Saturday, March 8, 2008

Day sixty eight...Sometimes it just rains.

Last night I got to play a big gig with the Young at Heart Chorus.

The magnificent college auditorium was packed with over 1,000 screaming fans in a somewhat out of the way location on a rainy Friday night. All the press people were there including a camera crew, host, and production team for the nation's top viewed morning news program.

And for a change, it happened in our own country.

You see, this kind of thing is standard in Europe. We get the red carpet treatment everywhere we go. We get the four star hotels and the full on catered meals complete with local specialties that the chef can't wait to serve up with a smile. We get the 12 nights in a row sold out with the mayor making an unusual appearance with his wife in her finest furs. We get the front page in not just one, but all of the papers. And we get the throngs of people at the merch table hoping for a few words with a chorus member or two, or better yet, an autograph.

For real.

It's not anything like, "Oh honey, these folks were so cute and cuddly. I think it would just make their day if we asked one of them for an autograph."

No, they get it.

Say what you will about the snooty Europeans, but they understand art and the benefits of expression of emotion a bit quicker and a bit more on their own than we overstimulated and spoiled Americans.

More often than not we just look for the biggest crowd making the loudest noise and raise our hand and say "I want in!" and just hope for the best. And if it doesn't live up to our expectations (which change from minute to minute) we cry bloody murder and ask for our money back.

So, it is nice to see that after 26 years of having to outsource an audience for one of America's most important artistic endeavors certainly in my lifetime, the Motherland is finally taking an interest.

Because personalized, independent undertakings seem to be going out of fashion.

Or I should say, out of business.

Take, for example, one of the finest music magazines in the country, No Depression. After thirteen years of covering Americana/Roots music (and just plain music in general) thoroughly, professionally, passionately, and with a touch of humor, they are being forced to cease print publication.

New laws were enacted giving an upper hand to the big publishing houses who have larger circulations. Add to that the fact that people just don't go out of the house for their needs anymore and it spells disaster for those doing something a bit different. The brick and mortar is coming crashing down around us. You don't have to bend down to pick up a piece though. No, you can order it online and have it delivered right to your door. No Reserve.

No Depression featured my main band, Drunk Stuntmen, a few years back. They gave us 8 pages of attention. They sang our praises as a band of road warriors doing what we do because it felt more right than anything else possibly could. The magazine's editor, Peter Blackstock, came to many of our gigs when we'd travel through the South. He had been the man, in fact, to write the aforementioned 8 page spread. But one night, before he paid his money at the door of the club, he made a stop at the local Kroger to buy us a box of Creme Puff pastries. We had been turned on to them a few nights prior at an after party. He had noticed our amazement at the delightful regional treats and decided to do more than he had to just because he could. We were thrilled.

Peter understood that it only takes a little effort to make a big difference.

One of our favorite places to play, Middle Earth Music Hall, is unfortunately closing up shop as well.

Chris and Susie are the club's gregarious proprietors. But they aren't just club owners, they are family. We met them a few years back at their then new venue in central Vermont and quickly bonded. They built their club for musicians and fans alike. The stage is the right size, the PA is top notch, the acoustics are close to perfect, and the lighting even makes some of us look better than we should. They booked top notch entertainment both national and local; some of the same artists in fact that play at the club in my town that's been around over 25 years. They added a menu of fresh foods incorporating local ingredients and served the finest beer, tea, and sodas. And yes, they publicized the hell out of the place.

But attendance is down lately. Enough so that they decided to cut their losses and close up shop. I'm going to guess this has something to do with the ease at which we are able to obtain our entertainment. It's way too easy to stay home and devour any and all kinds of music on the computer. In fact, with minimal searching, you can actually watch Drunk Stuntmen playing there from a show in '06.

If this trend continues, pretty soon we'll all end up having to watch concert footage online filmed in empty clubs because everybody had the same idea: why buy a ticket and leave the house when you can watch it for free at home?

We'll be playing our last Middle Earth show on May 17. The venue will be sorely missed.

Today I walked into one of the better music stores in the area to poke around as I do, and see what there was to see.

What I saw was a big sign in the window that said "Store Closing. Everything Must Go."

My heart skipped a beat.

I have bought many items at Blue Note Guitars on Center St. in Northampton. The owner, Howard, has always had a fine selection of used instruments, amps, and accessories. He charges a fair price and you can usually talk him down a bit if you have cash in hand.

He told me that he couldn't justify leaving the house every day anymore. He wasn't making a profit, what with the high rent in town, and he was fooling himself if he continued to stay and sell in real time when most people buy in cyber space. He had a touch of resentment in his voice and I can clearly see why. It makes me mad too.

When I was a kid I never thought much about buying something I couldn't actually hold, especially a piece of music equipment as personal as a guitar. I mean, how are you going to know if it's right for you if you can't sling it over your shoulder, crank up an amp way too loud, and hear it for yourself. Let alone catch a quick glimpse of your bad self with the prospective new accoutrement in the distorted reflection of a black plastic bass drum head. You can bet Elvis did it.

You don't see too much in the way of used gear anymore. Guitar Centers and Sam Ashes make a lot of their money selling to birthday boys and girls out shopping with Mommy or Daddy. Junior might much rather have that 1975 Fender Jaguar hanging on the wall in the little store on the corner, but you can bet your money that he will be receiving something new; something wrapped in plastic rather than sweat and cigarette smoke; something with a warranty.

Just in case.

'Cause you know Guitar Center isn't going out of business anytime soon.

And the rest of us, myself included, find what we need online and fill up our cyber shopping cart and let the postal service do the rest.

Thankfully, the Young at Heart Chorus live show is something you can't order from the comfort of your Ikea office desk. You have to get up out of your chair and see them for yourself. You may have to brave the rain and brisk winds. You'll have to find a parking space and find your way to your assigned seats. And you'll have to do it on their time.

It's a personalized independent undertaking; something that seems to be quickly going out of style.

The documentary on the group will be showing in major movie theaters starting April 18 and I'm positive it's going to be a smash success. It's got everything going for it. Hell, it's good enough to win an Oscar. We'll find out in a little less than a year. Yeah, it's that good.

It's something the likes of which has never been seen.

Not in this country at least.

They say that when it rains, it pours.

Depending on how you look at it, sometimes it just rains.

Thanks for reading,



Libby Spencer said...

I'm really sad to hear about Blue Note. I've read about so many of the old locally owned stores leaving downtown that I'd bet I wouldn't even recognize the place anymore.

ON the bright side it is nice to see Young at Heart getting some US recognition. I'm one of their earliest fans. I was a groupie when Diamond Lil was the star of the show. I'd bet you'll be going to the Oscars.

Anonymous said...

I'd forgot about them cream puffs. Them things were gooood.

Best of luck with the new record. These are Halcyon Times.....

Anonymous said...

It's so sad that in times of economic woes, just when we really need live entertainment, it just costs too much to travel. There is so much going on in Northampton and Boston. Both are a major commitment for me, gas-wise. And then there is the cost of the ticket. It really grieves me to miss out on all the music I love, to make do with my Stuntmen CDs, walking the beaches with you in my ears, rather than luxuriating in the audience.

Journalism has gone the same way. We can get it online, not have to drive to the store for it or pay shipping and handling. It's very sad.