Andy Falco and I sat down last weekend with Jamie from American Songwriter to talk bluegrass, Festy, Doc, ‘Dusters and more.
Andy Falco and I sat down last weekend with Jamie from American Songwriter to talk bluegrass, Festy, Doc, ‘Dusters and more.
We had a show last Sunday night during the Grammys, but it was impossible to avoid all the commotion on-line. The big categories featured a lot of talent/quality, clear evidence that the voters still know what’s good without thinking too hard. Artists like Adele, The Black Keys, Radiohead, Mumford & Sons and Foo Fighters are good whether you like them or not–real artists that push their art forward over time, honing a real craft and delivering it live with authority. It seems impossible to miss the authenticity. But much of the buzz centered around some of the night’s more curious nominees/performers. Of course, the Grammys are totally subjective (and a total sham, depending who you ask) and thus totally insignificant in some way (it’s all just music after all). But they’re also not, and as a creative mind and a fan I can’t help wonder what this great spectacle means about the future of popular music.
2011 was a crazy and amazing year for the Infamous Stringdusters. But it’s over, and the door to 2012 is flying open right in front of our eyes. Incredible things are happening. Here’s a bit about what’s up next, and why.
We are a five piece band now. It has been unexpectedly liberating. Changes of any sort bring fresh ideas and perspectives. New music and new sounds are finding their way in faster than ever, as we devote more time to learning/rehearsing, both on and off the road. And our show has an amazing revived energy, more inventive all the time. We’ve found that less guys does not mean fewer decibels or energy, but it does mean more space and more options. Working on new material with my bandmates is such a highlight, and we have more incentive than ever before to create, record and perform our music.
Thanks to Joe Kendrick for having me on WNCW to talk about Bluegrass, the Stringdusters, etc. The program, What It Is Radio, just went up on-line. Check out the stream here. Joe has other noteworthy endeavors that you should check out, including Lingua Musica Live, a cool series of video conversations with musicians including the amazing Danny Barnes, our boys Toubab Krewe, Billy Cardine and many more. Erin Scholze conducts a bunch of the interviews. Really good stuff.
I was the guest on Lightning 100′s Music Business Radio program a few weeks back, and the edited show just went up. It was a real treat to visit David Hooper and co. after having heard them a handful times during my Nashville tenure. We cover everything from bluegrass/IBMA to the inner workings of the Stringdusters business. Below is a scanned page of notes from the show that they put up on thier blog. Check out the recording here.
I’d love to take a few days off after the IBMA madness but it’s not looking good. The Stringdusters are gearing up for the second annual Festy Experience this weekend. Our amazing team is putting the finishing touches on this magical event. Check out the American Songwriter preview. Next week we leave for 6 weeks of epic shows all over the country–2 weeks with Toubab Krewe, 2 weeks with Yonder and 2 weeks with the Emmitt-Nershi Band, in support of our brand new live album, WE’LL DO IT LIVE. We’re living the dream!
What’s next for the ‘bluegrass’ people of the world?
Definitely good things. I had an amazing time preparing for the speech I gave last week in Nashville. It put me in touch with so many different people, and so many different perspectives–a great way to learn new things about the world. Just about everyone I reached out to was more than generous with their time and ideas. Thank you all very much. Many people care deeply about this music, which leads me to believe that good things must be ahead. If you want to check it out, the speech lives here, but the general idea goes like this:
Why would someone who loves traditional music fear for its survival?
If you love a form of music, doesn’t that imply that you believe in it?
It’s ironic that someone might think traditional music is superior, but that it’s also in danger, and in need of preservation. To me, traditional bluegrass is undeniable–some of the most soulful and pure music ever. What Monroe and Scruggs did will never go away. Its influence on other styles is far reaching at this point, and its evolution is vibrant. THAT IS AMAZING, and something to be very proud of. It will live on in all its forms only because it’s good, not because we helped it out. Nobody (and no organization) can ‘change’ bluegrass, limit its growth or define its bounds–this is a lost cause, especially given that it’s a pure opinion issue.
What we can do is celebrate bluegrass and its many connections, and this will be the best way to ensure that the music is always flourishing.
Does great art (and the process that creates it) ever need to be ‘preserved?’
I don’t think it does. Great art happens, it always has and it always will. If a great form of music exists, why would anyone put energy into keeping it the same, when good art is defined by evolution, new voices and growth? People support what they love and that’s all they ever have to do. Supporting is very different from preserving. The music is up to the artists. Great acts find the support they need whether they are old or new sounding. These people love the music for what it is, without ever wanting to change it. Acoustic music is primed to make that kind of authentic connection to more people. As the old recording industry model disintegrates, quality/authentic music continues to rise. This will help bluegrass across the whole spectrum, building respect for the old school masters and creating new paths for the droves of young picking talent about to emerge.
More than ever before, bluegrass can take care of itself. Better yet, it has the opportunity to grow.
Could a specific form of music disappear? Could something bad like that actually happen?
I suppose that if it had little popular appeal, it might fade away. But bluegrass is far too deep, far too real to suffer any such trend. We should have no concerns about competing with other forms of music, especially when string band popularity in general is hitting new and unprecedented heights. You can’t isolate yourself from the larger music world and hope to find success–nearly no musicians actually want that anyway. Bluegrass, along with all its branches, is so unique and so full of skill, and those things are truly a leg up in this industry climate. And for those who fear that the intimacy will disappear, bigger shows are actually what most artists want (and if they don’t they just need to tell their booking agent!!). I believe that most traditional settings will remain the same, if not becoming a slightly larger version of exactly what they are now. Artists do what they want to do. If you find yourself disagreeing with it, something is wrong.
We just need to enjoy and support the music we think is great, and in turn great things will happen to it.
Have faith in the music you love. Don’t worry about everything else!
San Francisco will always feel like a second home to me after living there for almost a year in 1999. It’s an amazing display of progressive arts/culture/energy, combined with a natural beauty that is as inspiring as any. I took a year off from Dartmouth and relocated to a tiny apartment in Nob Hill, taking banjo lessons with Bill Evans and working at a start-up run by Thomas Dolby of ‘She Blinded Me With Science’ fame. The guys from Hot Buttered Rum were just getting started–we would cross paths at a regular jam in the Mission. A few more established players were there (Dawg, Bill, Darol Anger and Mike Marshall), and even though it was a regular stop for most touring acts, the city didn’t have the most prolific bluegrass scene. Big cities without a longstanding traditional scene always seem to develop their own version of the music, less in touch with past, more in touch with the present, via the youngsters who pick it up. SF a cultural center where the arts grow and change, and BG is no exception.
The IBMA has asked me to give a keynote address at the annual business conference this fall in Nashville (Tuesday, Sept 27th, 10:30 AM). Thanks IBMA, for such an amazing opportunity! There’s been much talk this year about the current state of Bluegrass affairs–a rekindling of an old, and important discussion. I hope to add something meaningful, and to move the discussion along in a positive way.
Above all else, my hope is for IBMA to be whatever it wants to be–a true reflection of its membership and leaders.
For some that means changes, new blood, and an updated idea of what part the organization can play in the acoustic music world. For others the concept of change is not so welcome, for fear that musical integrity will suffer and the intimate bluegrass community will get watered down with bigger, less informed crowds. The conversation is taking place between members, non-members, musicians and fans alike. And in some cases they seem to agree. Last week I posted an article about the IBMA awards and the response (from inside and out) seemed unanimous: the structure and process need to be changed. Thanks to everyone for the thoughtful responses–several viable solutions were discussed. Amidst this discussion, Dan Hays (IBMA’s executive director) raised the larger of issue of how such changes are effected in this type of organization, which we need to understand if anything substantive will ever happen here. If everyone agrees that the Awards Show needs change, why haven’t we seen it yet?
And the Nominees are…
A few weeks ago I pondered the concept of music associations, most of which have at least two things in common: membership dues and an awards show. For the IBMA, the awards are clearly a big deal, drawing most of the genre’s top talent to Nashville every fall for an elaborate ceremony at the Ryman complete with performances and the occasional A-list presenter. But what do the awards really accomplish? On the surface the answer seems simple–celebrate the best musicians in an effort to further individual careers. But it also serves to outline the current musical landscape (what’s popular, what’s successful, what the genre is), which can be quite the conundrum for Bluegrass.
The Festy is right around the corner, and we, The Infamous Stringdusters, could not be more pumped. We learned a lot the first time around (and had an amazing time in the process). This year we are honing in the three pillars of the Festy Experience: musical community, local food/beer, and outdoor lifestyle. Together these elements represent our band and our fans. They’re the best things in life–the perfect ingredients for a weekend long celebration in the mountains of central VA.
Lately I’ve been wondering what ‘music associations’ are all about. Who joins? Why? What’s a music assoc trying to do? How do they get it done? And what types of music have one? Today’s NY Times has an interesting article about the mariachi music scene in LA, where newer, less experienced musicians are undercutting the typical $50/hour wages of older, more experienced players. Talk about a traditional scene–the bands actually gather in in place called ‘Mariachi Plaza’ just east of downtown LA, in full regalia, vying for the attention of potential customers. The United Mariachi Organization of LA is a new group, 200 strong, trying to keep musical/professional standards up, as well as prices. $10/month gets you a gold ID card but not necessarily much more. Says one veteran mariachi, “Do we need this? I don’t know. What we really need is more work.” Interesting.
I googled ‘music association,’ and a few things came right up: Gospel Music Association, Americana Music Association, the IBMA, the International Computer Music Association and of course the Country Music Association. Ahhh, the CMA–Keith Urban, Carey Underwood and Brad Paisley head up the home page eye-candy (three titans who are beautiful AND talented). But things get interesting when you click on MEMBERSHIP…
Spotify seems like a glipse into the future, and it’s already here. Check out this great article about the growing service. App-based computing simple/functional enough that people will pay, and artist compensation based on number of plays. Label cooperation? Sounds too good to be true.
“This is where we’re headed,” he told them. “It’s just such a seamless experience, a gateway into a legal environment. If the service is good enough, they’ll pay.”
Finally, somebody tells it like it is in print (in a place that matters). Peter Cooper has a genius article in today’s Tennessean that sheds some light on just how contrived today’s iteration of ‘country music’ can be. The sad part is that it still sells, and the old-school label behemoths keep a knife to the industry’s throat as long as they pump this nonsense into every dying retail outlet across the country. But when the country capitalist suits have no more game to play, quality music will rise. People will want something sincere, and that’s great news for real artists. Be ready.
Check out the whole article, but first enjoy the money line (what a badass!):
‘I’d rather be hit by a can of your favorite domestic beer than hear you name-check that beer one more time when you’re singing about the party in the woods that you know darn well the three people who wrote the song in a metropolitan Nashville office absolutely, for sure, did not attend.’