Pay it Forward

Sonny’s Lounge meeting needs

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Ronda Drake

Sonny’s. A music lounge? Music store? Listening room? Karaoke? Open mic? Studio? Warming station? Yes, we are all of the above, and so much more.

In the spring of 2020, just as COVID-19 suddenly shut down so many places, my son, T.J. Brown, had a vision of a music store that was very different. Sonny Curtis, T.J.’s grandfather, was one of the great steel guitar players of his generation. He played pedal steel for George Jones and Tammy Wynette for 17 years, traveling the world and touring with them on stage. Naming Sonny’s after his grandfather, T.J. built a stage to demonstrate music equipment in a live environment and began by selling music instruments on consignment. Even then, he didn’t realize all that it would become.

With a state-of-the-art sound system for the stage, he added lighting and other design elements and it soon became a place for musicians to gather to play – even during COVID restrictions! In T.J.’s own words, “I wanted to create a place where all people are welcome. You didn’t have to be a believer . . . we just accepted you for you with open arms. I’ve watched this place save people’s lives; I’ve watched it bring music and joy back into people’s lives again.”  

My husband, Warren, and I soon became involved and the physical space expanded, as did the functionality. Sonny’s became a venue for open mic and karaoke, and Thursday nights were reserved just for gospel and worship. Every Thursday, from 7 to 8:30 p.m., people from all walks of life – whether they attend any church at all – get together and enjoy one another’s company and some great worship music. 

RONDA AND Warren Drake.

Bands now commonly rent the space for rehearsals. Groups can rent the space for parties and receptions. There have even been memorials for musicians who have passed with celebrations of their lives held at Sonny’s.

Perhaps the most unusual event, however, was during the recent January cold snap, when we saw temperatures in Franklin drop to single-digits. Sonny’s opened its doors as a warming station for any who needed a warm place to stay. Even that turned into much more than originally thought. Hot meals were donated, along with warm clothing and blankets. How did that even happen? It was the Sunday before the temperatures dropped, but the forecast was definite: it was going to be a very cold week. 

We were talking with some of the volunteers at Sonny’s, who normally help with music events, and what seemed like a simple, random thought very rapidly escalated. I suggested that, for any who were homeless, since Sonny’s has heat, we could provide a warm place for the coldest nights. None of the volunteers realized then how many would need that warmth – nor how gracious the community would be in donating needed things!  

What began as a simple gesture to help what volunteers thought would be just a few people became a vital provision for dozens of people who needed food, shelter, and/or warm clothing.

SONNY’S MUSIC Lounge became a warming station and brought the community together when January temperatures were in the single digits.

Sonny’s has become a venue where creative minds can be free to have the courage to be themselves. Its hallmark is that it has become a “well” for all those who are thirsty. It is the kind of place that every community needs. If you are lost, hurting, confused, hungry, or simply need a friend, Sonny’s is a beacon of light – a fueling station where you can get your tank filled. Ironically, it sits directly beside a gas filling station.

Sonny Curtis, whose legacy was as a legendary pedal steel guitar player, has now expanded his influence through his family to much more than just music. T.J., Warren, and I, as well as staff and volunteers, are proud to be “instruments” of that heritage. Remember, “You’re only a stranger once at Sonny’s.”