Small Room, Big Love

Last night I went a house concert. Not just any house concert, but the debut house concert at the home of my friends Jacqui and Dave.

Photo credit: Jameson Killen

They’re music heads, just like me… although they actually have musical talent. We’re talking “graduated from Berklee College of Music” level talent. Chops aside, we’re similar in our passion for live music. Here’s a snippet from the About Us page of the website they set up for their house concert series, which they’ve dubbed Parlor & Patio:

Years ago, we were just two crazy college kids who haphazardly met in a living room while listening to music. You could say that was a life-changing moment.

For us, music has always been more than background ambiance. It’s an experience we crave and cherish. We also believe it connects people in ways that are meaningful and universal. Through Parlor & Patio, we hope to foster some new experiences and connections by bringing friends, community and traveling artists together in a listening room environment.

Amen to that! And Dave & Jacqui aren’t just dabbling in this new venture, they are going full throttle. They’ve already booked a show a month for the next several months!

They kicked things off last night with a solo gig from Rob Fetters, a local legend who should be a national legend. He’s been playing in Cincinnati bands for decades, first with The Raisins, then The Bears and finally the psychodots. All stellar, all woefully underappreciated. As his website bio says:
Rob Fetters has spent decades making records and performing music on the edgy fringe of American power pop. 

Photo source: Robfetters.net

Rob’s a great singer, songwriter and storyteller. And he can pick and/or shred with the best of them on guitar. He also happens to be a wonderful human being.

Two amazing hosts + one phenomenal artist = One-of-a-kind concert. Rob played two sets, 20+ songs, told some hilarious stories (and some sad ones too). And the 40 folks in attendance were there to listen, not to chit-chat or Snapchat.

I can’t wait for the next gig in the Parlor & Patio series. It’s music from the heart that nourishes your soul. And we all need big love now…

Someone super behind the hoopsters

It’s been a tough season so far for Xavier basketball, but the fact that fans can be “disappointed” with a middling season in the Big East shows just how far the program has come over the past two decades. A lot of credit for that growth goes to a man who never played a minute for the team. Dr. Bill Daily was a Xavier grad who returned to teach, and he was passionate about hoops. The university had dropped football in the early 70s to cut costs, and in the late 70s the basketball program was in a similar predicament.

“(Daily) was the single voice to say that this basketball thing is really an important piece of what a University is really all about. He convinced them to make a commitment and spend the resources and he chaired the search committee to get Bob Staak.” 

Gary Massa, former XU basketball player (Class of ’81) and current VP of University Relations

Bob Staak helped turn the program around in the early 80s (which coincided with my time at Xavier, btw… merely a coincidence, of course). The teams got better, and the program got bigger – moving from the Midwestern City Conference to the Atlantic 10 to the Big East, and moving from the ancient fieldhouse to the Cincinnati Gardens to the state-of-the-art Cintas Center on campus.


“Dr. Daily was the beginning of an unprecedented run if you go back … he had the wherewithal and the vision to see what basketball could be.” 

Gary Massa

Dr. Daily passed away last month at the age of 83. If being a “founding father” of the Xavier basketball program were all that Dr. Daily accomplished, his life would be considered a rousing success. But that merely scratches the surface of his influence on lives. Dr. Daily had six kids, and I know his daughter Maria well from our days at Xavier.

 “He really felt his purpose in life was to make sure that everybody knew they were important and they were loved.” 

Maria Dickman, daughter

From this Cincinnati Enquirer article: He continued to learn and participate in a variety of adventures like the Urban Youth Academic Service Learning Experience in Over-the-Rhine, where he lived with and taught Xavier students in a house adjacent to Washington Park for multiple semesters. He started out teaching in the education department and eventually became chair of the communication arts department. 

He sought every opportunity to help people which led him to become co-founder of the E Pluribus Unum program at Xavier, which helped students learn about diversity in today’s society. 

He also received another degree in pastoral counseling from the Athenaeum of Ohio. He went on retreats to Gethsemani and was an associate at the Sisters of St. Francis convent in Oldenburg, Indiana. He took mission trips to Nicaragua, El Salvador and Ghana.

“That’s kind of what dad’s mission in life was. He wasn’t out to get the credit, he just wanted to make sure things got done.” 

Mary Beth Bruns, daughter

Nice job, Doc. The entire Xavier community owes you a deep debt of gratitude.

(Please read the entire article about Dr. Daily. This post doesn’t do him justice.)

Radio is a sound salvation… and podcasting is the new radio.

Back in the late 80s and early 90s, I worked at 97X, a small-but-mighty radio station in Oxford, Ohio.

My friend Dave worked there as well (that’s how we met and became friends). Now that Dave’s two sons and my four kids are a bit older, we have some spare time on our hands. So we decided to create a podcast about our adventures (and misadventures) at 97X.

I don’t think Marc Maron and the folks at My Favorite Murder or This American Life have to watch their backs, but if you listened to 97X before it went off the air, you’ll probably find the podcast semi-entertaining. Even if you never heard (or even heard of) the station, you might get a kick or three out of the podcast. Or not. But hey, it’s only 18 minutes of your day. You’ve probably got some time off for the holidays, right? It’s the perfect aural accompaniment to taking down the Christmas lights, trying to assemble kids toys and/or scrubbing congealed ham/turkey/goose fat out of the roasting pan.

Three episodes are posted here: https://woxy.podbean.com/

You can subscribe via that same link, so you’ll never have to miss a single scintillating episode. (And you won’t miss the boring ones either.)

You can also listen/download below.

Please don’t feel obligated to listen. Dave and I just have to call it “podcasting” because that sounds fancier (and more productive) than “hanging out in the basement and reminiscing about the good old days.”

Where art meets commerce

On Thursday, a bunch of dudes met up for breakfast at a Panera in Newport, KY. It was the visual arts equivalent of the Algonquin Round Table… designers and illustrators and photographers, oh my. (They let a few writer types hang out too… including a hack named dubbatrubba.)

I was fortunate enough to work with many of these fine fellows back in my ad agency days. They’re an amazingly talented bunch… and super-nice as well (sometimes those two qualities can seem mutually exclusive).

A lot of the folks who attended the breakfast are self-employed. Some by their own choice; others have had their hand forced by ad agency layoffs. Freelance is a tough row to hoe, especially in the Fiverr age where it can be a “who can do this cheapest?” race to the bottom. Not only do you have to be a standout in your chosen field, but you also have to be a salesperson, a client coordinator, a project manager and an accountant. You’re on your own for healthcare. And vacation? No work, no pay. As one of the gents there put it “I’m always on vacation until the phone rings.”

My friends do mostly commercial work, but you can’t commodify what they do. It’s art. Period.

L to R, top to bottom: Rob Warnick, Chris Dye, Brian Steege, Keith Neltner, Tom Post, Keith Neltner (again), Andy Sohoza, Doug Best, Todd Lipscomb.

May all your favorite bands stay together

The first time I saw the band Dawes was in 2006. They were called Simon Dawes back then, touring behind their debut album, and they played a tiny club in a rundown part of the city, opening up for Band of Horses, with about 50 people in the audience.

The next time I saw Dawes (they dropped the Simon due to personnel changes*) was in the summer of 2012. They were supposed to play the Taft Theater in downtown Cincinnati, but ticket sales were so poor that they moved the gig to the downstairs “ballroom” – which is basically like an oversized version of your high school friend’s basement rec room. The audience tally was roughly 200.

A year later, in June of 2013, I saw Dawes at the Southgate House Revival, which holds 600, and they probably drew 500.

Last night, Dawes played the 2,500-seat Taft Theater… for real this time, they didn’t move the show to the basement ballroom. The gig was part of their “An Evening with Dawes” tour, so there was no opening act, and they played two long (and killer) sets with a brief intermission. It wasn’t sold out, but it was pretty darn close, with nearly 2,000 fans singing along to their songs (which typically sound better in concert than on the albums).

There are artists who truly are an “overnight success,” but more often than not, there are long years of hard work involved, playing tiny clubs, cramming into a Ford Econoline to get to the next sparsely attended gig, sleeping on friend’s couches or at motels that have a number in their name (Motel 6 or Super 8… the choice is yours). Giving it your all, night after night, even when you’re sick or tired. Building up a fan base one show at a time.

I hope that life without a chaperone is what you thought it’d be
I hope your brother’s El Camino runs forever
I hope the world sees the same person that you always were to me
And may all your favorite bands stay together

If you put in the work, when your time comes, success will be that much sweeter.

Now it seems like the unravelling
Has started too soon
Now I’m sleeping in hallways
And I’m drinking perfume
And I’m speaking to mirrors
And I’m howling at moons
While the worse and the
Worse that it gets

Oh you can judge the whole world on the sparkle that you think it lacks
Yes, you can stare into the abyss, but it’s staring right back

When my time comes
Oh oh oh oh
When my time comes
Oh oh oh oh

 

*Guitarist/songwriter Blake Mills, who left the band in 2006, is now an acclaimed producer… and he produced Dawes’ 2016 album.

Knocking out sticker shock

Yesterday The Man was trying to beat me up and keep me down, but I bobbed and weaved and counterpunched my way to a couple of wins.

First to feel my frugal fists of fury was Big Pharma. My son needs acne medication, and if we got it through my employer’s health care plan, with my prescription “discount” card, the price tag was a whopping $532… for a single month’s supply. No mas! Thankfully the dermatology office did some digging (at my behest) and found a speciality pharmacy in town that’ll get us the generic equivalent… hand delivered to our home within a day… for $90. TKO!

That was just the undercard, though. The main event was Dubbatrubba vs. Car Dealer. The “check engine” dashboard warning light was on in our 2003 Honda Odyssey, which our oldest son has been using since he got his license a couple of years ago. We dropped it off at the dealership Monday night, and Tuesday morning they sent the diagnosis: it needs a new transmission. Here’s their estimate: 

Looks like Dubbatrubba (and his ancient minivan) are down for the count. But wait, he’s getting up off the canvas and… he’s reminding the dealer that they have a “lifetime warranty” on the drivetrain (including the transmission) if you get all your routine maintenance done at the dealership – and he has 15 years’ worth of invoices to prove he’s eligible. What a counterpunch! The dealer is stunned, staggered, reeling… the ref calls a standing eight-count. And now the dealer is throwing in the towel… they’re gonna rebuild the transmission for free!

I’m surprised that my punch-drunk brain actually remembered that “lifetime warranty” spiel from the salesperson lo those many years ago.

Yes, I realize the car is ancient and this is merely a slight reprieve. Heck, we may not even hang onto the minivan. Our teenage son has been a sport about driving it, but now he wants something a bit sportier/newer/better on gas (since he’s paying for gas now and he has a job delivering pizza). However, it only has 150,000 miles on it, which is low for a Honda, and every extra mile we get out of it is money in the bank. Besides, it’s sweet revenge for all those times we’ve had to pay “dealer prep” on a car.

Score one for the little guy!

And now, the Song of the Day, Joy Division doing “Transmission”…

 

 

 

 

Let’s all band together

A week and a half ago, I’d never heard of the bands Wilderado and Sure, Sure. Now I love ’em. All it took was one concert. That’s what I love about seeing up and coming bands in tiny clubs – the joy of discovery and the intimacy of the room can be musical alchemy.

Hat tip to my friend Jeff – he’s the one who put Wilderado on my radar. He knows my musical tastes and figured I would like them, and mentioned their upcoming show. I’d never heard of them at that point, much less heard their music. But thanks to the Interwebs, I was able to listen to quite a few of their songs, and Jeff was correct – they are right in my musical wheelhouse, a bit like Band of Horses mixed with Houndmouth. They absolutely killed it on stage, in front of about 50 people, and seemed genuinely appreciative of the folks who came to the show.

Sure, Sure was the headliner, and they were a bit more like Vampire Weekend spending the weekend at the Talking Heads house. (They even did a Talking Heads cover.) Much like Wilderado, they were fantastic in a live setting.

There’s an apochryphal quote attributed to Hunter S. Thompson:

“The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.”

He never said or wrote that (he wrote something similar about the TV industry) but the quote is often repeated because the shoe fits. A year from now, both Wilderado and Sure, Sure could be no more, chewed up and spit out by the industry machinery. But we’ll always have that Tuesday night in Covington, Kentucky.

 

(Hat tip to the club’s sound man too. I’ve been to many, many concerts in tiny rooms over the past three decades, and a muddy or overly loud mix is a real buzzkill. This concert’s sound was pristine.)

 

 

 

More on Blogger Bob… and another local music luminary

After yesterday’s post about Bob Burns, my fellow DJ at 97X, Matt Sledge, posted a comment:

Big in Iowa. Big everywhere.

Bob Burns was the lead singer and main songwriter in a roots rock band back in the 90s. They were called Big in Iowa, even though Bob hailed from Hamilton, Ohio. They were big in Cincinnati, and even did a bit of international touring. But Big in Iowa never became big in Iowa (or the rest of the country for that matter), probably because they were a bunch of hefty, average Joe lads from the paper and steel mill towns near Cincy. They didn’t have, as Roxette would call it, “The Look.” (Yes, that’s the first, and we hope only, reference to Roxette in this blog.)

Bob got married in October of 2001. He needed a gig that was more stable than “rock and roller,” so he became a screener at the Cincinnati airport for the newly created T.S.A. Eventually he became the social media expert for the T.S.A., starting their official blog in 2008 and their Instagram in 2013. The Instagram account offered travel tips, often by showcasing the weird and wacky things people try to bring on board planes, using a great sense of “dad joke” humor that came straight from Bob.

F. Scott Fitzgerald claimed that “there are no second acts in American lives” but Bob’s second act as a social media dude made him more famous than his band ever did. In 2016, “Blogger Bob” was ranked #4 in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of top Instagram accounts (#5 was Beyoncé, just for perspective).

The account won multiple awards like Webbys (given out by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences) and Burns was featured in all forms of media with its increased popularity. He’d been profiled in the past year alone by NBC News, the Chicago Tribune, the Austin Statesmen and Mental FlossRolling Stone declared the account No. 4 on its list of best Instagram accounts and it got a nod from late-night TV host Jimmy Kimmell. Last month, Burns was featured on the syndicated TV program The Doctors. (Source: this CityBeat article)

A few weeks ago, Bob was bitten by a spider. The wound became infected… and Bob died of sepsis eight days ago, at the age of 48. He’s survived by his wife and two young daughters.

(The link to the GoFundMe page is here.)

“You can still find humor in the daily duties.” Here’s hoping we all can channel our inner Blogger Bob more often. We need it.

Playing soccer just for (penalty) kicks

My youngest kid plays soccer for the junior high team at his school. This past weekend, they won the city tournament, capping off an undefeated season. The finals came down to penalty kicks, and his team’s goalie, who is also our carpool buddy for practices, made a great leaping block of one PK to seal the win.

My son also played for the squad last year, as a 7th grader, and they won the tourney that year too. Which is certainly exciting, but it isn’t the be-all and end-all. Can you pick him out of the photo below?

Probably not. Because it’s a team sport. And the life lessons that come from that are what really matter. Last year, he didn’t get much playing time. Even this year, as an 8th grader and one of only five returning players, he wasn’t a starter. Because that’s how life works: nothing is handed to you. You have to work hard, get better, earn it. Which he did. Besides, a player can lead without being the leading scorer — he excelled at that.

The team’s practice jerseys have “Team over Self” written on the back. A not-so-subtle reminder of how to play.

I’m happy for the team, but not because they’re “champs”… because they’re a great group of kids who get along well with each other. Long after the trophies are collecting dust in a corner of the basement, the friendships he’s formed will remain. That’s a much bigger win in my book.