, Santa Rosa, Santa Clara and Marin. In each case, the organization is reaching into local governments to help understand the needs of the community, offering joint marketing and promotion as well as financial support.

And to help them make the transition on the road, Sonic Temple Live has purchased two large touring buses to travel the highways ahead.

Judging from the way they've been doing business, I can only imagine that the Phelps will be coming South in the not too distant future.

Whether you're a fan of the kind of music they are presenting, or not, this is the kind of idealism that music brought to our culture in the 60's. New, optimistic points of view that won't settle for the status quo and will put their money where their mouth is.

It's great to see it growing once again. If you're interested in learning more, check out

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.