Cause A Scene artists lead the crowd in "Happy Birthday" to Founder Larry Kloess.. L-R: Cale Mills, Matt Wertz, Larry Kloess, Jon Capeci (Dinner And A Suit), Kris Allen, Fleurie, Ben Roberts (Carolina Story)
Words: Carrie Horton | Photos: Josh Ness
On the eve of his 30th year on the planet, Cause A Scene music founder Larry Kloess throws a Nashville megashow with 9 bands and 400 of his closest friends.
Larry Kloess turns 30 and invites 400 of his closest friends to celebrate. Some people (like me) have nightmares about being the center of attention in a room of 40, let alone 400. Others feel that growing older warrants no celebration. But Larry Kloess has built a business out of getting big groups of people together to celebrate music, life and each other. But the affable extrovert and founder of Nashville’s Cause A Scene music movement loves a good party, so ringing in the big 3-0 with all his favorite people —plus nine bands, two food trucks and several birthday cakes — is the only way Larry could do it.
For three years, Larry and Cause A Scene have been taking over living rooms all over Nashville spreading the gospel that good music can break down barriers and build genuine community. The independent music agency prides itself on finding the perfect venue for indie artists, creating an intimate connection between the musicians and the fans. What started out as a music blog that Larry maintained outside of his agency day job has quickly become one of the city’s best-loved concert series, booking acts well-known from both the national and local scenes —The Lone Bellow, Ben Kweller and Foy Vance, to name a few. All told, Cause A Scene curates, promotes and hosts an average of fifty shows per year, providing an unprecedented opportunity for fans and artists to interact.
Swear and Shake take the stage at Cause A Scene Founder Larry Kloess' 30th birthday.
“In Nashville, we can always buy tickets to see our favorite bands, but at Larry’s shows we walk into something that feels like home … like family,” says Lindsay Bales, a friend of Larry’s who attended a secret show with The Lone Bellow last April. She still calls it her favorite night in Nashville. “That band was literally on the same level as the audience and wandered in and out of the crowd during the show. They didn’t even need mics, that’s how close they were. I knew it was something that I would experience only once in a lifetime.”
Cause A Scene shows have earned a reputation as some of the best in Nashville, yet Larry insists that he’s more than just a traditional music promoter who puts on really cool shows. Equal parts savvy businessman and music fanboy, Larry – with his booming, gregarious voice and signature red beard – certainly looks like the perfect person to promote independent music in Nashville. But he’s also one of the most earnest people I’ve ever met, with a magnetically hospitable personality. Larry makes every person he meets feel at home and, when it comes down to it, that’s been the biggest element of Cause A Scene’s success. In a city saturated with good music and dozens of opportunities to see it live every single day, Cause A Scene stands out because it’s focused on welcoming participants into the overall group experience.
Dinner And A Suit lead singer Jon Capeci played the very first Cause A Scene show in Larry's living room February 26, 2012.
"From day one, Cause A Scene has been more about the community than the music," says Larry. "The music, the concerts, everything else, has just been a catalyst for bringing people together. Three years in, it's really the community that continues to push the shows. People know they are going to get something more than just seeing great music. They are going to have a place where it's okay to let their walls down a bit and be themselves."
Larry’s desire to establish community relationships stems from some searching in his own life. Growing up, Larry bounced around the States with his family, finally settling in Nashville by the time he was in high school. Larry left to attend college in Birmingham. then spent time in Colorado and California before heading back to Nashville, always seeking the sense of place he’d missed during those frequent moves. In fact, it was tragedy – and the subsequent actions of a dedicated city – that actually pulled Larry to Nashville for good.
"Elenowen [above] played in my living room in December 2012, it was one of the first shows where I really thought 'Wow, this is turning into something big.'" - Larry Kloess
“After the flood of 2010, I decided to move back … I saw the power that the community had in helping restore the city and the lives of people who had lost things during that time,” Larry avows. Over 10,000 people were displaced and dozens of Nashville landmarks damaged during that disaster and the community’s overwhelming reaction inspired Larry to return to a city that truly takes care of its own … and to make it his home.
Now, Larry uses every Cause A Scene event as a way to reflect the spirit of this beloved community. He intentionally tailors each venue to fit the personality of the artist and fans, carefully arranging each aspect of the shows.
For Larry, the biggest hurdles faced when deciding to commit himself to Cause A Scene were his own fears. Like many of us, Larry says he lived too much of his life letting fear of failure or rejection frame his decisions. Cause A Scene was the first time he relinquished that fear completely and simply asked himself: What’s the worst that could happen?
2009 American Idol winner Kris Allen.
“It was easy to believe that I would fail if I ever pursued Cause A Scene professionally,” Larry confesses. “It was easy to live a comfortable, steady life without risk or any need to truly rely on my faith. When I first asked [Nashville-based band] Seryn to play a house show, it was almost like working up the courage to ask out the pretty girl you have a crush on. In my mind it was coming to the realization that the worst that could happen was for the band to say no.”
Thankfully, Seryn didn’t say no. In fact, they said they loved playing house shows and they became the very first show that Larry hosted in his basement. That success led to the first official Cause A Scene show with two more Nashville favorites, Neulore and Dinner And A Suit, on February 26, 2012.
“I'm learning now that it's okay to dream bigger and take bolder risks,” he proclaims. “Now, I'm more driven by the fear of not leading a significant life that impacts others rather than any fear of failure or success. At the end of the day, even if you fail, at least you tried, and not everyone can say that.”
"Fleurie (above) is probably the kindest, most encouraging human being I've ever met. She's played a couple CAS shows, most recently a secret show with Foreign Fields." - Larry Kloess
As Cause A Scene continues to develop, Larry’s forced to reevaluate the impact of those fears again and again, addressing their strength as he gets closer to his dream of expanding the business outside Nashville. Larry hopes to develop a network of cities where independent artists thrive and encourage people from all different backgrounds to connect through the music.
With Larry’s birthday party in full swing, in between the second and third acts, one guy strolls on up to me and introduces himself. He says that’s what he does at every Cause A Scene show— he walks up to strangers and introduces himself. Our conversation is small talk of the general variety (What do you do? How long have you been in Nashville? How do you know Larry? ) and for a certified introvert like me, it’s awkward as hell. But it also kinda perfectly reflects the familiar pattern of all community-building— often slow-starting, maybe even stunted and awkward as hell, with a few timid souls gaining enthusiasm from the eager, overzealous types.
“I think for people to really connect with each other, there has to be a willingness to be open and vulnerable … to share the good, the bad and the ugly,” says Larry, adding that how we portray ourselves online can sometimes hinder real community. “With social media, we're mostly only sharing a portion of ourselves, posting the mountain-top moments and not the valleys. For me, I try to be as real as I can … to share my fears, struggles and frustrations the same way I share my inspiration and passion and excitement.”
Much like Larry’s original journey, hundreds of other Nashville transplants are finding a sense of place through the Cause A Scene shows. “Nashville has this unique culture of being a big city with a small town vibe and I think Cause A Scene has really helped cultivate that,” says Christopher Weber, another friend of Larry’s who’s been to more Cause A Scene shows than he can remember. “[He] takes people who might not otherwise interact, and puts them in a room where everyone experiences these amazing artists and their music and it really feels more like a gathering of friends … you start to see familiar faces everywhere and it makes Nashville feel like a close-knit community.”
Six hours after I arrived, Larry’s big birthday bash finally starts to wind down. “Happy Birthday” has been sung (twice, I think), the huge-ass cake as been devoured and one massive selfie has been snapped from the stage. I check-in with Larry one last time before packing it in (my feet are killing and my extrovert-quota has been met for the entire week) and he’s still beaming and buzzing around like the night just began. The only thing that gives him away are his facial muscles.
Matt Wertz leading the crowd in "Happy Birthday." "For me a surreal moment, Matt has been an artist I've looked up to since I was in college and has become a dear friend since." - Larry Kloess
“My cheeks are hurting,” says Larry as he waves goodbye to another set of friends. He rubs his jaw, sore from smiling, and exhales. “Really, I’m just feeling really inspired and really loved.”
His words are simple, but the look on Larry’s face tells me everything I need to know. This is a guy who loves music. Who loves Nashville. Who loves people. And with Cause A Scene, he’s making sure everyone is invited to the party.
Head to the Cause a Scene website to stay in the loop about upcoming house shows in and around Nashville, watch live performances, and grab more info from the evening from all nine acts; Vinyl Thief, Matt Wertz, Kris Allen, Matthew Perryman Jones, Fleurie, Elenowen, Carolina Story, Swear And Shake, and Dinner And A Suit.