Finding m’niche

Published 9:23 am Saturday, March 26, 2011

M’Niche is not French.

Sounds like it, but it’s not

What it is, actually, is a Southernism.

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Joyce Hubbard smiled as she gestured toward the “shingle” over the recycled barn in the sleepy little community of Ramer, the hub of the “three cities” Ramer, Grady and Dublin (not Ireland).

“M’Niche,” Hubbard said. “It’s like ‘m’mama, m’daddy, m’house.’ Like that. M’Niche.”

Hubbard was explaining how a barn was transformed, first, into a gift shop and now into a destination for those who are looking for an entertaining way to spend a lazy summer Sunday afternoon or cozy up to one that’s cold and dreary.

“We had this barn that really wasn’t being used and it seemed like a good place for a gift shop,” Hubbard said. “I thought that a gift shop out here in the country would be ‘interesting’ and fun.”

With creativity and a lot of hammering and nailing, what had been a dusty barn with a tractor shed was transformed into a unique, woodsy, artsy gift shop but one without a name.

While looking around at the shop, a friend remarked to Hubbard that she had found her “niche.”

“She said that had found m’niche,” Hubbard said, laughing.

M’Niche. It stuck.

That was in 2009 and, for a while, business was pretty good but Ramer didn’t escape the downturn in the economy.

Hubbard decided that, if the gift shop couldn’t put a jingle in her pocket, it could put a song in her heart.

Locals had kind of adopted M’Niche as a stopping off place – a place to gather. Much like the way people gathered around the old pot bellied stove at the country stores of old.

But, with business next to nothing, Hubbard had no choice except to look for some other way to bring life back into M’Niche.

“My thoughts had been to open the gift shop from time to time and invite people to come and play and sing,” Hubbard said. “My son has a band and my brother is a musician. I thought it would be a fun place for people to gather and enjoy good music.”

In November, Hubbard opened the doors of “M’Niche” again, not for business though, but to provide a venue for local folks to come and play their music on Sunday afternoons.

“We open at 3 o’clock and stay around until everybody’s ready to go home,” Hubbard said. “What used to be the tractor shed is now the venue for the musicians. They really like playing there because of its uniqueness and intimacy.”

The music place is decorated with art, most of which, was done by Hubbard, who considers herself a folk artist more than anything else. But it also features the creative talents of locals who like to dabble in, say, the making of wooden bowls or the more professional like Sandra Barnes, whose work is widely known and appreciated.

There is no admission charge to the Sunday serenades. There’s a tip jar for those who make the music and a bucket of iced down soft drinks for those who need to wet their whistles.

Hubbard said Sunday afternoon at M’Niche is just that. She has no hopes of making it anything more. She’s just proud to provide a place for local musicians to come and perform for a small but appreciative audience.

“Most of the music is country, blues or bluegrass but we have ‘rocked,’” Hubbard said with a smile. “Some of the musicians write their own songs and they enjoy having an audience to hear them.”

Some of those who perform at M’Niche are on-stage for the first time.

Three Pike County up-and-coming “stars” took the stage for the first time on March 20 and Dakota Anderson of Goshen admitted that he had a bit of stage fright but it was not evident.

The young guitar player and singer had the audience “in his lap” as he sang familiar songs like “What a Wonderful World” and whistled a few tunes, too.

“I was nervous but I had a good time,” Dakota said. “Next time, I won’t be as scared and I’ll loosen up a little more.”

Two sisters from Banks, Kate and Kathleen Deal, turned it loose with their renditions of John Denver songs, including “Country Roads” and, if they were nervous, it was only their tapping toes that gave them away.

“I wasn’t nervous. I was having fun,” Kate said and her sister added that singing before an audience is what it’s all about.

“We like to sing at home but we like to sing in front of people,” Kathleen said. “We just like to sing and this is a great fun place.”

Lenny Trawick performed along with his guitar students and said that M’Niche is a comfortable niche for young people who are just beginning to step into the spotlight.

“It’s a great place to perform especially for young people because it’s such a neat place,” he said. “It’s small and not at all intimidating. M’Niche is a comfortable place to perform whether you’re just starting out or have been around a long time like me.”

Hubbard said performers at M’Niche have the full attention of the audience because there are no distractions like at bars or hotspots.

Tony Brook, Adam Hood, Johnny Barron, Jarrett Flint, David Hubbard and Trawick are frequently in the spotlight at M’Niche and Hubbard said she always welcomes talented young people to the stage.

The Sunday afternoons at M’Niche are such a success that Hubbard is considering building a stage outside for bigger bands and larger audiences.

“But what we’re doing now is working so well,” she said.

-After a pause she added, “I don’t want to mess up a good thing. This is ‘m’niche.’”