For neighborhood resident John Brashier, listening to a good song is a spiritual experience.
As a child, he always fell asleep with the radio playing, and he spent his allowance on 8-track tapes. As an adult, 32-year-old Brashier spends his time sharing his passion and enthusiasm for music with our community.
The director and founder of Wilshire Baptist Church’s Downstairs Café, a coffeehouse that features acoustic acts, Brashier searches for musical talent to bring to our neighborhood. He books both local and national folk and rock musicians, some of whom play Christian music, but the majority of whom are mainstream, secular artists.
“I’m trying to provide a smoke, alcohol-free setting where music is the first priority,” Brashier says. “A lot of times, people go to a bar to drink or for a date. The music is not the main focus.”
A church coffeehouse provides a refuge for people who appreciate music and who want a casual, comfortable place to relax, Brashier says. The café is a way for Wilshire to reach out to its surrounding neighborhood and become a community resource, he says.
Brashier moved to our neighborhood from Baton Rouge, La., in September 1993 to become Wilshire’s student minister. He and his wife, Lianne, live in Lakewood with their three children, 6-year-old Courtney, who’s in the first grade at Lakewood Elementary; 4-year-old Grant; and 3-year-old Elliot. As a church youth leader, Brashier plans Christian programs and activities for parish members in seventh grade through college.
After coming to Wilshire, Brashier sought the pastor’s approval to start a café. Four months later, the first concert was held in January 1994 featuring Bill Mallonee, the singer/songwriter of Vigilantes of Love. The Vigilantes are Downstairs regulars.
Brashier had organized Christian concerts for the church he worked for in Baton Rouge, and when he came to Dallas, he was impressed with the success of the 13-year-old Uncle Calvin’s coffeehouse at NorthPark Presbyterian Church, the oldest church café in the City.
“I love acoustic guitar and people whose lyrics have a deeper meaning,” Brashier says. “This is not a Deep Ellum type of thing where you try to make money with a band. There are artists that get so sick of playing in big places because their music just gets thrown out into never, never land. They miss the intimacy with the audience.”
Brashier tries to plan one show per month, but the schedule is irregular. Concerts are held in the church’s youth center, and each attracts between 150 to 200 people, a small minority of which are Wilshire members, Brashier says.
The 1996 season begins Jan. 13 with a performance by Billy Crockett. Shows start around 7:30 p.m. and are currently scheduled monthly from January to May and September to December. Two shows are scheduled for February. Of these shows, two will feature Christian artists.
The audience is typically a mixed group of singles and couples between the ages of 22 and 40, Brashier says. The cost ranges from $5 to $15, depending on the artist, and averages $8 per show. Coffee, sodas and desserts are served for a small fee.
The café is not used as a tool to recruit church members, Brashier says, and mainstream performers are not asked to alter their music to suit a church audience. Most of the performers, however, are Christians, even if they don’t play music with a religious theme, Brashier says.
“We want the musicians to play like they would anywhere else,” Brashier says. “We don’t want them to change because they’re at a church.”
“We try to have a variety of artists. Virtually all the people who play here sing and write their own stuff. Whether you classify them as folk or rock, they’re making themselves vulnerable by giving their music.”
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