Coming Attractions

A New Concert Club Concept Bringing Big Name Talent Is Coming to Sarasota

Kicking off at McCurdy's as Music Mondays: The Master Series, WhiteLeaf Events is bringing notable live performers to intimate spaces—and ramping up for a membership-model private concert club.

By Kim Doleatto April 19, 2024

Grammy-nominated saxophonist Bill Evans performed at Music Mondays: The Master's Series at McCurdys Comedy Theatre in Sarasota last month.

Let's be real: phones held aloft, packed spaces and screaming superfans can mar the live concert experience—not to mention the chasm between formal performance spaces and impersonal, monster-sized venues like Amalie Arena in Tampa, which also requires an hour drive from Sarasota.

But an intimate live show at McCurdy's Comedy Theatre, headlined by two-time Grammy-nominated saxophonist Bill Evans last month, fills the gap—and is a harbinger of things to come. Backed by the Ramblin’ Rockers band, featuring RJ Howson, Mike Kach, Garrett Dawson, and Berry Oakley Jr., a couple of hundred people sat, sipped drinks and simply listened. As everyone settled in, McCurdy's owner Les McCurdy sat down with Evans to chat about some behind-the-scenes moments from his illustrious career.

There was the time Evans sat in with Willie Nelson and Keith Richards for a live show, for example, and Richards downed a whole bottle of Jack Daniels. “It was gone in about an hour, and there was no change in his personality, which was pretty interesting,” Evans recalled. But Richards was polite. “He said, 'If you want some [whiskey], you better take some now,'” Evans said.

He also shared how Mick Jagger liked to hire jazz musicians, like Evans, because he felt “they can really play. [The Rolling Stones] choose notes they’ll play, and I choose mine." It worked.

In the 1980s, when Evans was 21, he debuted on the international music scene with Miles Davis, ultimately recording six records with Davis. He also performed with Gregg Allman, Herbie Hancock and John McLaughlin. And although Evans' 94-year-old mother lives in Sarasota, it was his first time taking the stage here. 

Although McCurdy cracked jokes about how talent usually came to town to visit retired parents, it was Barry Weisblatt, founder of WhiteLeaf Events, who made Evans' appearance happen. It's part of a monthly event at the McCurdy's called Music Mondays: The Master Series.

Weisblatt, 59, is leading the listening room concept and before Evans came to town, in February he brought in  G.E. Smith, Saturday Night Live’s bandleader from 1985 to 1995. The McCurdy's events are a precursor to a private concert club that's poised to take off by the end of the year. Limited to 275 people, the membership will cost a minimum of $5,500 annually and includes admission to three private concerts a year at venues like the Circus Arts Conservatory's tent,  the Sarasota Municipal Auditorium and the Sarasota Opera House. 

Weisblatt began his career in the mailroom at the Associated Booking Corp. talent agency, where he got his start booking acts like B.B. King and setting up tours for Guns 'n Roses and Paul McCartney. As someone who “has no other skills,” he says, he started his own company in 2002. Over the years, he’s booked names like Sting (for a birthday party in the Hamptons, no less), Alicia Keys, Bruno Mars and Barbra Streisand. Venue locations have spanned the country, from private backyards to yachts, with crowd sizes ranging from 25 to 5,000, and clients including household brands like Harley-Davidson and Revlon. In Sarasota, he'll hand-pick the shows' headliners thanks to a 37-year career in music and events production and management. 

G.E. Smith and Les McCurdy on stage at McCurdy's Comedy Theatre.

 Weisblatt moved to Siesta Key in from Westchester, New York, in 2019. His in-laws live here.

“When I landed here five years ago, I​​ looked at the Van Wezel, which is excelling, but I think a large share of the market is looking for something else and traveling to Clearwater, Tampa and St. Pete to find it," he says. "There a million people here between Sarasota and Manatee counties, and there's no reason we should go without something like this. Younger families are moving here and looking for what they had in the cities they left. It’s not here in terms of live music.”

Once up and running, the private concert club nights will kick off with a 90-minute cocktail party, followed by a comedy routine, then the evening's headliner. It'll all finish with a DJ party.

The goal is to continue the Music Mondays series monthly at McCurdy's and announce the first WhiteLeaf Events concert club show by December. Eventually, Weisblatt hopes to find a permanent home—"a House of Blues kind of place," he says.

What style of music is on the menu? Weisblatt says outside of the first year, when he'll choose the lineup, the long-term strategy is to survey concert club members and let them influence the choices. For that first year, though, "I want it to be diverse," he says. "I'm thinking [people ranging from] Ziggy Marley to Melissa Etheridge to Cheap Trick."

The next Music Mondays event at McCurdy's is April 29 and will feature Josh Daniel, a performer who melds rock 'n' roll, bluegrass, funk, soul and reggae. Daniel gained fame during the pandemic when he committed to more than 365 consecutive live-streaming performances from his living room, which became known as the Quarantine Sessions.

To learn more about WhiteLeaf Events and the Private Concert Club, click here. To check out McCurdy's Music Mondays: The Master's Series, click here.

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