Our dear friend, writer, editor, and former dance studio owner, Gina Lanaux, epitomizes the creative energy that resonates throughout Fairhope’s history. Like many others who chose to make Fairhope their home, she embraces the arts, the unusual personalities, and the free-flowing lifestyle that brings a community together. 

Gina was involved in the earliest stages of the Live at Five concert series, the seasonal live music concert series set in the heart of downtown Fairhope at the Halstead Amphitheater on the Coastal Alabama Community College campus. Helping to raise funds to build the Halstead Amphitheater, she played a role in producing the first concert series in 2017.  

At first, with director John Corcoran, the College underwrote Live at Five concerts with free admission and an appeal for donations to help defray costs. In 2019, the College told Gina that the series’ current structure was not sustainable and they were going to stop producing the events themselves. Gina and her compatriots who helped launch the series weren’t ready to give up.

 “The director of the college, Mandy Bezeredi, suggested that we make the organization a non-profit and assemble a board of directors to keep the music going. We had just taken a pandemic break and were fired up to bring the series back stronger than ever,” she said. Enter a team of local volunteers from a variety of backgrounds and skill sets, one of which was Clifton Mosteller, a native of Mobile whose history with the Scenic 98 area began for him as a child in the early 1980s.

Gina and her husband, Martin, moved in across the street from Clifton in Fairhope. During a neighborly talk in the front yard, in the Spring of 2021, Gina asked Clifton if he would be interested in being on the board to help organize and grow Friends of Halstead, Inc., the 501(c)3 nonprofit organization created to take over the production of Live at Five. As Chairman, he added structure and helped write the by-laws. 

Clifton is still on the board but served as its Chairman from 2021 to 2023. He tells me the mission has always been “to continue Fairhope’s storied history of supporting the performing arts by providing an outlet for the local music community, both its patrons and the artists. We want our shows and non-profit organization to be profitable, but only so that we can be charitable.” 

By “charitable” he means funneling profits from the Live at Five concerts to vetted local musicians with a specific need through the Jacob Hall Memorial Music Grant Program, a grant program created and administered by Live at Five and named after Jacob Hall. Jacob himself passed away during COVID-19 but was known in the Mobile music circle as one of the most talented, multi-instrumental musicians in the area. Jacob is also the brother of founding member and drummer for the Red Clay Strays (more on them later). 

“I’m told that in his junior year in High School, Jacob didn’t have the money to join the school band. Fortunately, his high school music teacher saw his potential and love for music and paid his way. It was an act of kindness that we wanted to perpetuate in his memory. We created the Jacob Hall Memorial Music Grant Program in memory of Jacob and his music teacher’s legacy. After all, musicians provide so much joy for us, the least we could do was support them in return as our organization began to grow.” Clifton tells me. 

In just three years, the Hall Grant Program has awarded $38,000 to local musicians of all ages who needed a boost to continue pursuing their passion. Two of the recent award grants were used to provide piano lessons for an 8-year-old with perfect pitch and acquire a new tuba for the Alma Bryant High School band, both emulating the compassion of Jacob Hall’s musical teacher.

Clifton shares that the irony of Live at Five’s recent success began with the pandemic itself. “Recall that the entire live music industry came to a proverbial record player screeching halt in 2020. No one could gather in large crowds, but in 2021 in Fairhope life was a little more open. Certain bands were eager to perform, even in small town venues that they would otherwise not consider if they could still take the stage in larger cities.” 

“So after originally producing shows on a meager four-figure budget, we raised money from local sponsors and booked the band with the most name recognition we could afford, the Spin Doctors, who had multiple top 20 Billboard hits and were on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, albeit in 1993. Few venues were considering live music in the Spring of ‘21, but we wanted to let our local music community decide if they were ready. They were. The show was a huge success.”

This was the organization’s big break. “After the Spin Doctors, we had an answer when asked by large booking agencies, ‘Who have you booked and hosted before?” From there Live at Five began to feature well-known national and regional acts like Sister Hazel, North Mississippi Allstars, Drivin N’ Cryin, Taylor Hicks, Anders Osbourne, Dirty Dozen Brass, and others. 

“We then began building credibility on our resume, but would always make sure to include local bands on the bill.” Since its reorganization in 2021, Live at Five has produced over 30 concerts in Fairhope and sold over 35,000 tickets. 

In October 2022, Live at Five had its first sell-out concert with the band Blues Traveler. It was the most expensive ticket to date at $30, a bargain compared to other venue’s ticket prices. On the day of the concert, Blues Traveler’s lead singer and harmonica player, John Popper, was sick and still in his hotel bed one hour before the show was scheduled to start. “Yes, we were a bit concerned given we had sold over 2,000 tickets and this was arguably the show that would elevate the series to the next level,” says Clifton. 

“With about 10 minutes before showtime, a car pulls up to the backstage area and Popper slowly climbs out with a cane to steady himself. After a few steps with his cane, he immediately makes eye contact with a guy I didn’t know and rushes over to hug him. Almost immediately he made a miraculous recovery and the band played a 90-minute set with as much energy as they had in 1995 when they won a GRAMMY.” The gentleman John Popper recognized and hugged was Ben Jernigan.

Ben, also a native of Mobile and a local musician, has played with John Popper and many other well-known artists. At the time, he didn’t know anything at all about Live at Five but wanted to come to see his friend play and hear Blues Traveler. This included a version of The Devil Went Down to Georgia on harmonica. Immediately after the show, Clifton introduced himself to Ben and asked him to join the Live at Five volunteer board. 

Without hesitation, Ben said, “I have been to dozens of venues and this is a special situation, I want to help.” Ben soon became Live at Five’s Executive Director in charge of talent purchasing and day of show operations. Ben tells me he thought Live at Five was a rare opportunity to do something really impactful. “The location of the venue, the bring your own chairs and cooler atmosphere, the history of Fairhope’s support of the art community at large, and bringing musicians and music to the Eastern Shore grabbed my attention.”

Clifton says Ben Jernigan has had a big impact on Live at Five. “Ben has experience producing music festivals for cities, stadium shows for universities, was instrumental in building Dauphin Street Sound, a state-of-the-art recording studio in Mobile, and has shared a performing stage with the surviving members of the Grateful Dead. In other words, Ben’s experience, connections, and work ethic help professionalize our organization.”

”Before Ben, Live at Five was admittedly a novice at negotiating with agents, understanding the intricacies of sound systems, and such. That said, producing 10 concerts a year does not just happen on its own. The entire Live at Five volunteer board, as well as critical support from the College, play a critical role in every detail of the event experience. It is the definition of a team effort.”

On March 29, 2024, the Live at Five team hosted the Red Clay Strays to a sold-out 3000-person crowd. It was the band’s third time playing Live at Five, but the first time since they have become one of the country’s hottest artists. It was a perfect evening. Local songwriter Sumerlyn Powers and then the River Dan Band opened the show before the main band began. The Red Clay Strays, from Mobile, has enjoyed a meteoric rise in popularity recently. 

One of their songs went viral on TikTok taking them from 100,000 monthly streams to 5 million streams per month. A telling statistic for their Fairhope show was that 75% of tickets sold were from outside of Baldwin County. Many were first-timers to Fairhope and the economic impact of the Scenic 98 Coastal area was significant. 

Coming full circle, members of the board of Live at Five met with all band members of the Red Clay Strays and the Hall family so that the band could present the organization with a $5,000 donation towards the Jacob Hall memorial music grant. Quite a gesture! 

Clifton tells me that Mandy Bezeredi, Director of the Fairhope Campus for Coastal Alabama Community College, has been a mainstay from the beginning of Live at Five, and without her, the concert series may not exist at all. 

“Quite honestly, if it were not for Mandy and the continued support from Coastal Alabama Community College, there would be no Live at Five,” he mentions.  After Coastal made the decision not to continue a concert series on its own, Mandy saw how important and impactful live music was to the community and was one of the founding members of Friends of Halstead, Inc. who took over the production. Mandy still serves as the organization's secretary.

She also helps with the Live at Five Hall Grant awards. Applications are open through the end of May and are reviewed throughout the summer. The grant awards are presented at the first Fall Live at Five concerts. Last Fall, five different awards were given. 

The College offers the Halstead Amphitheater as an in-kind donation. Student Ambassadors help with the event by scanning tickets, and Coastal police officers work the event. Mandy tells me that hosting Live at Five concerts strengthens relationships with the community and gives the College great exposure. Coastal Alabama Community College has the oldest continuously operating Fine Arts program in the state.

Members of the Friends of Halstead coordinate food trucks for the event and actively seek sponsors to help support the cost of the bands and the grant awards. There are several tax-deductible sponsorship levels available that are listed on the Live at Five website.

The City of Fairhope has embraced the concert series and provides extra trash cans. Gates open at 4:00 PM and attendees can set up their spots and then leave with a wrist stamp to come and go as they please. There is a designated spot for golf cart parking, too. Attendance at the show drives late-night sales within the community, and the event is dog-friendly.

With a capacity of around 3000 attendees, Live at Five is the perfect-sized event with easy access. On the evening of Red Clay Strays, it was a magical night of fantastic music, good food, and friends. 

We are looking forward to hearing the Marshall Tucker Band on Friday, May 10. Another sellout, it will be another evening you won’t soon forget!

May 8, 2024
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