By Claire Salinas
For an intimate listening experience, look no further than The Red Dragon Listening Room, a nonprofit that focuses on bringing singer-songwriters into the Baton Rouge area.
After moving from Government Street, Red Dragon currently resides on Florida Boulevard. Owners Chris and Liz Maxwell formerly ran a record label for who couldn’t make albums for themselves, until new technology pushed them to try a new approach to supporting local artists and songwriters.
“We knew a lot of people from the record business so we had them come to town, and it was real simple, whatever we collected for the show, we simply passed it straight on to them,” said Chris Maxwell. “We spent 11 years as a not for profit, and eventually we set it up as a federal nonprofit.”
Although Red Dragon may be considered as a venue to some, pinning it down proves difficult.
“People will often ask what is The Red Dragon, and for years it was hard to describe. We don’t sell water, beer or anything at all, but patrons are welcome to bring whatever they like. People will bring a bottle of wine or a pizza with them. We ended up with 18 couches in there; they’re comfortable, and it’s very much like sitting in a living room,” Maxwell said. “We even have a really lovable dog, named Kodiak, who is our mascot. I tell everyone we have everything at the Red Dragon except for leg room.”
Running the venue for artists was something Maxwell and his family were deeply committed to, which made for an impressive start to the venue.
“We really meant it when we said 100 percent of what comes in goes to the artists, which meant we had exactly no money, so obviously we had no advertising budget.
For the first seven years the Maxwells funded Red Dragon out of pocket, but for the last five years they’ve held a once a year palooza to raise funds for projects. One year Red Dragon needed a fence, so they called it a fence-a-palooza, another year they had a leaky roof so they called it a roof-a-palooza.
The venue is a family affair for Maxwell, with both his sons rooming in the upstairs part of the original building on Government Street during college and helping him with various construction projects throughout the years.
“My wife Liz has helped me throughout all of it, and my daughter Sara has grown up with all of this, and she still sets aside time to help us at our shows,” said Maxwell.
Getting Red Dragon’s name out to bigger artists was a goal for the Maxwells, but it took persistence to make it a reality.
“There was a fellow named Guy Clark, he is the greatest living songwriter in the U.S. right now, and we tried to get him forever. Initially, his agent turned us down. We tried and tried and got turned down over and over. He got so tired of my requests that he finally told me, ‘Let me see if I can make this clear for you, not just now, but never.’ And he hung up on me,” Maxwell said. “Six months later I ended up on the phone with the owner of the agency, and he thought I was just nuts enough to give us a shot.”
Maxwell and his team worked hard to sell out all three dates Clark committed to performing for at Red Dragon. Clark’s reaction to the venue was positive, and when he returned to Nashville, he spread word to his friends.
This breakthrough led to a lot more opportunities to bring in other big name singer-songwriters, and Maxwell explained Clark would invite Rodney Crowell, Jerry Jeff Walker, and other big names in the Americana songwriting scene.
“He would tell people, ‘Hey go play with them. They’re nuts, but they’re harmless,’” Maxwell said.