[This story was originally posted on Feb. 5, 2013.]
BREMAN --- It's an unassuming strip mall in the heart of an unassuming city about 50 miles west of downtown Atlanta.
A Dollar Store sits on one end and an antiques outlet on the other.
But in the midst of this small-town commerce, housed in a former Ingles grocery store, is a concert venue that is stimulating area growth and exciting music fans otherwise forced to schlep through several counties to hear music from name-brand acts.
The 30,000-square-foot, 1,000-capacity Mill Town Music Hall opened almost exactly a year ago. For its introductory season, it had 30 concerts from acts such as Toby Keith, Steven Curtis Chapman, Alabama, Ricky Skaggs and the Atlanta Rhythm Section. Its first sold-out show came in August, when the Oak Ridge Boys took the stage. (The band is slated for an encore performance this August.)
Notice something about that list of performers?
They all fall into the "family-friendly" category, which is exactly what Mill Town co-founder Randall Redding intended.
"We've learned that people are hungry for a good night of entertainment, " said Redding, a Breman native who lives in Vinings with wife Tena, an interior decorator whose creative eye is responsible for the quaint-yet-chic look of Mill Town, and daughter Ivy, 14.
The hall, with walls decorated with old album covers and a "Shepherds Grocery" concession stand selling sodas and Chick-fil---A fare, doesn't serve alcohol. Before shows, a prayer is said from the stage. That didn't seem unusual during last month's sold-out Amy Grant concert, but the prayer takes place at every concert.
"We want people to bring their kids. We talk to the artists before they get here to let them know that this is a family-friendly venue, " said Redding, a member of Mount Paran Church in Atlanta.
At the Grant show, which came on a night when a brief snow shower swooshed through the area, kids crowded the merchandise table in the lobby while fans from teenagers to grandparents inched into the intimate showroom.
Redding, the founder of RK Redding Construction and Tendall Properties LLC, which owns the shopping center that houses Mill Town Music Hall, used to own a minor stake in a recording studio and said he's always had an interest in music.
"The more we researched and began to pray about it, we realized there was a need for something like this in Breman, " Redding said.
The concert hall has already had an impact beyond music fans.
Redding said that while the majority of its patrons come from Breman, Atlanta, Rome and Alabama (the I-20 highway exit is 11 miles from the Alabama state line), a pre-New Year's Eve concert drew people from seven states.
That equates to a lot of business for area hotels and restaurants.
Breman Mayor Sharon Sewell said she's talked to management at the nearby Cracker Barrel and learned that the restaurant keeps a schedule of Mill Town's concerts to increase its staff on those nights.
Shows are usually Thursdays-Saturdays; the Douglasville Church at Chapelhill uses the site as a satellite campus on Wednesdays and Sundays.
"I grew up here and all of my life, anyone who wanted to go to an event had to go to Atlanta. We're excited to give our families something to do here in the semi-boonies, " Sewell said. "It's refreshing to come to a venue where the parking is easy and the hospitality is wonderful. I really do see more economic development happening in the future because of" Mill Town Music Hall.
The music hall is also partnering with the city to promote the Smithsonian New Harmonies exhibit, which launches Saturday at the Warren P. Sewell Library. On Feb. 22, the exhibit will open for a special two-hour window (5:30-7:30 p.m.) before the Rhonda Vincent/Gene Watson show at Mill Town.
And later this year, Redding will develop 4,000 currently unused square feet of the hall to erect another expected tourist draw: the Harold Shedd Music Mill Gallery, a permanent tribute to the country music executive and producer, who is also a Breman native. Talks are under way for Reba McEntire to host the opening.
"We try to take care of people who come in the front door and the artists who come in the back door, " Redding said. "When you present that type of environment, people will come back."