DIANE URBANI DE LA PAZ: Cash, connection: Coyle’s got the right mix

HE WORKS IN the woods; what he builds is community, with music as the floorboards.

For nine years now, Norm Johnson and the Concerts in the Woods series have brought a rippling stream of live music: folk singers, jazz, blues, country and Americana, all of it at no charge to the people who come to listen.

This is a gift of nourishment, a heaping serving freely given at the Laurel B. Johnson Community Center (no relation to Norm Johnson) at 923 Hazel Point Road.

That’s some 14 miles from Dabob Road, and a long way from anywhere.

For those who are coming in from the outside world, Johnson puts out signs along Dabob and Coyle Road, guiding us to the spot. Otherwise we might never know the place exists, much less find it.

This Saturday evening, a classic example of Johnson’s booking expertise arrives. Silver Lake 66, a duo specializing in rootsy guitar and vocal harmonies, will play at 7:30 p.m. And yes, admission is by donation.

When these concerts start, Johnson says, so does the magic. The moment the musicians step forward, the moment the listeners lock in: That’s the payoff for him.

There’s cash too, strictly for the musicians who’ve made the trek. People drop a lot of bills into the gallon jar by the stage — to the tune of $250 to $350 on a given night.

All of it goes to the performers. Some have told Johnson they took home more money from Coyle than they did from a gig at the Tractor Tavern, a folk mecca in Seattle.

Meantime Johnson, 70 and a retired chemist, does the planning, the sound mixing and the publicity for every show.

He and his wife, Sol, serve the musicians a meal. For the concertgoers, they purchase coffee and cookies to be laid out on the back table, free.

But Johnson doesn’t dwell on such things. He’d rather get back to that alchemical time when music makers and audience connect.

“It’s that two-way communication,” he says. “A live show depends so much on that.”

At Coyle’s center, “Everyone comes for one reason: to hear the music,” he adds. “It’s kind of time travel for the last 15 miles … you leave the rest of the world behind.”

Every spring Johnson makes the transition from matinees, which give people time to drive home before dark, to 7:30 p.m. concerts.

Throughout the summer, he and the musicians make the most of the evening light. The lineup includes New Zealand songstress Mel Parsons, recently featured at the Byron Bay Bluesfest, on May 27. Jazz and blues pianist-vocalist and Olympic Peninsula favorite Ted Brancato brings his trio — featuring bass man Chuck Deardorf and percussionist Mark Ivester — over on June 2.

The weekend preceding Independence Day promises something else again: Sunday, July 1, a group of musicians from Centrum’s Festival of American Fiddle Tunes will come from Port Townsend to play a square dance from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Johnson’s multifaceted website, www.CoyleConcerts.com, lists shows well into 2019.

Visitors also find out what else happens at the community center: a free, house-made hot lunch on Thursdays, Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, games days with card and board games and the Jefferson County Library bookmobile a few times a month. See the calendar on Toandos.org.

The population of this spot is small, but the opportunities for connection plentiful. In this way, Coyle’s place is a model for community centers near and far.

_________

Diane Urbani de la Paz, a freelance journalist and former PDN features editor, lives in Port Townsend.

Her column appears in the PDN the first and third Wednesday every month. Her next column will be June 6.

Reach her at [email protected]

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