The PBS concert series Live From the Artists Den is brilliant in its simplicity — matching compelling musicians with equally captivating performance spaces that give fans a sense of jewel-box intimacy all too rare in today's arena- and festival-based pop-music marketplace.
The concept originated in the San Francisco living room of executive producer Mark Lieberman, who went on to mount concerts in neglected warehouses and venerable old churches, discovering what he calls an "exciting alchemy between artist and place." Since then, Artists Den has featured such inspired pairings as Kid Rock at Graceland, Robert Plant at Nashville's War Memorial and Elvis Costello at the New York Public Library. "Every day, we all walk by some of the greatest treasures in our cities," Lieberman says, "and we never go in."
Take the Santa Monica Bay Women's Club, where Adele performed during Season 4, just a week before her blockbuster album 21 dropped. "Being able to put Adele in a room of 225 people at a point in her career where she still had an innocence and almost a trepidation about performing live was very special," he says. "You walked out of that room and thought, 'If there is any fairness in the world, this is the next great star.'"
Season 6 (premiering on various days this week on PBS stations), Lieberman promises, "is perfect — a mix of artists that everyone knows and artists that you have to know if you care about music." It features grunge icons Soundgarden at L.A.'s landmark Wiltern Theatre, the Killers at a former bank on the Bowery in Manhattan and the National at New York's Park Avenue Armory.
It kicks off, however, with neo-folk superstars Mumford & Sons, who chose the Belasco, a former vaudeville theater in downtown Los Angeles. "We love playing these 1920s-style venues," says guitarist—banjo player Winston Marshall. "They're unique and take you to a romantic time in American history." There's no doubt the audience was swooning.