2020 left much to be desired by Huntsville’s music fans. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic meant there was nary a peep coming from Huntsville’s music venues, though guitar-strumming troubadours could still be found at local bars and clubs.
A group of music-minded individuals don’t want history to repeat itself in 2021. The nine members of Huntsville’s Music Board hope 2020’s prolonged soundcheck will sound less like a broken record and more like an old, familiar tune.
In late 2019, the Huntsville City Council approved the creation of the Music Board. The board’s creation was based on a recommendation by Sound Diplomacy, which had assessed the City’s strengths as part of a comprehensive music audit.
Comprised of nine people, the group’s charge is to take a closer look at music opportunities throughout the City.
Mayor Battle appointed the first members last January, and the group held its first meeting two months later. The pandemic ultimately intervened, but Music Board members continued to plan and strategize.
Dennis Madsen, the City’s manager of Urban & Long-Range Planning, has high hopes for 2021. He said the diversity and experiences each member brings to the board will be invaluable as it charts Huntsville’s musical path.
A big part of that includes the hiring of a full-time Music Officer who will not only serve as a resource for local musicians, but also help recruit music-related jobs.
“Last year certainly presented a number of challenges to Huntsville’s musicians and music venues,” Madsen said. “We’re fortunate to have a group of volunteers who are passionate about growing Huntsville’s musical footprint while also looking at ways to make our City a top destination for music lovers far and wide.”
The board recently named four new members – Erin Huelskamp Bohn, Lauren Gowins, Ron Poteat and Dr. Calame Sammons – to replace members who rolled off. They join existing members Codie Gopher, Deqn Sue, Judy Allison, Mario Maitland and Mark Torstenson.
Torstenson, who owns the Fret Shop in Huntsville, chairs the board, while Allison is co-chair.
Meet the new members
Erin Huelskamp Bohn
Huelskamp Bohn, a Madison resident, has the most real-world experience as a performer, composer and orchestra director who has been on stages both locally and around the world.
In addition to her duties as flutist and orchestra director for Asbury Church in Madison, she’s the artistic director of Opera Huntsville. Before moving to Huntsville, Huelskamp Bohn was active in promoting the arts in Boston and St. Petersburg, Florida.
She’s not only passionate about helping build a thriving music scene in Huntsville, but she also wants the board to serve as a tool to help educate the public about the arts and a bridge between musicians and the community.
“I’d love to see some connection between the artists and the companies and nonprofits that are here,” she said. “I think the combination of my experiences will allow me to shed some insight on where things can go. I hope I can be valuable … I’m an idea machine.”
Gowins’ background is primarily in marketing and the visual arts. As the owner of the Bold Agency, she oversees integrated campaigns that include web development, videography, photography, digital strategy and branding.
Gowins, who grew up overseas, said music is cross-cultural and brings generations of families and friends together in celebration, ceremony and love.
“Every type of music was played in my family’s house,” she said. “In fact, I strictly remember my mother dancing to salsa music while vacuuming on a Sunday and then later that night hearing Édith Piaf played in the kitchen while my father was cooking.”
She believes her marketing background can help the board think about music from multiple angles.
“I hope to lean on my diverse background to bring an ‘outside’ perspective to this already fantastic board,” she said. “I would love to see our community cultivate a pride for diversity into our growing music scene.”
Poteat has enjoyed a long career with Regions Bank, and now leads its Customer Experience and Regions360 programs. In addition to his 37-year career with Regions, he’s also served as president of the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber Foundation and was past chair of the Chamber.
Poteat also has a musical background and played in local groups and at church.
“I understand what it feels like to load up equipment and also freeze while I’m playing,” he said with a laugh.
He explained that experience, combined with his years in the business sector, made him a good candidate for the board.
“I think the business community needs to highlight things that are so important to the quality of life, especially from an economic development perspective,” he said. “You have to check a lot of boxes when you’re trying to attract people like Huntsville is, and our diverse musical landscape is an important part of that conversation.”
Like Poteat, Sammons is a music lover who dabbles as a musician. He played in bands through high school and college prior to completing medical school and starting an orthopedic practice in Huntsville. After a 40-year break in his musical pursuits, he now plays keyboards with the Unorthodocs, a band of his orthopedic partners and physician assistants.
Sammons credits his sons, both musicians, for exposing him to new music over the years. He also heard different sounds in his operating room because he played whatever his patients wanted to hear.
“There’s a certain (musical) expertise I don’t have, but I do have that experience as a businessperson with a fairly broad background,” he said. “With the development of Mars (Music Hall) and Campus 805, it’s been nice to see new places for music become available. I look forward to seeing where the music is going.”