Bugle Boy Foundation has been on a mission to fairly compensate Texas musicians for more than a decade. The La Grange-based nonprofit and its fair trade listening room have been rocking and rolling since 2008, hosting performances and providing funding for budding and professional artists.

On any given weekend, the sound of live music can be heard faintly streaming from inside The Bugle Boy’s humble rambling ranch style building, which once served as a US Army barracks for Bastrop’s Camp Swift during World War II. 

“Founder Lane Gosnay originally bought the barracks to open a coffee shop,” Bugle Boy executive director Heather Allbright says. “They began hosting open mic sessions there, and local musicians realized that the only times it was doing good business was when there was live music.” 

Thus the coffee shop was transformed into a listening room. A green room and performance deck were added to the space, along with salvaged seats from a local movie theater. Bugle Boy Foundation received an LCRA Community Grant in 2016, which provided funding for additional cosmetic repairs and improvements to the sound and lighting systems.

“The artists tell us they love to play The Bugle Boy even though they tour around the world because they consider it one of the top listening rooms around,” Allbright tells RoundTop.com.  “They often perform music here that they don’t play during typical shows.

“There is an intimate connection between the artist and the audience in our room. Most artists will visit with audience members, take pictures and sign merchandise making it a very personal experience for everyone. We have a maximum of 80 seats, so no one is far from the stage.”

All musicians are fairly compensated for their performances via a minimum guarantee contract. The contract amount is paid regardless of how many people attend the show. If the show’s take is greater than the guaranteed rate, the performers are alternatively compensated with a large percentage of the door revenue. The musicians also get all the income from merchandise sales at their Bugle Boy concerts.

With about half of all Texas musicians surveyed in a recent census earning wages considered below, or just above the poverty line, these Bugle Boy contracts can be a lifeline.

And scoring a contract gig at The Bugle Boy is nothing short of a high honor. Performing artists must have 90 minutes of original music to their credit to play the venue, so you won’t hear any cover bands here.

Beloved musicians like Ray Wylie Hubbard, Rodney Foster, Ruthie Foster and Joe Ely have become regulars at the listening room. Other Bugle Boy fan favorites include Spanish guitar act Del Castillo Trio, Lilli Lewis, Walt Wilkins, Beat Root Revival, Tish Hinojosa, Jackie Venson, Kelly Willis and Seth Walker. 

Up and coming acts are supported through Bugle Boy’s Talent Trust Fund, which is awarded to artists to help with recording, or promotional costs. Past Talent Trust Fund recipients have gone on to play much larger venues. Just one example is former recipient and touring jazz singer Kat Edmonson, who was recently cast in the off-Broadway jazz opera The Hang. Funding from the foundation’s trust also helped John Fullbright produce an album that was nominated for a Best Americana Grammy. Fullbright lost — to Bonnie Raitt.

The Bugle Boy’s current Talent Trust Fund beneficiary is 15-year-old Jack Barksdale. The young prodigy from North Texas has already shared the stage with the likes of Wynonna Judd, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Bruce Robison, John Fullbright and Hayes Carll.

Supporting musicians is only a part of The Bugle Boy’s mission. Their services extend beyond the venue’s stage and out into the community, where it serves locals through music-based outreach programs that include performances at schools, nursing homes, hospice facilities, and songwriting and guitar lessons for veterans.

The Bugle Boy is truly a central Texas hidden gem.

For more information on The Bugle Boy and to get tickets, check out the venue’s full website . The Bugle Boy Listening Room is located at 1051 N. Jefferson Street in La Grange.