Saluda Music Booker Has His Bands’ Backs

“Active retirement” for Robert Seiler means maintaining a quality music schedule at the Purple Onion. Photo by Tim Robison

“Active retirement” for Robert Seiler means maintaining a quality music schedule at the Purple Onion. Photo by Tim Robison

Robert Seiler grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, and developed a love for this area while attending camp at Lake Summit as a child. After retiring from a professional career in Birmingham, Alabama, Seiler and his wife moved here in 1992. By the end of 1996, he had started a “second career,” booking live music in a juice bar in Saluda called Wise Child, which would soon be sold and renamed The Purple Onion. Seiler, 78, has been the popular café’s talent buyer for 18 years.

Bold Life: You are booking 8-10 shows a month at the Purple Onion. It doesn’t sound like you’ve really retired.
Robert Seiler: That is true, because it does take time, but it’s not like having a job. It’s just doing something that you like to do. Susan Casey, the owner, is very appreciative, and I’ve known her and her husband Stoney [Lamar] for over 30 years. I like the concept of being involved in music here. I had retired and was doing volunteer work at fundraisers for WNCW. So I did know people like Wanda Lu Greene and Marshall Ballew. Most the on-air people back in those days could play and sing, and they helped me get started providing music.

It can be challenging work. What are the rewards?
I want the place to be guest-friendly, and I think that the musicians should be considered as guests and treated that way. I didn’t know how badly musicians were sometimes treated. I just thought that treating the musicians like the guests would be good for them, good for the Purple Onion, good for business. People would have a good time.

One of the most interesting things is that I didn’t have a sense of how hard it is, how much energy it takes at this level of performance — marketing and practice, all this stuff that goes into making their music. I’m always impressed with how much quality the musicians put into their work.
We first envisioned that it would be a listening room, and the fact of the matter is that it is not. In order to keep moving forward, we had to add food and all the rest of it, and the noise and distractions that go along with it. But we have jazz in there, we have Americana, we have bluegrass. It’s become more eclectic, and I would say one-third to one-half of our lineup is old friends that keep coming back. I don’t like to book anybody here that I wouldn’t be willing to spend an evening with, musically.

Do you have any non-related hobbies?
My hobby is living an active retirement life. I’ve done a lot of work on boards in Hendersonville because I have a business background that non-profits can use. But I don’t want to over-plan my life. That’s one of the joys of being retired.

The Purple Onion’s June calendar includes The Calvin Edwards Trio on June 4, a special Sunday Concert by The Honeycutters on June 7, One Leg Up on June 18, and much more. 16 Main St., Saluda. 828-749-1179,

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