Mark Eitzel Distills Songcraft Series In Converted Winery

Musician-friendly atmosphere offers artists such as Freedy Johnston a forum to exhibit new tunes.

Listen closely as you walk through New York's Lower East Side on Sunday evenings this fall and you may hear the echo of songwriters performing mostly for themselves in the casual confines of a converted winery.

If there is an audience there to cheer them on, it's not necessarily because the artists want them there.

Strange as this live performance setting may be, it's all part of the Tonic Sunday Night Series curated by former American Music Club singer and solo artist Mark Eitzel for songcrafting artists such as himself.

"The reason I wanted to do it is because [Tonic's] a great listening room and it's quiet. And a lot of songwriters, unlike myself, have really good attitudes about this thing and they [just] play; it doesn't necessarily matter if people are listening to them or not," said Eitzel, 39.

"I'm really concerned that songwriting is a dying art form. I want people to see it in a pristine way," he said.

Beginning with R. Stevie Moore last Sunday and continuing through Nov. 29, when the final show will feature eclectic pop artist Stephin Merritt of Magnetic Fields, the songwriter performance series was inspired by a similar series this summer, curated by avant-garde jazz artist John Zorn.

Eitzel co-manager David Newgarden said Eitzel's selections might fly under the radar of most club booking agents. And that's the point.

"I think having musicians curate is a really special thing. A lot of the musicians being booked are respected musicians, but ones that might get overlooked by booking people at clubs," Newgarden said.

Booking the artists in a small club gives them a chance to try out material in a comfortable, musician-friendly atmosphere, he added.

The normally melancholy Eitzel was animated as he checked off a list of musicians. Among them are lo-fi country artist Bonnie Prince Billy, formerly known as Will Oldham. "I'm really excited he's actually doing it," Eitzel said. Also contributing is urban folk-rocker Freedy Johnston. "He's a great songwriter and a good guy too; he's a sweetheart," Eitzel added.

Other songcrafters scheduled to play include New Zealand cult artist Chris Knox, indie-rockers Fountains of Wayne and more obscure acts such as Ida. "Ida's a band a lot of people haven't heard of; they play this really beautiful music, with close harmonies about airplanes," Eitzel said.

Despite his enthusiasm, Eitzel downplayed suggestions that the series might continue beyond Nov. 29.

"I have no interest in being a promoter. There's a limit on the number of songwriters who I like, [and] once they start booking songwriters I don't like, I'm out of there," he said.

Remaining Tonic Sunday Night Series Dates:

Sept. 13; Ida

Sept. 20; Richard Davies/Bill Fox

Sept. 27; Freedy Johnston

Oct. 4; Congo Norvell

Oct. 11; Chris Knox

Oct. 18; Fountains Of Wayne

Oct. 25; Bonnie Prince Billy

Nov. 1; Sam Prekop (of the Sea and Cake)

Nov. 8; The Holy Modal Rounders

Nov. 15; Kevin Salem

Nov. 22; The Pacific Ocean

Nov. 29; Stephin Merritt (of Magnetic Fields)