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Sharon Scherer has no problem divulging her age — 55 — and takes no issue with her long-time nickname, "Mama." She also has no qualms about hosting and cooking for the random musicians who spend the night in her south-city home, but please refrain from using the "B" word in her presence. "I want to make this clear: I do not make breakfast," Scherer says. "I do brunch. I'm not a morning person, and I don't get up in time for breakfast."
Scherer has spent the past year transforming her house into Mama's Bed n Brunch, a DIY safe haven and affordable hotel alternative for traveling musicians passing through St. Louis. Scherer began her venture in earnest. "I was at Broadway Oyster Bar listening and enjoying the Ben Miller Band from Joplin, Missouri," she recalls. "At break time, [bassist] Scott Leeper came outside while we were smoking cigarettes, and I found out they had planned on spending the night in the van. They had their sleeping bags, the whole thing, and it had turned bitter cold. It was the last week in December, I don't know what they were thinking!
"Scott asked me, 'Do you know of a really cheap hotel in the area where we might be able to stay?' I thought for a second and said, 'Heck, stay at my place. I have plenty of room.'"
The Ben Miller Band was the first group Scherer hosted, but she wound up inviting Los Angeles blues revivalists Andy Frasco & The U.N. to her house the following week. "The wheels got to turning, and I thought it would be something to do for these guys who bring so much joy and entertainment to us," she says. She started a Facebook page for Mama's Bed n Brunch and began hosting bands for a suggested donation of $10 per person per night. "I can't afford to spend money, but I'm not looking to make money either. I'm not going to get rich charging $10."
Sharon is not a musician, but she can relate to the spirit of her traveling guests. "When I was a teenager, I was most certainly a vagabond," she says. "I hitchhiked all around the country, and if it weren't for the kindness of strangers, I wouldn't have made it. I know what it's like to be out there."
Because of her hippie past, Scherer gives these musicians the benefit of the doubt. "My daughters were initially concerned that I was going to let all these strange men into my home," she says. "But the way I see it, I know where they're coming from and where they're going. I know where they're playing when they're here, and if I have any concerns about the people I can talk to the club manager. I have never had one iota of trouble from any bands who have come here. They're not going around ripping people off. They're out there trying to make a name for themselves.
"These bands can't afford the Hyatt and the Regency," she says. "They're going from one show to the next, hoping to get some sleep and food in between. It just blows me away how much work goes into what they do. And when they are prepared to sleep in the van, I can't help but invite them in. I'm always bringing strays home. I always have."
Scherer's strays have taught her that lodging is one of the most complicated aspects of touring. "The bands are very appreciative of every place they've stayed," she says. "But they do also make a point that in a sense, when somebody takes a band home [the hosts] expect to be entertained. They think they'll be partying or maybe that the band will play music for them. Some guys are up for that, but some are so dang tired that they just want to relax and chill, too. I try to focus on that when they're here. I always tell them to make themselves at home. No entertainment necessary. Relax. Here are the beds, here's the remote, whatever you want to do. If you want to sleep, if you want to be left alone, if you want to party...this is your home while you're here, so enjoy it."
Scherer finds that her guests cherish her home's atmosphere. "You should see their eyes light up when I tell them I have a washer and dryer," she says, laughing.
Luckily, her house is as big as her heart; she can sleep eight comfortably without resorting to couches or floor space. She guarantees clean beds and a good meal. "As soon as one band leaves, I strip all the beds and do laundry. I get the beds ready because I'm not sure when the next band is going to show up. I don't always get advance notice. Last week I got a call at 3 a.m. from [Columbia jam band] Reelfoot, who needed a place to stay, and I told them to come over because I was ready," she says. "I'm having a ball, but there's some actual work involved."
Scherer tries to make cooking for her guests a part of her work. "I love having somebody to cook for," she says before talking up her go-to dish of biscuits and sausage gravy. "Unfortunately, sometimes they're in too big of a hurry. By the time they get up, they're dressed, they're packed, they have to get on the road, and I barely have a chance to get a cup of coffee in them."