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Mind Over (Music) Matter: Joe Kuhlmann on Celebrating Mindfulness and Tackling the Mental Health Crisis

Steve Moore 2.jpg
Steve Moore
Joe Kuhlmann stands outside of his Charlotte music venue The Evening Muse.

Ask anyone in the Charlotte music scene, and they'll tell you: The Evening Muse is one of the best local music venues in the Queen City. Thanks to the work of venue co-founder Joe Kuhlmann, The Evening Muse has helped foster the careers of thousands of local and national artists for nearly two decades. But Kuhlmann wants to do more than provide a stage; he wants to create a healthy music climate, one where the power of music can help foster conversations around personal well-being.

"There’s a value to challenging yourself through your music. And that value should be you being able to live a more vivid, more honest, and more compassionate life."
– Joe Kuhlmann, co-founder of The Evening Muse

Interview Highlights:

On opening The Evening Muse:

In April of 2001, there was kind of a need for a place where songwriters and musicians could connect. A place that could really champion written word and song. My then-girlfriend (Lee Pritchard) and I started the place with a dear friend of ours, Wes Robinson. There was just a need. There wasn’t a spot for that size (100 people or so) that wasn’t a restaurant. There were hybrid venues, but there wasn’t any place that was truly dedicated to giving artists that spot to connect. There wasn’t enough space to help establish songwriters. There wasn’t a place for acoustic music beyond being in the corner somewhere or background music. So I felt it was really important to offer them that kind of safe space, a place where people could connect, and a place where the audience could relax and enjoy themselves and truly put the focus on music.

On establishing a foundation of respect at The Evening Muse:

I knew the key was to be a fair place, [where] good production and lighting was important, but you were also treated fairly and treated with kindness. Throughout the Southeast, there just wasn’t enough of that going on. If I can take care of the artists, then the artists generally take care of the audience.

On The Evening Muse’s highlights:

I think the thing that really drives me and makes me feel happy at the Muse is when I see progress within the artists, within the bands, within the acts themselves. Taking themselves seriously, being kind to themselves by looking forward and always writing and always working on improving their musicality — that’s what gives me the most joy.

Don’t get me wrong … sell out shows are great. But they have their own heartaches and difficulties too. But seeing people progress, seeing people move on to stadiums and arenas, or seeing nationally-touring artists swing by to get a picture in front of the Evening Muse … it’s been really cool.

On artists wanting to perform at The Evening Muse:

I always say the best way to start out is obviously to come out to the Monday Night Open Mic. It’s an award-winning open mic. It’s recognized nationally. It’s pretty rare on a Monday night that you’re going to perform in front of 75-80 people on a regular basis. It’s a lot of people for a Monday, a lot of people for an open mic. So that’s really a foray for local and regional acts making their way in.

On The Evening Muse’s “R U OK CLT?” event series:

My dear friend and co-founder Kelli Raulerson and I… this all started out of our conversations and wanting to pursue some loftier goals and recognizing that mental health is the next horizon. Over the last fifteen or twenty years, Americans have gotten more consumed with our physical health and are working out and taking ourselves better. And in the last five or six years, nutrition has really picked up steam. So looking at the horizon, mental health is the next thing.

We wanted to make it where our typical conversations [about mental health] could be more widely accepted and give people the strength and honesty of talking about what’s really hitting home for them and not being afraid. We’ve noticed so much in the rise of suicide across the city and Mecklenburg County and the country, and I always felt like people understanding more of the artist’s perspective could actually help them realize that they’re not alone. Many artists (comedians, poets, songwriters, painters, dancers) have the fortunate ability to have an output that is essentially self-therapizing. Their art-form allows them to challenge and work through some of those things. Creating this [event] has been a true awakening and just interesting.

It’s also my attempt at understanding my verb as a muse… trying to give more not just to the music community, but also those that are interested in trying to tackle some of their needs, deficiencies, wants, and desires, and giving them a place to start that conversation.

Music featured in this #WFAEAmplifier chat:

The Eyebrows - “Not the Same”
Brit Drozda - “Ribbon”

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Joni Deutsch is happy to call Charlotte home as WFAE's manager for on-demand content and audience engagement, where she's led the first Charlotte Podcast Festival (named one of the “best podcast conferences” by Buzzsprout) and helped produce such podcasts as FAQ City, SouthBound, Inside Politics, Work It and the Apple Podcast chart-topping series She Says. In addition to being an NPR Music contributor, Joni is also the creator and host of WFAE’s Charlotte music podcast Amplifier, named “Best Podcast” by Charlotte Magazine and honored for excellence in arts and music podcasting by the local Edward R. Murrow Awards and The Webby Awards (called “The Internet’s Highest Honor” by The New York Times).