In the colorful, eclectic Calvin Fletcher’s coffee shop, behind a steaming mug of café mocha, sits an instrumental component of the beginning of a major shift in Indy’s local music scene, starting with the rebirth of Indy venue Birdy’s Bar and Grill.
Henry French came at an interesting point in Birdy’s 15-year-long run. The previous booking manager, Jeff Sample, served the venue for over a decade, helping Birdy’s to become a milestone in regional musicians’ careers. After more than ten years of hard, dedicated work at the venue, Sample felt the need to leave Birdy’s for personal reasons.
This left French with a very interesting and unique opportunity.
Started at the bottom
French, having been in a touring band himself, knows a musician’s struggle. Starting from absolute scratch, French began his music career playing lengthy acoustic cover sets in the back of dimly lit bars. Noticing the artistic disconnect that comes with playing covers at a bar, he decided to take things into his own hands.
“Little by little, I started peppering in a few originals at my acoustic gigs,” French said.
From this point, he grew successful as a singer, songwriter and eventually the front-man of his own band, Henry French and the Shameless, which frequented Birdy’s.
The Rebirth of Birdy’s
Birdy’s not only has a rich history in the local music scene in Indianapolis, but it has also hosted bigger bands and artists such as Prince, The Strokes, Mutemath and many more.
Lately, however, local acts performing at Birdy’s see the venue as less of a goal, but perhaps more of a venue to live-rehearse to a jury of their peers.
Now, using his personal experiences, French is working toward a newer, yet some may say “older” version of Birdy’s.
French holds Birdy’s very closely to his heart, noting that it was always seen as a “jumping point” for the ”B and C level” national acts, on their way to the top.
“By the same token,” he says, “it was the shot for me as a local guy to build my chops here in Indiana.”
French maintains that he is not looking to give Birdy’s a “new identity”, but rather to give it a “rebirth”.
“Back in the day,” he says, “Birdy’s was almost a stepping stone for local musicians. It provided the bands that did well the incentive of opening for national acts. Lately, something has fallen off.”
Musicians Maturing with Birdy’s
Now, it is clear that French must figure out exactly what caused the changes at Birdy’s, and how he can get things back to how they used to be. One issue may be social media.
“On a regular basis,” French says, “Bands send out invites and hope this get the word out about their show, their band, their plans, etc. The fact is, social media is a tool to implement a solution, not the solution itself.”
French believes that in order for bands to be successful, they must work for it the same way people did 15 years ago: making calls, going to shows to network with fellow musicians, making posters and handing out flyers.
“This hasn’t changed, and if anything, is more important than ever. Social media is very easy for anyone to use, and thereby, it’s a sea of notices that the public are getting more and more used to ignoring everyday.”
The Next Chapter
French has his goals in order, and has always been known to persevere through adversity and come out stronger and more experienced in the end. So what’s next for Birdy’s?
“I’m going to continue to reach out to some of the caliber of acts that used to frequent Birdy’s,” French says. “There’s a wealth of new venues in Indianapolis that are now competing for the concert goer’s dollar, and Birdy’s should be competing with this other venues more than it currently is.”
What do you think about the changes being implemented at Birdy’s?
Check out, or even sign up for Birdy’s own battle of the bands, Birdy’s Battle Royale!