Story By: Karah Rhodes & Molly Vines.
If you take a step back from the hustle and bustle of life and head forty minutes north toward LaGrange, Georgia, you’ll find that one of the South’s best treasures is found not by sight alone.
Sometimes, all you have to do is listen.
Located in the dense space where gravel road meets grass, tucked away in the chest of an eclectic, sage colored front of a tin warehouse is the heartbeat of what LaGrange locals know as Pure Life Studios’ “Listening Room.”
A sign with a red painted bulbed arrow reading “Live Music” points toward the front entry door. Follow the softly worn trail of tire tracks leading toward the back and you’ll find several other vehicles have already nestled into a resting spot for the evening.
Nearing six o’clock, dusk begins to set over wooden picnic tables while string lights grow brighter overhead. Easy smiles and laid-back conversations blend with the folksy strum of a banjo creates a picturesque southern charmed atmosphere that beckons passersby near.
The stairs up ahead lead to a door that swings open and closed, open and closed in a rhythmic fashion. With each swing of the door, people of all ages can be seen milling about – a buzzing scene of familial regulars joining together to welcome newcomers to the Listening Room.
Inside, one is no longer a guest, but part of an intimate community that formed when the McDonalds, a local family of LaGrange, decided to seize an open opportunity where they could combine a mutual love for music with the close ties of their family to create something inherently unique to the LaGrange community.
For Pure Life Studios’ owner, Maggie McDonald, the Listening Room is a nostalgic reminder of life coming full circle: “Music’s always been a huge part of my life – my family’s life. My dad, when I was growing up, was an amazing guitarist and I loved the way he sang and just fell in love with the whole idea of it. So to think that it would be a part of my life as an adult – it wasn’t anything I was thinking about.”
Flashback to the early days of Pure Life Studios, McDonald reminisced to a time when she strummed a guitar in-between clients and her work as a fitness trainer and yoga instructor in a studio dedicated to holistic fitness and nutrition.
“When I started doing music, it just seemed to resonate. I used to always have a guitar in here and I’d play between clients and sometimes they’d come in asking, “What’cha playin?” and it just kind of grew from there.”
The Listening Room began when a graduate student in the area expressed an interest in restoring what was previously known as Acoustic Cafe, a small music venue at LaGrange College. Having worked alongside the student in revitalizing the Acoustic Cafe, McDonald noted that when it came time for the student to leave, the project shifted hands and moved to what was then the fitness and yoga studio.
Eager to transform the fitness and yoga studio into a live music venue, McDonald recounted how she rented tables the first time, anticipating the moment when the musicians would walk into the studio to play.
With a humbled smile, McDonald reflected on how seamlessly everything fell into place to create a perfect opportunity for she and her family to turn something they were equally passionate about into a business saying, “I didn’t know I would be doing it – it wasn’t a goal. It was an opportunity.”
The Listening Room is a reflection of the family of four’s dedication to its continued success and to one another. McDonald spoke of how special it is knowing that her family walks together each step of the way, saying, “The most rewarding part of it is that we’re all kind of on the same page, thinking the same things, and enjoying the same lifestyle.”
McDonald continued, noting how the Listening Room is a collaborative effort dependent upon each family member. “It’s amazing. They’re so good. When it gets down to the crunch just because we do everything from marketing to the books – to cleaning, to arranging everything and purchasing the guitars… It’s not a ‘Do I have to work this weekend?’ it’s an ‘Are we doing Pure Life this weekend?’ They’re part of it.”
One look around the Listening Room, and it’s easy to see that the family’s collaborative efforts have paid off.
Now close to seven thirty, people begin to weave their way in between rows of eighty mismatched chairs facing a stage casting a soft glow on the night’s featured performer, singer-songwriter David Robert King.
When asked how he learned of the Listening Room, King smiled, answering, “I thought it sounded like the perfect place. Listening Room, for people who are serious about music, and so, it sounded like a place for me.”
Throughout Pure Life Studios, you’ll find that the eclectic atmosphere of cool, calm and collected is present throughout the entire studio from the wall decorations to the one-of-a-kind pieces designed and built by the McDonald’s themselves.
One of the most characterizing aspects of the Listening Room includes the “Guitar Wall” – a “wall of fame” showcasing guitars dedicated to performers who played in the Listening Room over the years.
Look closely, and you’ll see that many of the guitars hanging on the wall are autographed by various artists – some of which hold sentimental value, others that read names of local artists, and a few where you’ll find the signatures of Grammy award winners.
Soon, Pure Life Studios will be adding a new title to their current standing as a musical venue. Beginning in October, comedy will be featured in a creative spectrum alongside music.
Round the corner, and you’ll come upon a chalkboard that has written in blocky lettering Pure Life Studios’ foundational purpose to unite “For the love of the music.”
The music fills the entire room. A couple sits close with arms linked. A young woman dressed to the nines can be seen bobbing her head to the flow of the music. An elderly man is the first to begin a round of applause following the end of a song.
Some people sit quietly, taking it all in – just listening.