A week ago, I saw the best concert of the year. And Taylor Swift was nowhere to be found.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a Taylor hater. Far from it. I have a ton of respect for anyone who writes their own songs.
But I saw a terrific band from New Zealand called The Beths at a small club in Cincinnati, and they hit all the right notes, literally and figuratively.
During the show, I just savored the sights and sounds. But after the fact, I tried to analyze why I liked the gig so much. And I came up with a few items on my concert checklist:
Great songs – it’s about the music, first and foremost. Lead singer/songwriter Elizabeth Stokes writes songs with hooks that are catchy and lyrics that are profound.
Live, not Memorex – The Beths are a four-piece band, and they play their own instruments, live, without backing tracks. I know a lot of bands are using pre-recorded tracks these days… but I don’t go to a show to hear studio recordings. Elizabeth Stokes has a great voice, and plays guitar as well. Guitarist Jonathan Pearce, bassist Benjamin Sinclair, and drummer Tristan Deck also sang backing vocals, which added greatly to the overall sound of the songs.
Setlist – The songs matter, but so does the sequencing, and the mix of “classics” to new songs. The Beths have released three great albums, without a bad song in the bunch, so they were working from strength, but their set featured really strong songs from each of the albums, with a nice mix of singalong anthems and quiet ballads. (You can listen to the songs from the set at setlist.fm.)
Sound system – All three of the above can be ruined by a bad sound mix. The Beths played The Woodward Theater and the sound was stellar, and the sound engineer kept the volume at a reasonable level. (If I had a nickel for every band I’ve seen where the sound engineer had the mix WAAAY TOO LOUD, I’d be able to afford better earplugs.)
Energetic band – The Beths were having fun on stage, and that can be contagious. A running gag was them shouting “O-H” and waiting for the crowd to reply “I-O!” (It’s an Ohio State thing – The Beths made no bones about the fact that they had no idea what the cheer was about, but someone had told them to do it at Ohio concerts.)
Enthusiastic audience – the folks at the show weren’t casual fans. That’s the beauty of being an up-and-coming band – the people who like you are dedicated, and are there because they like your music, not because your lead singer is on a Disney show or TikTok.
Intimate venue – all other things being equal, being able to get close to the stage at a club is so much better than an arena show with giant barriers between you and the performers.
There you have it, my Sonic Seven ingredients for a tasty gig. Not that you asked.
This KEXP live in-studio performance gives you a taste of what The Beths are like in a live setting.
This stripped-down set highlights the brilliant songwriting.
And here’s the title track from their brilliant new album:
Yesterday, my friend Dave and I recorded a podcast episode. Just like we’ve done nearly 100 times over the past five years.
Never heard of our podcast? You’re not alone. 99.99% of the world has never heard of it, much less heard it. But for the few, the proud, the folks who remember a tiny “modern rock” station in Oxford, Ohio, the podcast was pretty darn cool. It helped them reconnect with the station, the music, and the people that meant a lot to them.
“I am not sure you guys realize just what impact having this modern rock format has had on my life… your podcast has brought about all of these thoughts, feelings, and memories of the soundtrack of 21 years on my life. I thank you for playing your part in it back then and I thank you for creating this podcast to help me process just what those 21 years have meant to me.”
“Thanks for the pod. It is like finally being able to talk with someone about the treasure that was WOXY.”
We found a niche — actually, it’s more like the niche found us, because we were horrible at promoting the podcast. But somehow, some way, the people who wanted to listen found us. And we had a ton of fun in the process.
But now we’ve exhausted the list of potential guests and topics. It’s been great, but it’s time to pull the plug on “Rumblings.”
I’m really proud of the work we did. Step 1 was figuring out how in the heck to do a podcast. Then came setting up the website, finding a hosting platform (Podbean has been great), scheduling the interviews, figuring out how to record them when we’re in different locations, doing the editing, and finally posting them. We put out a new episode nearly every two weeks for close to five years. It was a labor of love, but the accent was on “labor.”
I’ll miss it. It wasn’t just a chance for listeners to reconnect with a station they loved, it was also a chance for me to reconnect with my radio days. Guess I’ll have to find another outlet for my podcasting prowess (using that term extremely loosely). I have no idea what that’ll be. So you and I both will have to stay tuned…
This is the story of a Prince, a Pope and a young woman.
Sinéad O’Connor was 23 when her second album I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got rocketed up the charts, mostly based on the strength of her cover of Prince’s song “Nothing Compares 2 U.”
She didn’t just cover Prince’s song… she made it her own.
Sinéad was just 25 when she appeared on Saturday Night Live and performed Bob Marley’s “War.” She didn’t just cover Marley’s tune, she made it her own… by changing the lyrics to reference child abuse. Oh, and as we all know, she did so while tearing up a photo of the Pope.
For doing so, she was “cancelled” before cancel culture was even a thing.
In a post-Spotlight world, when we know much more about the child abuse being committed by members of the clergy, and about the coverups by the higher-ups, I hope people can better understand the motives of Ms. O’Connor. She wasn’t just protesting clergy abuse either, but child abuse in general. It was something she had firsthand experience with.
The photo itself had hung on the bedroom wall of O’Connor’s mother, who O’Connor later said had physically and sexually abused her as a child.
“We were girls in there, not women, just children really. And the girls in there cried every day. It was a prison. We didn’t see our families, we were locked in, cut off from life, deprived of a normal childhood. We were told we were there because we were bad people. Some of the girls had been raped at home and not believed.”
Nine years after she tore up his photo, Pope John Paul II sent an email apology to the victims of sexual abuse perpetrated by priests and other clergy in Australia and the surrounding region, acknowledging the scandal for the first time in his papacy.
In 2010, Pope Benedict XVI said in an 18-page letter that he was “truly sorry” for the abuse suffered by victims at the hands of Catholic priests in Ireland, O’Connor’s home country.
Perhaps with the benefit of hindsight, we can see Sinéad’s protest as a clarion call… and we can see Sinéad as more prophet than pariah.
In a tribute to O’Connor following her death, Irish comedian and actress Aisling Bea wrote on Instagram that “everything she stood up for and against then, including racism in the music industry, has been proved to have been needed and right…She was the original truth sayer who wouldn’t go easy into the night.”
A tiny radio station that went off the air nearly 20 years ago, and shut down online in 2010, is “having a moment” as they say. It’s garnering all sorts of “ink” (as they used to call publicity) for rounding up more than 30 DJs who worked at the station to present a 40th anniversary of the signature “Modern Rock 500” countdown of the top modern rock/indie/alternative songs from their massive library o’ tunes. And author Robin James just released a new book (The Future of Rock & Roll: 97X and the Fight for True Independence) that chronicles the history of the station and why its independent spirit still matters today.
The press parade started back in March, when the press release for the Modern Rock 500 came out.
On May 11th, Robin did a book event at The Mercantile Library – co-hosted by Dave and yours truly. That gig was sold out… and an absolute blast!
Robin James was interviewed by Jason Cohen in the June issue of Cincinnati Magazine. (Editor John Fox is a longtime friend of the station – he used to appear on the air when he was editor of Everybody’s News and later Cincinnati CityBeat.)
The press coverage is nice… but honestly, this means more to us than anything else:
We’ve been able to reconnect with a small-but-mighty community through music. And that’s more precious than all the “ink” (or gold) in the world.
“From WOXY I learned it is important to support your local scene. If you care about independence, being creative and really having the ability for both yourself and for other people to innovate and do things that are new and different, then you would care about the story and example of WOXY.”
Robin James in the Journal News article by Don Thrasher linked above
If you’d like to tune in for yourself and find out what all the fuss is about, you can do so today and tomorrow from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. (the Dolly Parton shift) on Inhailer Radio, and then again over the Memorial Day Weekend at that same spot on your internet radio dial!
Photo above from The Mercantile Library’s website.
And tomorrow night, I’ll be co-hosting an event there. It’s bucket list material for me.
A sold-out event at that! I harbor no delusions that anyone will be there to hear from me. They’ll be there because they loved a little radio station in Oxford, Ohio that respected their listener’s ears and minds.
My 97X buddy Dave and I started a podcast a few years ago, recording episodes in my basement. We had no idea what we were doing. Still don’t, honestly. “Shoestring budget” would be inaccurate. No budget. Actually it’s a “loss leader” given the hosting and website fees we pay. We’ve done very little promotion of it. But somehow, someway, the small-but-mighty group of people who loved 97X found it. And Robin James, who has been our guest a couple of times, wanted us to co-host her book event. BAM! Pretty friggin’ cool.
On this blog, I don’t normally post my music-centric stuff (I have a separate blog for that). But I’m making an exception because I’m pretty darn proud of the fact that my old radio pal Dave and I have done 90+ episodes of a podcast, and that podcast has been the impetus for a full-fledged radio station revival (albeit for a limited, one-week-only engagement). Full press release is at the bottom of this post.
The podcast has been a labor of love. We’ve never sold a nickel’s worth of ads. We’ve never reached an audience beyond a hundred or so loyal listeners. But we’ve brought a lot of joy to those listeners, and that’s worth more than gold.
The fact that a niche format station based in the tiny town of Oxford, Ohio, with a crappy signal, could reach so many, and still be fondly remembered nearly half a century after it started, and more than a decade after it ceased to exist… it’s nothing short of magic.
To be able to pay tribute to the under-the-radar bands and their music, and showcase the DJs from every era of the station’s existence, is truly special.
And here’s the official press release that generated the reactions above:
97X, BAM, THE FUTURE OF ROCK AND ROLL RETURNS WITH THE 2023 97X MODERN ROCK 500
(Oxford/Cincinnati, OH) – March 9, 2023 – It’s been 20 years since the legendary Oxford, OH-based alternative radio station WOXY FM, aka “97X, BAM! The Future of Rock and Roll” first left the airwaves. Celebrating what would have been its 40th anniversary, 97X makes its triumphant online return in May 2023 with the 2023 97X Modern Rock 500 countdown.
In partnership with Cincinnati-based streaming station Inhailer Radio, 97X and WOXY.com present the 2023 97X Modern Rock 500, airing May 22 – 29, 2023 on Inhailer Radio, also available on the Inhailer Radio app and WGUC 90.9- HD3 in Cincinnati.
The 2023 Modern Rock 500 will air on Inhailer Radio in five 100-lap segments from May 22-26, 2023, and repeat in the 500’s traditional Memorial Day weekend timeslot from May 27-29, 2023. Plans are in the works for an on-demand archive of the broadcast.
As a special treat, the broadcast is hosted by over 30 station DJs sharing memories from WOXY’s 40-year run. From its fledgling 80s days to the explosion of the format in the 90s and its time as an online entity in the early 2000s, the 2023 Modern Rock 500 is represented by the people who were there making it happen.
If there was one signature program that became synonymous with 97X, it was the annual Modern Rock 500. Borrowing thematically from the nearby Indianapolis 500 and broadcast over Memorial Day Weekend, the 97X Modern Rock 500 counted down the best alternative songs as “laps”. The Modern Rock 500 aired on 97X from 1988-2003 and continued on WOXY.COM from 2005-2009.
Now it returns for one final countdown.
The broadcast also serves as a wrap-up of the 97X-focused podcast Rumblings from the Big Bush (a reference to a distinctly large shrubbery located on the station’s Oxford, Ohio property), hosted by former DJs Dave Tellmann and Damian Dotterweich.
“Rumblings over the last few years has caught up with former air talent, station employees, fans of the station, and some of the artists that we played at 97X. It’s been a blast! The podcast has about run its course; but the idea of capping it with the Modern Rock 500 couldn’t be a better way to sign off,” said co-host Dave Tellmann. Rumblings… episodes can be found on all major podcast player sites and on 97Xbam.
“We here at Inhailer are honored to hand over the airwaves to the people of 97X who influenced our own musical journeys and the music we play here”, adds Taylor Fox, Founder and Program Director at Inhailer. “We’re downright giddy with excitement!”
“This new Modern Rock 500 will be limited to those songs that landed on the countdown in the past. It’s taking a look back from a present-day point of view”, states Mike Taylor, 97X Program Director from 2001 to 2010. “Any way you slice it, it’s gonna be 500 great tunes.”
The 2023 97X Modern Rock 500 is a love letter to its loyal legion of listeners and to station owners Doug and Linda Balogh, for giving the world something super special. We’ll see you at the starting line…
Full list of featured talent:
Bryan Jay Miller
Dan “Danny Crash” Reed
Julie “Jae Forman” Clay
Julie “Maxwell” Argonis
Matt “Sledge” Waller
Ric “Tile” Cengeri
Tina Kristina Mueller
If all the old bands can reunite, so can we. Long Live 97X – The Future of Rock and Roll!