“We want [students] to leave a show not simply entertained, but moved in some other way. Perhaps to ask questions, to dialogue later with a friend about one of the songs, or to consider the power of what music can do to us, the way we can be inside sounds that overtake us and affect us in deep, wordless ways,” said Joy Moore, a woman whose passion for coffee and students has created a great impact on the Union community.
Moore, director of student programs, discussed the motivation behind creating Barefoots Joe and Modero Coffee. She said at the center of everything, she wants to cultivate places that invite the campus community to settle and enjoy conversation or the work at hand. One way they accomplish this is through intentionally choosing music that enriches the environment and the students.
If you’ve never experienced a Barefoots concert, you’ve never felt the adrenaline rush of being a few feet away from artists who may be unknown in the city but are practically A-Listers for a small private university in Tennessee. You’ve never enjoyed a Friday night standing under a multitude of string lights swaying back and forth to the music of Indie vibes. You’ve never left Barefoots desperately searching through all the music apps trying to relive the beauty of the last two hours.
Moore, as well as many others who work alongside her, understands the importance of Barefoot concerts with a much deeper appreciation than even the audience, and they work endlessly to create these experiences for Union students.
The process starts with seeking out potential bands. They not only listen to the band’s music, but they also review any videos of live performances to judge the quality of their stage performance and presence. They also search for blogs, articles, or social media to gain more insight on how the perspective artists will respond to the students.
“We’re always asking, how will students respond, and how will this band fit our university context?” Moore said. “Will they be responsive to an audience of students who are Christians? Will they use the stage for a platform for other issues? Are they offensive in speech? Do they show thoughtfulness and depth in their dialogue or written material?”
Once these decisions have been made and the band is booked, the preparations begin. Stage plots are requested, meals are planned, snacks are purchased, posters are designed, and everything is in order for the guests to arrive. The day of the concert, the team views their work as offering hospitality that bears witness to Jesus in implicit ways, through feeding them well, unloading and loading their equipment, ensuring the sound is excellent, and attending to whatever needs they have. Since the bands performing at Barefoots are mostly smaller, they are often playing at noisy venues as background music, so it means the world to them to experience a crowd who listens and responds. Moore says she hears more than anything from the artists how cared for they felt and how much they loved performing for our students.
What’s on the Playlist?
We can walk into a coffee shop and are almost always guaranteed to hear Michael Bublé or some Ed Sheeran love song playing on the speakers. The music decision process for Barefoots and Modero goes far deeper than just playing a random Spotify playlist, though.
Along with Moore, a number of students hold various positions on the leadership team for Barefoots and Modero, and one of the key positions is researching bands and creating the playlists. The process begins with researching up-and-coming bands and artists who would create a good fit within the setting of a coffeehouse.
You don’t walk through the doors of either Barefoots or Modero to the sweetly bitter scent of coffee and hear “Look What You Made Me Do” by Taylor Swift blaring through the speakers. The playlists are designed to complement the unique and different vibes of both coffee shops.
Barefoots Joe creates a relaxed and comfortable atmosphere. The string lights create a space that is bright enough to see but dim enough for comfort, the brown leather couches are made for hours of sitting (or sleeping), and the dark neutral colors calm you as you walk through the glass doors. In addition, the music is typically soft and quiet, but at the same time, they make sure to play albums that are familiar to students. The Barefoots playlist tends to contain albums that are receiving attention, but still provide an “easy” listening experience for students.
Modero provides a completely different tone with its dark wooden tables and clean, white walls that create a beautiful contrast. In developing Modero, Moore said they wanted to shape an atmosphere that is “urban and intellectual”. Modero is a type of place you would encounter in the city, yet it has a more “dressed-up” feel than Barefoots to complement the library setting; so, the music must accompany the same classic and urban quality. They wanted the music to convey a more high-brow feel and yet still be modern and inviting. The answer: jazz.
More than elevator music, they wanted to capture that lively sound of improvisation and emotional nuance that jazz delivers. Along with jazz, they include such artists as Yo-Yo Ma and Yann Tiersen.
The impact of music is not a new concept with Moore, and it informs many of the decisions she and the team make as they consider bands for concerts and for the playlist. Music shouldn’t just be “mindless” and purely for entertainment, music should be much richer than that; it should leave us with a greater knowledge of beauty, people, and understanding in our world.
“We are informed by [music], and we do ourselves and the music harm to pretend music is anything less than a transformational art form,” Moore said.
Photo by Gretchen Foels