Stories Behind the Booze: The Listing Loon’s Beth Harris
“Is it ever too early in the day to enjoy a glass of rosé?” This is the question we kept posing to ourselves as we sat at the bar in The Listing Loon, with Beth Harris graciously filling our glasses as lunchtime crowds passed by outside the Northside staple. Normally a nighttime visitor, I took advantage of the sunlight peeping in to observe the beautiful artwork and items adorning the walls. I honestly could not think of a more fitting spot for the courageous and eclectic spirit that is Beth Harris. Wine glass in hand, we chatted away about growing up on a small children’s theater stage in Arkansas, opening up The Listing Loon six years ago, and touring the country with a bunch of badass, musical females.
Interview by Liz Rosevear. Photography by Emmalee Smith.
Can you tell me the story of how The Listing Loon came to be?
My business partner and I were looking around the neighborhood and seeing what the need was. At the time, there wasn't craft beer on every corner and there was nowhere to get really good wine, so we decided we'd open our own little place. We're both musicians and all of our friends are musicians – we also kind of wanted to open a place that could provide jobs for our friends because we all go on tour a lot. A lot of times you lose your job when you leave for a couple of months. I wanted to do a small music venue… sort of a living room series. It's grown since then and now we’ve got full bands playing, any genre really. We’re not picky, as long as it’s good music.
How did you and your business partner, Dave, first meet?
We met working at The Comet. Well, we had met before, but really became friends working at The Comet. We got our craft beer feet wet there.
What first brought you to the neighborhood of Northside?
I'm from Arkansas. I left home to be an actor and ended up in Cincinnati working as a teaching assistant at CCM [University of Cincinnati College – Conservatory of Music] with my dear friend k. Jenny Jones. She's an amazing human, and a very strong woman in a big man world. But anyway, I first got to know the neighborhood through theater. Back in 2001 – when I was just an actor – is when I met my bandmates and started singing in a couple of bands. I moved into the rock scene and that sort of brought me into Northside.
Tell us a little bit about what makes The Listing Loon unique.
There's really no other place like it, and that was our goal. We would drive around going, “I want to go to a place like this,” and describe this place that you just couldn't find: A place with good wine, good beer, good atmosphere but not pretentious, interesting to look at, and cozy to be in. And of course, good live music. Everything we would describe about where we wanted to go hang out, we never could really find, so we decided to build our own. I still love hanging out here six years later.
When we were scheduling the interview, you mentioned that you were involved in the production of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” Would you mind giving a quick rundown of the show and what your role was?
“Hedwig and the Angry Inch” is about a transgender woman who grew up in East Germany when the Berlin Wall was still up. Through a series of events, she had this sex change that was botched. Hedwig married an American soldier who then brought her to America and left her. She had to sort of make her way in the world and figure out who she was. She's a singer/songwriter and puts this band together called The Angry Inch – a play on her botched sex change. I played Yitzhak, her husband who was a drag queen in Croatia. Sort of the same story… flipped. He wanted to get out of Croatia and Hedwig said, “I'll marry you if you never do drag again.” Hedwig was jealous because Yitzhak was a better singer and performer, but Hedwig did want him in her band. He’s living this life of not being who he really is. In our version of the story, they do love each other. It’s this struggle between them on stage. Great rock music!
Just keep doing it. Age is a state of mind.
We did it twice at Ensemble Theatre in 2001 and 2003. Seventeen years later and we’re doing it again with mostly the same band and actors, the original Cincinnati cast. It was actually the show that saved Ensemble Theatre. They were close to closing, and the Rosenthals sponsored it. It was right during the riots and there was a curfew, so no one was supposed to be downtown. Dick and Lois Rosenthal sponsored the show for the summer to try and save the theater, and it worked.
The subject of gender identity has changed so much since the first time we did the show. Back in 2001, 2003, it was hush-hush. Nobody really talked about it that much; there wasn’t a real awareness or acceptance. I think now, it’s a big topic. Putting this show on now is more relevant than it was then.
Speaking of your theater experience, where did that interest first begin?
Since I was a child. My aunt was a playwright and worked at the local children's theater. She was the right-hand man of the artistic director at the children's theater in Little Rock, [Arkansas], where I grew up. At one point, she told my parents, “You need to give Beth something to focus on, otherwise she’s going to get in trouble. There's a summer theater program here. Bring her.” So they did! My whole family's musical. My dad was a Baptist preacher, so I grew up singing in church in the south. We all played instruments; I started playing piano when I was 5. I was a very dramatic child. They stuck me in summer theater academy and that was it. I was like, “Well, I know what I'm doing.” I think I was 12 or 13 at that time – already a little punk rock kid.
What made first made you fall in love with theater?
The performance and the escape of your actual life – not that I had a terrible life, because I didn’t. I always said that my family was like growing up in the Cleaver family, because it was great. It was more like having Andy Griffith as a father than a Baptist preacher. My brother and I tried to rebel and it was ridiculous; we didn't have anything to rebel against.
I was in piano and dance. I'm not a dancer, but I'm good at it! I’m just not built to be a dancer. I fell in love with it as soon as I took my first acting class. It’s very physical. I’m an active person, and diving into another character with another person, tearing a script apart and putting it back together, and just everything about it appealed to me at a very young age.
I left home at 19 to be an actor, and that’s actually what brought me to the Ohio Valley area. Xenia, the epic Blue Jacket Outdoor Drama which is now closed, was my first professional gig out of Little Rock. That’s where I met my community of actor friends, and what I call family, who are still in this area. I traveled here and there and just kept ending up back in this area.
I came to Cincinnati to teach at CCM. I was an assistant teacher for the “Theater Movement III” class, which is Fighting for the Stage. I was teaching sword fighting with k. Jenny Jones, who’s my best friend and mentor in life and art. She's the first female fight master in the Society of American Fight Directors, which is an all male oriented group. There's a bunch of women involved now, but she was the first female fight master. She’s one of those women who you’re like, “I want to be you when I grow up.” We’ve been friends for about 30 years and I’ve been teaching with her for 22 years now. I love doing it because it keeps me involved in the theater. Since I opened the bar, I haven't been able to do much theater – mostly just music. If I didn't have that outlet, I’d go nuts. I am a performer. I've just found myself surrounded by like-minded people through music.
Leading into the Erika Wennerstrom Tour, I was singing with a band called Pearlene. They disbanded 10 years ago and we just had a little reunion. Our bass player, Jesse, moved to Austin to play with Erika Wennerstrom and The Heartless Bastards. They have sort of all gone off to do their own projects and Erika released a solo record. She was touring with it and needed a singer so Jesse said, “Call Beth.” We knew each other from Cincinnati just peripherally. Erika called about a year ago and asked if I wanted to tour. We did three days first and then a few months later we did five days. This year, her big release tour, we did five weeks on the East Coast opening for Drive-By Truckers. I had seven days off and then went to the West Coast for three weeks.
How was the tour?
That was the longest tour I’ve ever been on. The Hiders is one of the bands I’m in, and we've been together for 15 years. We've done a few small tours back and forth between here and the East Coast. The Perfect Children is my other band, which is three really strong women singers. Kristen Kreft is a badass songwriter; she’s a single mom, singer, bartender, teacher. I sing in her band, too. We’ve never gone out and about anywhere because not long after she had a child was when The Perfect Children started being a full band. We play a lot, mostly in Cincinnati. Kristen and I also sing with the Brian Olive Band.
But touring was great! Better than I could have expected. We were all treated well. It was like, “What do you guys want to eat? Let’s stop at Whole Foods and buy groceries.” Everyone had their own bed. We’re all in our 40s so we all needed to be comfortable. We’re in a van and trailer on some long rides, and our bodies are not as young as they used to be. You really get to know all of the creaks and cracks when you’re crammed in a van at 46.
You are involved in a lot of musical projects and theater performances. I feel like as we get older, it's hard to keep that passion for things we were involved in when we were younger. How have you kept it going?
Just keep doing it. Age is a state of mind. I run into a lot of people who are like, “Oh, I'm getting old.” I’m like, “I just turned 46.” It doesn't matter. If you succumb to that “Oh well, I'm getting old and my body hurts; I'm just going to sit here and do nothing” or “I got married and had kids and had to give up my passion,” that's your choice to give it up. I know it’s hard and it takes up a lot of people’s time, but you’re no good to your kids or your family if you don’t have balance and you give up the things you’re passionate about. I don't have children of my own and I’m not married, but I look at people that do and have given up their passions, and I also know people who haven’t given up their passions. You’re cheating your children, your friends, and yourself, mostly, by giving up the things that you love. It is a part of who you are and it makes you stronger. It makes the people around you stronger.
We’ve talked about some women who have made an impact in your life. Is there one woman in particular who's been really influential?
I couldn't necessarily say that there was one. I mentioned my friend Jenny, who has been a huge influence. Extremely inspiring and supportive of me.
If I was a weak woman, they would all be like, “What happened? I thought we taught you better.”
My mother, of course. We lost my dad in a pretty tragic way six years ago. They got together when they were 15, got married at 18, and they were together until the day he died six years ago. To watch her really get to know herself and become the person she is without him… That’s taken her a lot. My dad was my favorite person on the planet. We were thick as thieves. It’s hard for everyone in different ways, but watching her get through it helped me the most because it happened right after we opened The Listing Loon. The neighborhood really ran the business for us while I was in Little Rock visiting. We had so many friends that were like, “We got you. Just do what you need to do.” Wonderful thing about this neighborhood.
My auntie PJ – who told my parents to put me in the theater program and sort of set me on the path to where I am today – she was my other favorite person. She died early in life; she was my age when she died.
If I was a weak woman, they would all be like, “What happened? I thought we taught you better.” I’ve had my weak moments but all of those women have been like, “C’mon lady, you got this.”
If you’re itching to see The Perfect Children like we are, they will be taking the stage on August 25 at Fountain Square. To meet the lady behind the booze and music, head to our Boozy Hour on Tuesday, August 28. We’ll have a glass of rosé waiting for you.