Shawn Randall of Symphonics Live on What Makes Their Show Unique and the Oprah Network
For 10 years, Shawn Randall's Symphonics Live has developed a reputation as one of the most consistent and beloved music showcases in New York City. Originating in 2003 out of the now-recently deceased Bowery Poetry Club, Symphonics has grown to the point where the cross-genre events now pack ballrooms with listeners of all kinds. With the first Symphonics Live of the year happening tonight at the Highline Ballroom, we decided now would be a great time to talk to Randall about what makes Symphonics such a favorite of the New York music scene.
What was the genesis of Symphonics Live?
In 2002, I had been running an open mic with Karen Rockower called Westside Rhyme for three years. It was a weekly show with some features, and I think Karen was a little more focused on her band, so I decided I wanted to do a different show that was focused on showcasing great talent that I encountered or worked with. In 2003, I decided to do it in the Bowery Poetry Club. I was very involved in the slam poetry scene and the music scene, and I started to encounter a lot of talented performers. I learned a lot doing those early shows about how to host a show and developed and ear and eye for what I found fascinating. It was a lot of trial and error in meeting folks and being persistent about it.
I recall in those early days you hosted the show as if it were being broadcasted somewhere, even though it wasn't.
Yeah, that's developed into a running joke and a living, breathing manifestation of a desire to have the show be on Oprah's Network. [It's] just an idea of the possibility of including everyone in creating the kind of environment of a live performance where anything can happen. Symphonics is founded on the principles of generosity, love, creativity and integrity. For me, it was very important to have a show that I felt comfortable having my Mom attend and for her to be proud. That was the barometer. She actually comes to many of the shows.
Was there a particular moment when you realized how much Symphonics was catching on?
We've been fortunate to perform at the legendary Blue Note several times. The very first time, I [realized] I was bringing the show to the same stage as Ray Charles or Chaka Khan or all the different Jazz legends. It was a real wake-up call and honor to create something and have the opportunity to perform in a space I may not have been able to on my own had I not created the show to do it.