Front and Center

By Victoria Moon

On July 17, the Twice Told Coffeehouse will be celebrating its two year anniversary under the management of owner Rick Towles. When he first took over the coffeehouse, it was the sort of dark, smoky atmosphere that attracted angst-ridden youth, writer wannabes and caffeine addicts. Its back room, equipped with cracked red vinyl booths and a tiny stage, was home to a popular open stage and the occasional local acoustic performer. It was an interesting, artsy little place, with halfway decent coffee but little more than that.

Under Rick's management, the coffeehouse still attracts the same artsy crowd but with several changes: the coffeehouse has become smoke free, the ripped vinyl booths have been removed and the back room renovated, the menu has expanded and most importantly, Twice Told is now home to some of the best local and national acoustic music in the area.

Since 1996, the coffeehouse has hosted such local artists as Tonya Savory, Danny Flanigan, Tim Krekel, 100 Acre Wood, L'Woo and the Java Men and has also drawn national acts like Stacey Earle, Patty Griffin, Jamie Hartford, Chris Smither and Peter Mulvey. The quality of its musical lineup is drawing the attention of booking agents across the country and there are rumors floating around that Twice Told could become the same sort of big-name acoustic and Americana draw as Nashville's Bluebird Cafe.

So in a recent conversation with Rick Towles, I had to ask: two years ago, did he have any idea that Twice Told would become the musical force that it presently is?

"I didn't have a clue," he laughed, "I had no idea. I had in my mind that I was going to do a little cafe/coffeehouse thing and hoped to do a little bit of music, you know, some people that had been playing here and could play here on their way through Louisville. I had no idea that there were so many people who played music here and wanted to play music here. It's pretty cool!"

"Pretty cool" is a bit of an understatement, actually: When Rick took over the coffeehouse, he made a conscious effort to turn it into the sort of place where music aficionados could come and enjoy intimate performances in a smoke- and alcohol-free environment. Proof of his success at making Twice Told a serious music lover's hangout was not only in the sudden attraction of artists from such acoustic strongholds as Nashville, Austin and New York but also in many of the breathtakingly intimate shows that came out of the coffeehouse. At a Chris Smither performance I attended, it felt as if I were in his living room with fifty or sixty of his closest friends. Because I know Rick to be a fan and friend of many of the musicians who play there, I asked him what his most memorable show was.

"The first night Stacey Earle played," he related. "I've had a lot of shows that at the end of the performance I was like, 'oh god, this is wonderful!', and I'm crying and teary-eyed and emotional because of what I see going in the room between the audience and the performer. I can tell everyone is having a really good time and I get so emotional I can't stay in the room sometimes -- that happens a lot to me.

"But the night Stacey Earle played -- I don't really want to single that one night out because there have been so many great nights -- but she played, and then she said 'well, this will be my last song," and I remember thinking 'Oh god, Stacey, you've got to take a break and play some more, you haven't been playing long enough!' because I thought she's been playing about 45 minutes and she'd actually been playing for about two hours! And for the two solid hours she played you could have heard a pin drop in that room because everybody was hanging on to her every word. It was incredible . . . and when the show was over, nobody would leave. I mean, everybody that was at the show hung around in the back room or the hallway or out [in the front room] forever...just talking. It was like some incredible spiritual meeting had just happened".

Things like spirituality and vision are important to Rick. They are essential elements that led him to the coffeehouse in the first place and allowed him to purchase it. When he approached the owners, the former trucker and running enthusiast had no realistic and foreseeable means of purchasing the business from them, but after hearing him out they not only decided to sell it to him but also helped him secure the financing as well. It was on the strength of his vision that Twice Told has gained the reputation it now has. And what is his vision for Twice Told five years into the future?

"Five years into the future we have the whole block and it's this big music conglomerate, Bardstown Road is the Music Row of Louisville and we really are known as a 'music mecca'," he enthused, "a lot of the music industry has moved up and down Bardstown Road and . . . in five more years this place, Bardstown Road and Louisville really mean something to the music industry".

To which I can only add "Amen".

Author's Note: The Twice Told Coffeehouse will be celebrating its second anniversary with Rick Towles as owner on July 17, with musical guests that include Butch Rice, Tim Krekel, Stacey Earle, Danny Flanigan and many of its other regular performers. As Rick himself said, "It's gonna be fun!"