For both Dena Wood‘s own music career and the South Bend music scene as a whole, she describes now as a time of rest and reenergizing.
Dena is a well known in the area, both as a talented performer and a driving force in building and maintaining the local music scene and culture. Her music is soulful and reflective and she’s brought much of that energy into her work in booking shows and planting the seeds of a welcoming atmosphere for musicians and music fans alike. Name a music-related event in South Bend and there’s a good chance that you’ll find Dena is somehow involved. Now, however, Dena is taking a break, limiting her participation to give her a chance to reflect on what has come and renew her energies to continue creating her art.
“I want to go see music,” she said. “That’s what keeps me inspired.”
Dena plans to take the winter off, playing a minimal amount of shows so she can focus on writing new music and enjoying the success of the scene. In recent years, there has been a lot of excitement in South Bend music. While proud of the accomplishments of herself and other local leaders, she is hoping the groundwork will attract new individuals to help continue the work.
“A lot of people are just tired,” she said, emphasizing the amount of effort that goes into making even a single show successful.
One of her hopes in this time of maturation and refocus is for more venues that exist to focus solely on musical performance. She’s thankful for the support system provided by restaurants, wineries, and breweries, but expressed a desire for the experience that comes from performing for an audience present for the appreciation of the performer over all else. She describes a number of venues that have been working to create this atmosphere, including South Bend’s LangLab, The Well, Fiddler’s Hearth, Goshen’s Ignition Music Garage, and Three Oak’s The Acorn Theater.
“They have the best open mic I’ve ever played,” she said, referencing the Acorn Theater and their popular weekly event that provides musicians with a supportive audience and a professionally operated sound system, features not found in all venues. Fiddler’s Hearth also has an audio infrastructure, removing the responsibility for performers to rent, transport, set-up, and tear down additional equipment, giving them the freedom to focus on their art.
“Just knowing that that was taken care of and all I had to do was show up with my guitar. I wasn’t exhausted before I started,” said Dena.
In her personal life, it’s Dena’s goal to focus more on her passions and less on fear. While she understands the financial realities of everyone’s lives, she believes our culture has put too much emphasis on scarcity and career pursuits. She says we are marketed to in a manner that creates the belief that we need unnecessary products and that “there is not enough” for everyone. She hopes for herself and for others to pursue “soul-filled goals” and face difficulty in a calm and positive manner.
“I used to function on fear and scarcity,” she said. “But I am only here for so long and I want to be happy while I’m here. Now I focus on doing what feels right for me.”
In the growth of the South Bend music scene, a similar balance is needed. Dena hopes for passionate people with fresh energy to take advantage of the venues and spaces available. She describes the difficulty of creating a system that has value for the musicians, the venues, and the audiences. Though she emphasizes that she does not have the answers, she offers the idea of non-profit spaces funded by grants or business people who are able to handle the logistics in a way that respects the art. At this point, the challenge is to create a system that is both creatively fulfilling for the artist and audience and financially successful for the musicians and venues involved.
“The city has changed a lot,“ said Dena. “The goal now is to make it sustainable.”