Last night I drove up to Oxford, Ohio to see my friend Dave’s son play guitar for the local band This Pine Box. But going to see the band was just a handy excuse, a smoke screen of sorts. Don’t get me wrong – This Pine Box is a great band. They’re getting some national attention and they deserve it. But the real reason I made the long trek to Oxford was to see some old friends:
These are some of my homies from my days at 97X. Going left to right, it’s: yours truly, Steve Baker, Dave Tellmann, Gentleman Jim Mercer, Kathy Lucas, Billy D. the Fresh MC, Matt Sledge and Chris Adryan.
I could go on and on about each and every one of them (except maybe Kathy, because she spent a decade at 97X but that was after I departed), but suffice it to say the folks you see in the photo above, and dozens more that weren’t in Oxford last night, have fond memories of their time at a small-but-mighty modern rock station (a.k.a. “the future of rock and roll”) in a college town nestled among cornfields. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it was the least amount of money I ever made in a full-time job, yet it was the most fun I ever had at a workplace.
Seth Godin calls them “tribes”:
“A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea. For millions of years, human beings have been part of one tribe or another. A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.”
For the 97X tribe, the shared interest was the music. And even though our station’s broadcast range barely covered parts of Cincinnati and Dayton, we certainly had a way to communicate. Not just on the air, but at the concerts and the promotional events. Not everyone could get 97X on their radio, and fewer still actually “got” 97X, but those that did made it a fantastic ride.
It’s been a couple of weeks since this happened, but I was on vacation at the time (also, still smarting from it). The Arkansas Razorbacks were one strike away from clinching their first national title in baseball at the College World Series. One pop foul away, actually. Then this happened:
Great Bill Buckner’s ghost! You know what happens next… Oregon State ties it, then wins that game and the next one. What a way to lose. But the Razorbacks will be back.
The Great Pretender
I saw The Pretenders in concert on Friday night, and now have firsthand evidence that Chrissie Hynde is the coolest chick in rock and roll. (I’m using the term “chick” because I’m pretty sure Chrissie would use that term also.) While the set list was a bit short on classics (I’d be happy if they played their first album in its entirety), it was still a darn fine show, and Chrissie is still going strong at 66. (Must be that vegan lifestyle.) Props to original drummer Martin Chambers, too, working overtime keeping time on the kit.
I didn’t take this photo… Chrissie doesn’t allow audience members to take them, and our seats were much farther away.
Good news/Bad news
Good news: Superchunk is finally playing a show within 100 miles of Cincinnati. It’s been eons since that happened.
Bad news: The show sold out in 13 hours… before I could snag a ticket.
If you’re a recording artist with mass appeal — the “1%” of the music industry — you can make some cash. Everyone else scuffles and struggles for table scraps. Chuck Prophet is firmly entrenched in the 99% category.
I saw him last night in concert at the Southgate House Revival in Newport, KY. There were maybe 250 people in the audience. Probably the same 250 people who see Chuck when he rolls through town each year. You can set your watch by his gigs. The swallows return to San Juan Capistrano, the buzzards return to Hinckley, and Chuck comes to Cincy. He — and his fabulous band The Mission Express — are consummate road dogs. They tour constantly. In a van, not a fancy bus. Hoping to sell enough merch to turn a small profit.
Chuck has been releasing albums since 1985, when he joined Green on Red. He’s been putting out solo albums since 1990. He looks — and often sounds — a lot like Tom Petty. If you listen to his releases, you find Americana/indie rock/call-it-whatever-you-want gems on every album. Two of his most recent albums, Temple Beautiful and Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins, are wall-to-wall stellar.
Chuck could be bitter, but it certainly doesn’t seem that way. He’s up on stage smiling, laughing, joking, having fun with the audience and his band (which includes his wife Stephanie Finch). At one point in the set, he even said “let me tell you a secret: I’m having a blast up here!”
Barring a miracle, Chuck’s never going to make it big in the music industry. But if writing and recording great music and putting on a great show night after night for a small but appreciative audience count (and it my book they do), then Chuck’s a superstar.
When the tour was originally announced, I figured I’d skip it, because I’ve seen Lucinda, Steve and Dwight a combined total of at least two dozen times. And tickets were expensive – I’ve got to allocate my limited concert funds wisely. But the closer the show loomed on the calendar, the more I realized that I love all three artists and there’s no way I should miss this three-fer gig. I’m so glad I caved… and I got a ticket in the very last row of the pavilion for a paltry $20. (Thanks Arby’s “we have the seats” promotion!)
Holy smokes trinity
Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle and Dwight Yoakam are three birds of a feather, a trio of misfits: not country but certainly twangy; not folk but as lyrically literate as Dylan and Townes; not quite rock but completely rockin’.
They’ve been performing on the fringes for decades, and they’ve still got it. Each one performed a 50-minute set with a crack backing band. Lucinda did one duet in Steve’s set, Steve played on a couple of tunes in Lu’s set, and they all got together on stage for the encore. That song alone was worth the price of admission. Here’s a video clip of the same encore song from another stop on the tour:
Lucinda, Steve and Dwight are three of the brightest gems in the Americana universe. So worth the trip!
I had a fun-filled, music-filled weekend (the latter often begets the former). Friday night, I went to see Japanese Breakfast at the Taft Theater Ballroom, which is actually the basement below the Taft Theater in downtown Cincinnati. It has that 80s basement rec room vibe to it (the only thing that’s missing is the bumper pool table) but I’ve seen some great shows there, including the one Friday night. Japanese Breakfast is fronted by Michelle Zauner, a Korean-American singer/songwriter/performer from Philly who kicks butt with her band live.
She’s got a great voice, and her lyrical skills are impressive. Japanese Breakfast has two albums out, and both are fantastic slices of dream pop. The first one, Psychopomp, was written while her mom was battling cancer, and recorded after her mom passed away. The new one is called Soft Sounds from Another Planet. Here’s one of my favorites from it.
On Saturday, I saw a cover band at a local bar in Mt. Adams. But not just any cover band. Cereal Killers cover songs from my era… not the “hits” either, but the indie/college rock/pub rock/new wave gems from the late 70s and early 80s. The Clash. X. Smithereens. R.E.M. INXS. With some Tom Petty thrown in for good measure.
The lead guitarist is my friend and neighbor, and my wife is good friends with the lead singer’s wife. They were playing outside and it was a gazillion degrees, but I still hit the dance floor. Probably the first time I’ve danced in more than a decade (note: I’m still horrible but now am 29% more arthritic!). I danced mainly because the lead singer’s wife guilted me into it (it was her birthday – how could I refuse?) but also, how many more chances will I get in my lifetime to dance to a Billy Bragg song? (Answer: two at best, with a margin of error of plus or minus two.)
Who needs Father’s Day gifts? All I need is a bunch of live music and a couple days off from work. Actually, I could use a couple more days off from work… I’m still aching.
I couldn’t think of a more deserving station. KEXP is, per their website, “a listener-powered, non-profit arts organization.” Their slogan is “Where the music matters” and they are true to their words. They play great music (emerging artists, indie bands… you know, all that “weird” music that I love) and have knowledgeable, personable DJs. Actual human beings selecting songs… what a novel concept in a world of robot radio! They host a ton of live in-studio performances too – you can watch the videos on their website or their YouTube channel.
The anonymous donor, known only as “Suzanne,” didn’t even live in the Seattle area, but she had family there. When she mentioned to her uncle that her favorite local radio station had gone off the air, he turned her on to KEXP (you can listen online) and she became an avid listener and donor.
“When I told my uncle that my favorite radio station had just gone off the air, he turned me on to KEXP,” she said. “Music is one of the best ways to unite people globally, and I love an organization which spreads that goodness.” (Source: New York Times article)
She passed away in 2016, at a relatively young age, and KEXP was informed of the gift in early 2017.
Not many folks have $10 million to leave to a radio station. (I double-checked my couch cushions… no such luck.) But we can all support music. This quote from KEXP Executive Director Tom Mara really resonated with me:
“I think this is a good time for anybody to reflect on the role that music has in their lives, in that music makes lives better, and each of us, including myself, we need to support artists to a greater extent. We need to see their shows, we need to buy their music and we need to discover artists that need to be heard,” Mara said. “Music often plays a background role in our lives, and it does very well there…Let’s take this moment as a way to bring music into the forefront of our lives, too.” (source: Seattle PI article.)
On Thursday, I went to see a 25-year-old singer/songwriter in concert. On Saturday, my wife and my daughter went to see a 28-year-old singer/songwriter in concert.
The person I went to see has released four albums. His first releases featured a blend of country, blues and gospel, but his new album skews more toward pop while retaining those other influences. The person my wife and daughter went to see has released six albums. Her early releases were mainstream country, but her most recent releases are decidedly pop.
The guy I went to see played at the Southgate House Revival in Newport, Kentucky to an enthusiastic audience of about 400. The woman my wife and daughter went to see played in a field in Chicago… to an adoring audience of 61,500.
There isn’t much difference in talent between Parker Millsap and Taylor Swift.
One just has a stronger reputation.
You can keep your arena shows… I’m happier with other arrangements.
Because sometimes (but not always!) selling out stadiums requires a different form of selling out. And for the price of a single nosebleed seat to see T-Swizzle, I can get up close and personal at a dozen smaller shows.
It’s such a fine line between relative obscurity and worldwide fame.
I’m a huge Rush fan (read: nerd) and because I’m in charge of employee communications at work, I manage to slip a Rush reference into all-company emails every once in a while (read: nearly every week).
So all of my co-workers are aware of my undying devotion to Canada’s premier power rock trio (suck it, Triumph!). One colleague sent me a link to an article posted yesterday on the Onion AV club. A dude named Garren Lazar has been setting Peanuts footage to rock songs for a while, and he recently posted a clip that syncs up the Peanuts gang with the entire twenty-plus-minute “2112” song suite.
Naturally, I love it. Having Linus as the protagonist is pure genius… the same goes for Pigpen playing the drums like Neil Peart. Check out this three-minute excerpt:
The entire clip is here if you have 21 minutes and 12 seconds to spare. (Yes, 21:12! We see what you did there Garren!)