Poetry on the Patio, believed to be one the longest-running outdoor spoken word shows in the country, closed out the summer 2019 season last weekend in Austin – outside the same home where it’s been held the past 17 years.
Markell “Kell-O-G” Mooney, spoken word poet and founder of Word Life Productions, started the patio shows at his family’s home in the 5100 block of West Concord Place in March 2003 after the death of his father, Willie E. Mooney Sr.
“When I did my event, I only pass out a few flyers for what me and my mom wanted to put together,” Mooney said. “I had a few flyers at this currency exchange, a few flyers at the local park district, and we had a flood of artists come in.”
From then on, the Mooney’s backyard became the place to be for people and artists in Austin to express themselves while being served jerk chicken and Martha Mooney’s famous macaroni salad.
Minister Willie E. Mooney Jr., founder of Full Moon consulting and Markell Mooney’s brother, noted “there’s a lot of negative connotations concerning the Austin area. So this is one way, especially during the summer, to highlight some of the positive things that are going on in the area.”
Willie Mooney said the patio shows draw people and artists from a number of suburbs, communities and even other parts of the country just so they can be part of the performance.
“Bringing the arts into the community is something that [you] rarely … see in our community, and the neighbors love it,” Willie Mooney said. “[They’re] embracing what we’re doing as a black business and as a family. That’s different than what you would normally see on the West Side.”
Mari Redd, an entertainer and co-host for last weekend’s show, has known Markell since he was Mr. Mooney at La Follette Park teaching drama and poetry at day camp and she was 9. She’s now 24.
“The park district kids [are] what gave him that fuel to even keep going despite everything he had going on,” Redd said.
After being away for three years, Redd is excited to come back and even invited friends from high school and college – and anyone around Chicago who’s trying to have music or poetry heard.
“It feels good to provide that same platform that once upon a time somebody gave you.”
Johnetta “Awthentik” Anderson also knew Markell Mooney back in the day when she was 16 and still growing as a poet.
“They didn’t have any open mics for younger poets during that time ’cause they were all in the bars,” Anderson said. “I heard about this event, I came, and I’ve been coming ever since.”
Now with summer coming to an end, and winter just around the corner, Markell Mooney will continue the open mics until the end of the year.
“When it gets cold here we go to a few cafes … a few venues, [and] we’ll host a few poetry slams, “he said.
Markell Mooney, who released a book of poems, Words of Life, just over a year ago, is in the process of moving out of state. Even though he doesn’t know exactly where, he knows Poetry on the Patio brand will still be around, alive and strong.
“It’s just a good safe haven,” he said. “If we could just give about three to four hours of just a nice beautiful atmosphere and some good words and good food, just keep people away from trouble, I did my duty.”