Lawrence bands start rockin' the Paradise


Phil Cauthon /

Paradise Cafe's new owner Schuyler Lister says, "I felt as though the nightlife part of Paradise was an untapped resource." Since buying the eatery last year, he has helped transform it into a hot spot for live music.

In his office upstairs from Paradise Cafe -- tucked behind divided rooms and a kitchenette -- Schuyler Lister sits at his desk and talks on the phone. Behind him is a giant dry-erase board full of concert dates and contacts. He hangs up the receiver and shrugs. Something about invoices.

Tuesday afternoon, and it's business as usual at Paradise Cafe. Lister dismisses the phone call before launching into his favorite part about the restaurant: live music. Well, that and the food. But as Lister is quick to point out, he and his staff are working hard to make the establishment synonymous with both.

"I felt as though the nightlife part of Paradise was an untapped resource," he says. "I saw it as another venue for creativity. I especially thrive on originality and I really want this place to be known as a musician's paradise."

Before he became the owner of Paradise, Lister would frequently drop by for meals after work at neighboring Creation Station, which he founded with Kevin Dixon in 1989. Lister would come by as much as four times a week to enjoy the seafood ("You've got to feel good after a meal like that," he says of the eatery's halibut).

Then, when Paradise went up for sale about a year ago, Lister found himself in the position to try his hand at the restaurant business. Only he wouldn't just leave it at that. Lister's love of music led him to further develop Paradise into a nightclub aimed at giving unheard musicians a place to play.

"The love is in the food," Lister says. "Add really great local music to that, along with the occasional national act, and man, you've really got something."

Reinventing Paradise

After closing the cafe last summer for a several-day cleaning session, Lister had a wall taken out and a stage put in. A three-piece combo, including Split Lip Rayfield's Eric Mardis, ushered in the new era with a concert on sidewalk sale day in late July.

"It was probably the best show we possibly could have started out with," Lister says.

Today the restaurant features a variety of musicians, including a regular jazz combo and classical guitar player on weekends. Once a month an emcee battle packs the locale with Kansas University students.

Though most of the musicians are from Lawrence, Paradise Cafe is no stranger to the national act. Last Monday, jazz stick virtuoso Greg Howard who has played his unconventional instrument with Dave Matthews gave a free show to a full house. Paradise Cafe's relatively small size makes for natural acoustics in the restaurant, and with sound traveling around to the smoking side without drowning out conversation, it was a surprisingly ideal venue for the small performance.

The intimate setting and musical variety found at Paradise are perhaps inspired by now-defunct Lawrence venues like Full Moon Cafe and Off the Wall Hall, which Lister frequented while growing up in Lawrence. At Off the Wall Hall, Lister recalls it would be possible to see the Sun Ra Arkestra, the Billy Spears Band and Black Flag all in the same week.

  • Virtual Paradise Cafe(QuickTime VR)

"I love all kinds of music," Lister says. "I think the majority of people really do."

Lister emphasizes that the variety found at Paradise is an extension of his staff, which is composed of a number of artists, musicians and writers.

"My whole philosophy is you just keep adding creative touches," he says. "When it's all said and done it's like playing music, because everybody has their part to play and you end up with a true original."

Kristine Midyet, who books performances, points out that Paradise's size frees it from the pressure of having to fill a club with hundreds of people, making it easier to feature lesser-known and local artists.


Phil Cauthon /

Patrons gather to watch a night of local music at the recently revamped Paradise Cafe.

"It's all about the local feel," she says. "Skylar's trying hard to give local people a place to play. The cool thing about Paradise is that it's not a big club, it's a restaurant. But in the evening it's more intimate and you only need 45 people to fill it up."

Setting a record

Next summer, Lister will lead Paradise in taking a stab at breaking the world record for the longest-running concert of original music by multiple artists. Bands will perform around the clock for a week, with musicians competing to win a cash prize for playing the longest set.

"This town is going to be packed with labels," Lister predicts.

In the meantime, music fans looking for original artists and quality food won't likely be disappointed by what Paradise Cafe has to offer.


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