I’ve got a bit of a different take on last night’s show—or at least, my thoughts seem to be focused away from the usual accolades, gushing thanks, etc. that everyone understandably leans toward.
Yes, everyone sounded great last night, tackling challenging material, and having loads of fun on stage. Yes, Andrew Gaddy stepped up to the unenviable task of channeling Jeff Buckley, lost himself in the moment and the songs, and reminded me that even Jeff was a human being at one time. Yes, the impromptu singalong at the beginning of The Beanstalk Library’s rendition of Pearl Jam’s “Better Man” was heartwarming. Yes, Jason Mendelson, Robert Higgs and Taylor Carson made faithful enough tributes to somewhat obscure 1994 offerings that I met new They Might Be Giants and Soul Coughing fans in the crowd last night. Yes, the room was already sold out by the time Carolyn Crydale finished her set of spot-on Jewel tunes. Yes, there was a mosh pit at IOTA right after Derek’s band blazed into Green Day’s “In the End.” Let that sink in. There was a MOSH PIT. At IOTA.
But that’s cause we’re really good at what we do. And we’ve gotten there by working hard on OUR music. Last night gave us a chance to honor some of our heroes, to try to “rock” in their shoes for a minute, but let’s step back and remember something—EVERY one of the bands whose music you heard last night started out as a local band.
And here’s where I want to talk for a minute about the power of audacity. This is a conversation I’ve had with a number of my friends in the community, but I’ve never really brought it up in a public forum. You can spend your whole life, as I’ve done so far, playing music in your hometown. We all know Tom Petty writes timeless songs. But I bet his first song sucked pretty bad. His first band was called Mudcrutch, people. Ever heard of them? He’s got 46 chromosomes just like (most of) the rest of us, so what sets him apart, besides a knack for a melody and a lyric? Audacity. He had the guts to think “I’m not just gonna play other people’s music at bars, I’m gonna play MY songs. People might like them, they might not, but I’m gonna play them anyway.” Imagine if he’d settled for making a little more cash every night playing covers in Gainesville, Florida. We wouldn’t all immediately start nodding our heads in a Pavlovian response to the drums and harmonica at the beginning of “You Don’t Know How if Feels.” A ubiquitous and monumental keystone of pop culture that somehow qualitatively makes ALL of our lives better would be missing. Half of the artists you heard last night might’ve never picked up guitars. All because of audacity. Pretty powerful stuff, eh?
Now comes the second half, and this is the half that’s so, so important. There are lots of hungry artists in the DC scene—people crazy enough to get on stage night after night and entertain you, sing to you, make you THINK at bars instead of just drink at bars. But have you bought their albums? Have you HEARD The Beanstalk Library’s new album? Have you listened to the gut-wrenchingly personal lyrics on Taylor Carson’s “Defending the Name?” Are you aware of the Classic Albums’ series organizer Jason Mendelson’s ongoing project “Metro Songs,” where he endeavors to write a song about each of the eighty-six stations on our beloved and sometimes beleaguered public transit system? Derek Evry has SEVEN releases on iTunes, folks! If you can afford it, support it.
There’s a line drawn in the minds of many music fans, perhaps best illustrated by an offhand comment I heard at a bar years ago: “Local music… It sure is.” The “dude on the street” in everyone’s hometown is generally unaware of the machine and the process a band must go through to gain attention outside of their municipalities. They think it’s magic, that the hills have ears—that when a local band is great, an A&R guy sitting at his desk in Manhattan suddenly leans forward, picks up his phone and says “Get me Green Day!” I hear it from my new students every year—“So, are you in a band that I’ve heard of?”
It’s not enough for us, the musicians, to be audacious. It takes a village. We don’t necessarily need to educate the average joe on what a bizarre, messy, arbitrary world the music business is. It’s pretty boring. BUT—in order for local music to become regional, national, etc.—the people in the scene must have the unabashed pride to believe our town’s music is just as good—no, BETTER than most other towns. We gotta get cocky with it, guys. Yeah, Nashville is “Music City.” I guess LA is the “place to be” if you want to join a band. But Dave Grohl grew up in Springfield, VA. Go-Go is from DC, for chrissakes. Duke Ellington, John Fahey, Marvin Gaye, Minor Threat, Wale, Eva Cassidy—ever heard of The Mugwumps? It was more fashionable to say they were from Greenwich Village, but they formed in DC. Google it.
The Beanstalk Library’s new tune “Whiskey Mountain” is an absolutely beautiful tribute to a friend we all lost not long ago. Carolyn Crysdale’s new song First Snow has a hook that stands up against anything on the radio. Derek Evry writes pop gems, period. Practically everyone here in DC knows it. Someone at our show last week remarked “That song ‘Baby Blue’ is perfect! Why aren’t you guys famous yet?!” Instead of nodding my head I wanted to say “Well, how many people have you told about his music this week?” I wish I had.
Ryan Walker made a joke last night during his band’s set, about how perhaps when a Classic Albums of 2013 show happens in 20 years, maybe we’d be singing along to HIS songs. A lot of us chuckled. But why is that funny? Is it? Think about it.
Why does it seem like we hide our local talent? Why the passivity? If a local restaurant is great, do you tell someone? Sure. If you have a good experience at a local dry cleaner, do you tell someone? This is crucial info. We’re in the information age—I think we can all agree that there is SO MUCH to know, its value is overinflated beyond measure. Word of mouth is rare. It’s the gold standard—when it’s offered, people listen. Businesses can buy good reviews on Yelp. They can buy YouTube views. We all know it. Our Facebook newsfeeds are absolutely bloated with information, most of it empty calories.
But when your best friend tells you they heard about this new band who’s really good—you listen. Be that best friend. Be OUR best friend. A local music scene needs those people. Post as much as you want about how great last night’s show was. Of course it was great—it was timeless music performed by kick ass local artists. I challenge all of you—musicians and non-musicians alike—to post, tweet, text—even (gasp) pick up the phone and tell a dozen people from other cities about your favorite local ORIGINAL music. I can count on one hand the number of people I know that do that around here. We’re all capable, and it’s so easy. If you already do this, THANK YOU. You matter.
Sorry to get preachy, but I thought a reminder was in order. I did have a great time last night. Every square inch of my body hurts. Totally worth it. Even if I never get rich and famous. :)
Thanks for reading. And thanks to Kate Moran for the original photo above.