Category Archives: Fans

Album Review – Mipso’s “Dark Holler Pop”

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On a beautiful day in May, band mates Wood Robinson, Jacob Sharp, and Joseph Terrell tossed their mortarboards up into the Carolina blue sky and rejoiced in the finality of their collegiate journeys. With degrees in hand, this Chapel Hill-based trio known as Mipso, threw all thoughts of conventional careers out the window and collectively vowed to make the band their top priority. It was time to put the music first and bring the sound of Mipso to the people of North Carolina and beyond. Their first stop—the recording studio.

On the band’s second LP, “Dark Holler Pop,” Robinson (double bass), Sharp (mandolin) and Terrell (guitar), adopted a more collaborative approach to songwriting. With producer Andrew Marlin, of Mandolin Orange fame, behind the soundboard, the band was able to sit back, learn, and let the songs evolve organically in the studio. The album’s folk-bluegrass sound was further rounded out by industry greats like Marlin, Emily Frantz, Phil Cook, Chandler Holt, John Teer, Bobby Britt, and Chris Roszell.

Released last month, the 11-track album debuted at #8 on Billboard’s Bluegrass Albums chart. Collectively, “Dark Holler Pop” is North Carolina through and through, featuring Mipso’s blended interpretation of Appalachian music with strong three-part harmonies and traditional instrumentation. While banjo rolls and a punchy mandolin lend the album a fuller bluegrass sound, the sweet whine of the fiddle really shines as it meanders seamlessly from track to track.

The album opens with “A Couple Acres Greener,” a rousing steam-engine paced tune filled with tales of right and wrong turns on life’s path. Terrell sings of jumping the church pews and celebrating his sins, all while wondering how he will leave the world behind when he’s gone. The fiddle intro and harmonies on “Tried Too Hard” lift the self-doubting lyrics, “Maybe I tried too hard/Maybe I was born to fail/Maybe all I’ve done is pave the path to hell.”

“Louise” stands out as one of the best tracks on the album. Lyrics tell a love story through car metaphors, an authentic approach by this group of young men. What better way to describe the bumpy road of love than by comparing it to an old beat up car? Another gem is “When I’m Gone,” a beautiful hymnal ballad laced with delicate guitar picking and a church-worthy chorus.

Mipso slows things down with “Rocking Chair Blues,” evoking images of an old man pondering his life on the front porch of a creek-side cabin. Songs like this reveal the old soul that is at the epicenter of Mipso. These musicians have somehow gained the perspective of a seasoned sage somewhere along the paths of their relatively short lives. Thus, it is not surprising that themes of mortality and decades of hardship find their way onto many of the album’s tracks.

Throughout “Dark Holler Pop” musical influences emerge, without feeling forged. On “Red Eye to Raleigh” hints of Paul Simon’s reveal themselves as Terrell sings of love lost, while “Border Tonight” feels almost like a trip down to Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville in Key West. The album’s first single, “Carolina Calling,” feels like an updated, upbeat version of James Taylor’s “Carolina on my Mind.”

The album closes with “Do You Want Me,” which is the first to feature a flirty piano arrangement. Supported by their trademark tight harmonies, Mipso sings of love’s most brutal insecurities, as the song transitions from a polished studio sound to what sounds like a raw live recording.

Overall, “Dark Holler Pop” further solidifies Mipso’s place in modern folk and bluegrass genres.  Their decision to work with Marlin and elevate their songwriting makes this album a big success and one that will certainly get ample radio play.  With lyrics heavily weighted towards the trials of love and life, it will be interesting to see how touring and life on the road will shape Mipso’s songwriting for their next installment.  Until then, “Dark Holler Pop” will keep on spinning.

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Album Review – Lorde’s “Pure Heroine”

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For over a decade, New Zealand has been best known as the picturesque backdrop for native Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” film trilogy. That was until this past summer when Jackson, Frodo Baggins and the rest of the hobbits got abdicated from their thrones. A new “Lorde” now sits pretty at the top, effortlessly monopolizing US airwaves with an unabashed take on her so-called teenage life.

Lorde, born Ella Maria Lani Yelich-O’Connor, is a 16 year-old singer-songwriter who became an overnight alt-pop sensation with her fireball hit “Royals,” a synth-driven track that mocks the gluttony of a lavish lifestyle. First released as a track on her debut EP “The Love Club,” “Royals” quickly rose to the top of the Billboard Alternative Songs chart in the US, and currently holds the record for longest reign by a female on this chart. “Royals” also found its way to the top of the Billboard Hot 100, making her the youngest artist to ascend to this spot.

So what makes Lorde so different from all of the other under-21 pop stars who have come and gone? Mainly, she stands out for her ethereal voice and thoughtful songwriting. While her songs focus on adolescent themes, Lorde still shines in her mature and smart approach to making music.

Master producer Joel Little paired up with Lorde to put together a follow-up LP that could continue to ride the success of “Royals.” At the end of September, the duo released “Pure Heroine,” and Lorde’s momentum has since shown no signs of slowing down.

Overall, “Pure Heroine” features a streamlined electro-pop sound that centers on Lorde’s unique voice and catchy tempo. Layered reverb and a barrage of computer-generated drum beats provide an unobtrusive scaffold for all of the tracks. While Little’s soundboard techniques find overall success, the uniformity of sound offers listeners very little variety from song to song. With attention spans at a minimum these days, even 37 minutes of monotony can cause listeners to drift.

The album opens with the lyrics “Don’t you think it’s boring how people talk” on “Tennis Court,” an empowering varsity anthem fitted with enough “yeahs” to put Usher on the bench. “400 Lux” chronicles a typical teenage joyride as Lorde sings, “We’re hollow like the bottles that we drink…We might be hollow but we’re brave.” What teenager can’t relate to that?

“Royals” shows up in the third spot, and shines like the diamonds and Cadillacs Lorde sings about with such disdain.  It will be interesting to see if Lorde maintains her outlook on luxury with all of the royalties quickly filling her bank account. “Ribs” is rich with reverb and club beats worthy of valiant fist pumps, while “Buzzcut Season” is a xylophonic summertime masterpiece. “Buzzcut Season” shines in its out-of-this-world dreaminess with lyrics like, “I live in a hologram with you.”

The “Team” intro borrows from Gorillaz’s “Clint Eastwood,” transitioning then into an upbeat stomp-clamp homage to clique-culture, minus the exclusive air. “Glory and Gore” doesn’t back down from a challenge, with strong lyrics like, “You can try to take us, but victory’s contagious,” evoking images of an anarchic, shirtless Christian Slater in the 90s cult classic “Pump up the Volume.”  Look it up.

When the album reaches “Still Sane,” the background cavernous dip echoes begin to bore, though Lorde is still all business and hustle. This 16 year-old is on a crash course to losing her mind, but she seems just fine with that. “White Teeth Teens” soars with a militant snare drum/tambourine combo and faraway layered background vocals.

On the album closer, “A World Alone,” Lorde echoes the teenage mantra that life is a lonely journey, amidst the catty chatter that fills the song’s empty space. As if to come full circle from the album’s beginning, Lorde deadens the noise and ends it all with, “Let ‘em talk.”

“Pure Heroine” is almost pure pop genius. The authenticity found in Lorde’s songwriting proves that she is very close to these words. She’s writing from her own experience, and in brutal honesty she continues to reach listeners who feel the same. As a whole, the album can start to feel repetitive, but when the tracks are taken separately, they are golden.

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Interview – Emily Minor

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“North Carolina is the best place in the entire world.  No matter where this job takes me, Carolina holds my heart.”

~Emily Minor

With a relentless loyalty to her southern upbringing, Wilmington native and East Carolina University graduate, Emily Minor epitomizes the idea that you can take the girl out of Carolina, but you cannot take the Carolina out of the girl.

Three years ago, after graduation and a life-changing experience on American Idol, Minor packed up her acoustic guitar and college memories and moved to the epicenter of country music–Nashville, Tennessee. With husband John by her side, Minor jumped into the country music scene feet first, with a big dream and nothing to lose.

Evolution of a Fan caught up with Minor recently to chat about life in Nashville, on the road, and what she enjoys most about being a musician.

EOAF: How did your upbringing affect the type of musician you are today?  What kind of music were you exposed to at an early age? 

I’m extremely lucky that I was raised in musically diverse home. Our radio played anything from Buck Owens to Stevie Ray Vaughn, from Billy Joel to Whitney Houston. I was always exposed to great music and artists.

EOAF: What musicians would you have on an iTunes playlist?

It’s a lot like what I grew up on, a little bit of everything. I enjoy some of the new country on the radio today but I really love old country. It’s not unusual to find Merle Haggard or Brenda Lee on my iPod. 90’s country is great too, I love Brooks ‘N Dunn. It’s a broad spectrum–Hall and Oates, Aerosmith, and I love working out to Katy Perry.

EOAF: What is your songwriting process like?  Do you tend to write the lyrics first or melody? 

Typically an idea for a hook comes to me first and I can usually sing it the way I would hear it in a song. Usually lyrics will come to me and then I’ll sing it back to my husband and together we’ll create a melody on our guitars.

EOAF: Do you play any instruments? 

I play acoustic guitar when I’m writing and learning new songs at home. I don’t play anything while I’m on stage and maybe eventually I will. I love to entertain and sometimes its hard to run across the stage and jump around with a guitar strapped to me. Not to mention, I play with a bunch of ridiculously talented musicians. I leave them instruments to them.

EOAF: What types of things/events/experiences inspire you to write? 

 I’ve been lucky to live a very uneventful, happy life so sometimes it’s hard to draw from personal experiences but every now and then I’ll write something that relates to my life. I find a lot of inspiration in whats going on with my friend’s life, whats going on around me, or something that has happened to someone I know back home. It’s a lot of fun to make up stories and write about them, create situations in my mind.

EOAF: Your EP has some really great songs on it.  What new songs are you testing on the road and when can your fans expect an LP?

Thank you! I have been writing a lot. At one point this summer it was like my creative juices were just pouring out of me and everyday there was a new song to write. I’m still writing a ton and now we’re in the beginning phases of choosing what songs are good enough to put on the new album. We’ll start the work for a new album this winter. I can tell you that you can expect more songs written by me and my co-writers and a lot of what you heard on the first album. Great, turn it up loud, sing-along songs and some tear-jerker ballads too.

EOAF: Where were you when you first heard one of your songs on the radio and how did it make you feel?

I was in a McDonald’s parking lot and it came on the radio. i had just finished and interview with the station and they were playing it right after the interview aired. I just sat there and listened. I close my eyes and just took in the moment and soaked it all up. And then I screamed and jumped up and down! You never really get used to hearing yourself on the radio. It’s always a treat to hear your songs played. It’s a very rewarding three and a half minutes.

EOAF: What have you learned about the music industry since moving to Nashville?

I’ve been in Nashville for three years now and my mind has been like a sponge. I just soak up everything I hear and read and try to learn as much as I can. For one, I’ve learned that there are so many talented people in town. You never know if you’re going to pop into a songwriter night and see the guy who wrote Eric Church’s “Springsteen” or hits for Diamond Rio. That’s awesome to me. I’ve also learned to be nice to everyone and to never speak badly about someone. You never burn bridges. You never know who someone is, who they know, and how it could come back to hurt you. You can’t make judgements in that town.

EOAF: How hard or easy has it been to connect with other songwriters and producers in Nashville?  

Networking is what Nashville is all about. You’ve got to shake hands–it’s just how the world turns there. It’s really easy to go into a writer’s round and hear someone great and approach them later about writing together. They’re just like you. They want to meet new people, broaden themselves as writers, and have something new to look forward to. Everyone is so friendly in Nashville, It just takes walking up and introducing yourself. Even the big time celebrities are down to earth and don’t mind stopping for a picture or to talk. I saw Vince Gill once and just walked right up to said hello. He is one of the nicest people I’ve met.

EOAF: I’ve read that you really enjoy being out on tour.  What are your favorite and least favorite things about being on the road?  

Of course playing to new people and being on stage is the best part, but I also just enjoy the riding time with my band. We’re one big family, they’re the brothers that I never had. We joke on each other, laugh, get into a little trouble. When you’re on the road for that long with the same people, you have no choice but to like each other and make the most of it. We have a great time. My least favorite thing would be missing out on friends and family things. I have to miss a lot of birthdays, weddings, family dinners–and sometimes that’s tough.

EOAF: What type of venue/music event do you enjoy the most? (listening room, bar, club, festival, songwriters session, etc)?

It’s so hard to choose because they’re all great. I love to play a listening room or writer’s round because it’s very intimate and people are there to listen to your work. They listen to your lyrics, take it all in, and really hear the message you’re trying to deliver. Festivals are fun too because it’s family friendly and I love watching all of the little kids dance around and have a good time. It’s also a great way to meet the fans, hear what they have to say, and get your music in their hands. I really enjoy singing the National Anthem too and I’m always honored to be asked.

 EOAF: What do you enjoy the most about performing live?  Any specific experiences that stand out from your shows?

Nothing is better than being on stage. It’s a high for me. Every now and then we’ll take some time off to recharge or spend some time writing and after a couple of days, I’m losing my mind! I’m ready to get back on the road and play. the best part is watching people sing along to the songs you’ve written, or having them request that you play one of your own songs. That’s always the highest praise. My shows are always super fun but for the most part nothing crazy usually happens.  I once had two grandmas start fighting while we were playing. It was hilarious.

EOAF: Tell me a little bit about your backing band.  How did you guys get together?

We all met through mutual friends. That’s how it works out there. You start playing with people and then they’re unavailable for a gig so you call a friend of theirs who can do it and it’s all one big link. Right now I’m very fortunate to have some talented guys on the road with me. My guitar player is my husband, John, and with him we have a fiddle player, bass, drums, acoustic guitar, and occasionally keys. Not to mention they’re all super nice and down to earth which goes along way with me. You can be a really great player but if you aren’t easy to get a long with and friendly, it’s not going to work out.

EOAF: What is your favorite song to cover and why?

I love to do anything by Aerosmith. If I could die and come back as someone else in this world, I’d be Steven Tyler. I just love everything they’ve done. Right now we cover “Crying”. I saw Steven Tyler and Carrie Underwood cover it and I thought, “I HAVE to do that!” I also love the song “All I Wanna Do Is Make Love To You” by Heart. I watched my Mama sing along to it on the radio as a little girl and I love singing it now. I’m country to the bone but I’ve got a little bit of a rock ‘n roll heart too. I’d love to work some Fleetwood Mac into my set.

EOAF: What is your “must have” when you are on the road?

I always have my own pillow and blanket. I’m peculiar about hotel linens and their cleanliness so I always have my own blankets and pillows. I’d also be lost without dry shampoo for my hair.  It’s great for in-between days. Oh yeah, and my husband. He manages me and plays in the band so I probably shouldn’t leave him at home or I wouldn’t know where to go or what to play!

EOAF: How do you feel when you come back home (to NC) to perform? 

North Carolina, especially Greenville and Wilmington, have been so good to me. And even all of the little towns around. Everyone is so supportive and caring. I can always count of seeing some familiar faces in the crowd and someone is always wanting to feed us or offer up a shower and bed for a nap.

EOAF: What do you miss about Greenville?  How did your time at ECU prepare you for where you are today?

Greenville is so wonderful and near and dear to me. I grew up in Wilmington but in a lot of ways I feel like I really grew up and learned who I was in Greenville. The small town, the close-knit community, I just love that. I really miss Saturdays in the stand cheering on the Pirates too and tailgating with my friends. I majored in Education at ECU. I thought I needed a “real” career, but I started a band while I was in college. Getting my start playing around Greenville really taught me so much and prepared me to move the band to Nashville and take this more seriously.

EOAF: What do you do when your aren’t writing or touring?  Any other interests or charity work?

I’ve been blessed to work with some great charities over the past couple years. I’ve done some breast cancer and heart research events and I always appreciate being asked to join them. I try to spend as much time with my family any chance that I get. We are all very close and I miss them terribly. On normal days, I spend my time doing things like grocery shopping (my favorite place!) and laundry. I find them relaxing and it brings a sense of normalcy and routine to my life.

EOAF: What advice would you give to a young musician who wants to pursue a music career?

Start a band! Play! To anyone who will listen, it doesn’t matter if you make money. The money will come. Just start a band with really great musicians, practice, take yourself seriously, but not too seriously. No one likes a big ego. And get on the road and play, get your music out there. It doesn’t hurt to move to one of the music capitals of the world,  Nashville, LA, New York. Atlanta’s music scene is really growing a lot too. Surround yourself with people who are doing what you want to do.

It is clear that fame and recognition have not gone to Minor’s head.  She maintains her homegrown charm and light-hearted spirit, which translates into relevant music that keeps her fans coming back for more. Minor’s fall/winter tour is underway.  Check out her website and catch her as she blows through your town!

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Fortune Favors the Bold – The Avett Brothers @ McKittrick Hotel

Scott Avett sang, “I will rearrange my plans and change for you,” during the song “If It’s the Beaches” on Wednesday night, at the McKittrick Hotel in New York City. However, I was the one who found myself changing my plans on September 25, 2013 in order to attend a private Avett Brothers concert in The Heath room of the fictional hotel and home of the off-Broadway play, Sleep No More. The band played an eighteen-song set that was taped for the PBS program, Front and Center. The concert is to be aired in early 2014 in support of their upcoming album, Magpie and the Dandelion, being released on October 15th.

After reading a tweet from The McKittrick Hotel, a routine weekday morning at work quickly ended when I made the decision to board a train to New York City. The hotel was giving away a handful of tickets to Avett Brothers’ fans for a secret event at 8:00pm. The details were minimal, but I had made it to Penn Station and I was determined to win. Constant refreshing of my twitter news feed and a mild addiction to social media paid off–I was in.

At the entrance doors of a warehouse in Chelsea, a host read my name on the guest list and invited me in. I was escorted to a dark and eerie elevator and taken to the fifth floor where the show was to be held. The home of the play, Sleep No More, is a 100,000 square foot building that is modeled to look like a 1930’s hotel, known as The McKittrick Hotel. This special occasion was a rarity for the band, as well as for the hotel. While a show is held at the hotel every night, this concert was much different than what usually happens at Sleep No More. Typically, guests are given white masks and instructed not to speak. They wander the rooms of the haunted hotel and follow actors.  Guests experience the play, based on the story Macbeth, in a much different way. They are told, “Fortune favors the bold,” and are encouraged to stand out from the crowd or they just may be taken into a hidden room or given privy information. Those who have seen the play, return again and again because it’s a different experience every time.

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The Heath room, was decorated like a haunted hotel bar–dark, cozy, and a little bit spooky. The walls of the small room were lined with booths and the floor was full of tables set for two. Drinks were being poured at the bar and large HD television cameras were resting on their tripods. The stage sat crowded with instruments as guests made their way to their seats. A Sleep No More mask lay at the foot of the drum kit. The room held 200 people, but it was not full. I took my seat in the front row, ordered a drink, and admired the elegant décor while I waited for the show to begin.

The band took the stage at 9:00pm. As he plugged in his Martin D35 guitar, Seth Avett whispered into the microphone, “It’s so quiet,” and let out a laugh. They thanked the audience for attending and kicked off the set with the song “Live and Die,” from their 2012 album, The Carpenter. As I sat in my chair, I fought the urge to get up and dance. I assumed the PBS cameraman behind me would not want me blocking his shot.

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The band played crowd favorites, such as “Murder and the City,” “I and Love and You,” and “Laundry Room.” Among the set were also new songs, “Another is Waiting,” “Vanity,” “Morning Song,” and “Apart from Me,” all to be featured on the new album. Having attended several Avett Brothers concerts, I had been waiting to hear “Morning Song” performed live. Although I have not listened to the new album in its entirety, I can already tell this song will be a favorite of mine. The show was intimate and unlike any other I’ve seen. The band told stories and joked with one another throughout the set. Between songs, Scott reminisced about visiting New York City for the first time at age 26. He said he was intimidated by the fast paced city life, but has since grown a love for the city, and was happy to be back. “This is very exciting for us, to be playing a place like this,” he confessed to the audience. The band had created a setlist prior to taking the stage, but changed a number of songs on it to better suit the mood of the room. Scott and Seth would have short debates on what to play next in between many of the songs.

The final song of the encore was “If It’s the Beaches.” A passionate love song, played quietly to a room of attentive ears. The audience rose to their feet and applauded the band whole-heartedly, exchanging ear to ear smiles with the band. It had been a special experience for all of us. I joked with a friend, telling her my face hurt because of the permanent grin I had worn for two straight hours.

In groups of ten, we boarded the elevator and made our way to the exit. Once outside, we saw the band hustle into a van to be whisked away. Fortune favors the bold and fortune certainly favored me when I made the bold move to leave work early on a Wednesday morning. I’m thankful for this experience and look forward to reliving it through the PBS broadcast of Front and Center early next year.

The Avett Brothers will stay in New York for the next few days. They are scheduled to appear at New York’s Town Hall for Another Day, Another Time on Sunday, September 29th. This concert event is celebrating folk music of the 1960s. Several other musicians will be joining, such as Jack White, Marcus Mumford, Joan Baez, Punch Brothers, Collin Meloy, Milk Carton Kids, Patti Smith, Conor Oberst, and more. On Monday, September 30th, The Avett Brothers will return to Late Night with Jimmy Fallon for a television performance on NBC.

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The Setlist 9/25/13:

Live and Die

Laundry Room

Old Joe Clark

Down With the Shine

Another Is Waiting

Morning Song

Go to Sleep

The Prettiest Thing (David Childers cover)

Life

Ballad of Love and Hate

Just a Closer Walk With Thee

Apart From Me

A Father’s First Spring

Vanity

I and Love and You

Encore

Murder in the City

Shady Grove

If It’s the Beaches

For the first time in Evolution of a Fan history, we welcome our first guest blogger, Karissa Sevensky.  Karissa was fortunate enough to share a very special evening with The Avett Brothers at McKittrick Hotel this past week, and kind enough to share her experience and photos with us!  Thank you Karissa.

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Oooohs, Ohm’s, and Ohhhmmms: Concert Etiquette, Physics, and Yoga

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From the stressful thrill of purchasing tickets to inevitably sitting in bumper to bumper traffic, no other music experience can quite compare to the coveted live show.  There is the build-up, the planning, and the pregaming that  leads up to the big event, during which time fans speculate on anything and everything from the potential “gems” that may be played to the probability of getting a perfect vantage point in the GA pit section.  This type of speculation tends to linger until the lights and house music come on to indicate that the show is over–that is unless you plan to try to meet the band after the show, which brings on an entirely new level of anxiety and hypothetical scenarios.

For those who are familiar with the live show experience, it is well-known that the overall experience itself depends on several factors–the band’s energy, acoustics, security staff attitude, weather (if outdoors), lighting and stage effects, etc.  While all of those factors are important, nothing quite kills the vibe of a live show more than a rude or obnoxious person in the crowd.  Whether it’s a drunk, belligerent frat boy, an eager Instagramer, an incessant texter, a tone-deaf wannabe singer, or that person who will just not shut-up, these people will successfully and often single-handedly ruin shows for both the crowd and the band, time and time again.

The debate about concert etiquette is certainly not a new one.  However, over the past decade we have moved into new territory with the advancement of technology, where every concert goer is packing a smart phone or pocket-sized camera.  With the smart phone comes endless options for distraction during a show–Facebook updates, Instagram uploads, tweets, texts, emails, concert calls, and–the worst yet–actually having a conversation with someone while standing in a crowd of people who are trying to enjoy the show.

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These disruptive and distracting behaviors don’t only affect the crowd, but can translate all the way up to the stage.  If fans think that musicians are just going through the motions and not trading energy with the crowd, they have obviously forgotten one of the simplest laws of physics–The Law of Conservation of Energy.  Thanks to ancient philosophers, we know that energy is neither created nor destroyed.  Rather, it is converted, which in concert terms means that there is an ebb and flow of energy between a musician and the crowd.  If you think of it in terms of science, it makes perfect sense.

Anyone who pays attention can tell that musicians definitely adjust their energy depending on the crowd’s energy.  Take Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend, for example, who recently told Rolling Stone Magazine (August 15, 2013 issue) what he thinks about while on stage:

I used to believe that it was up to the band to set the tone at a show, but now, having played a thousand shows or so, I think the crowd has a bigger effect.  It’s funny.  When the crowd is really bad — when they don’t give a fuck, or you’re playing some awkward festival — you work extra hard.  And of course, when the crowd’s going crazy, it brings something out of you.

In Koenig’s case, a bad crowd may motivate him to work harder, but that is certainly not the case for others musicians.  As fans, we can’t control how a musician responds on stage, but we can modify our approach to the concert experience.  The first step is to take the focus off of yourself and put it on the collective.  Let’s look at the example of the eager Instagramer.  The temptation to capture every moment of a show is real–I’ve been there, done that, and may do it again.  While snapping a few choice photos throughout the show is acceptable, watching the entire show through the tiny, bright screen of your phone is a waste of money and annoys the people behind you.  I realize that it takes a conscious effort to fight that temptation, but if you start to think outside of yourself it is possible.  When you view the concert as an experience of the whole rather than its separate parts, that temptation will fade.

An easy way to do this is to approach a live show like you would a 90-minute Bikram yoga class, where it is seriously frowned upon to disrupt the energy of the room and the experience by serving your own needs.  You suppress the desire to leave the class because it’s hot as Hades, your down-dog is pathetic, and you have to pee.  You push through for the group and the final emotional, physical, and mental experience is that much sweeter–for everyone.

While there are several articles that boast lists of proper concert etiquette, it really just comes down to the fan’s approach.  If you jump in that pit with a self-serving attitude, you are sure to piss people off and potentially get yourself escorted out.  If you approach the show from a point of view of respect for others and fellowship, you will elevate the experience to a euphoric level.  So, at your next concert if you are doubting this approach, try channeling your inner yogi, let out a quiet ohhhhmmmm, and watch as the energy spreads to the group.

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DISCLAIMER: Like my yoga practice, my concert going practice is an ongoing work in progress, so if this comes off as preachy, don’t worry, I’m preaching to myself as well!

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Box Office Adventures – First World Hipster Problems

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I arrived in downtown Richmond with 10 minutes to spare.  It was 9:50 AM, and The National’s box office was just about to open.  As I rounded the corner and approached the historic theater, a line full of single-speeds, jorts, and carefully coiffed facial hair came into view–the River City hipsters had beaten me to the box office.  What on God’s green earth could get hipsters out of bed before noon on a Friday?

Three words–Neutral Milk Hotel.

The last time I saw a line like this at The National’s box office was back in 2010 when Widespread Panic tickets were going on sale.  It was snowing, but that didn’t faze those hippies.  They sat patiently and waited for a chance to buy tickets to see their beloved jam band.  That’s what devoted fans do.  And, no matter the type of fan–hipsters, hippies, hip-hop junkies–if there is a chance that their favorite band’s show will sell out quickly, the line inevitably turns into an adult version of our favorite childhood game Telephone, where rumors run rampant and anxiety builds as the line lengthens.

That Friday morning was no different.  Though hipsters may want you to believe that they are trailblazers–leading the way with their thrift store style and non-conformist attitudes–they too succumb to the box office woes that plague the rest of us not-so-hip-sters.

I got into line behind about 2 dozen hipsters, and was quickly handed an info card to fill out–name, address, credit card information, number of tickets to be purchased, etc.  This was intense and quite honestly, a lot to ask of these young, sleep-deprived 20-somethings.  Grumbles rippled through the line.

“What is this for?” asked a girl behind me.  “Do we actually get tickets when we get up there?”

I assumed the answer was yes, but the tall lanky guy behind her had a different take on the situation.

“Um, like, I’m pretty sure it’s just like a lottery, and like all we are doing is waiting in line to be put into the lottery to see if we can maybe get tickets.”

Well that’s complete horse shit.  I didn’t drive 3 hours to get put into a damn lottery.  Others shot him looks of anxious skepticism with this new information.  Immediately, everyone within an ear shot whipped out their iPhones and searched frantically for anything that could confirm or deny Mr. Lanky’s revelation.

NEUTRAL MILK HOTEL TICKETS ON SALE AT 10:00 AM EST

Phew.  Thank goodness!  What did Mr. Lanky know anyway?  A sigh of relief echoed down Broad Street.  Wait, hold up…what does that sign say over there?

LOTTERY PROCEEDINGS FOR NEUTRAL MILK HOTEL

(WHAT!? Heart rate increasing–panic setting in…)

-Lottery tickets and info cards will be handed out at 9AM sharp

(Lottery!?  Wait, it’s 9:55 and I didn’t get a lottery ticket.  WTF!?)

-Everyone in line at that time will receive a lottery ticket

(WHERE IS MY LOTTERY TICKET!?  ALL I HAVE IS THIS STUPID INFO CARD!)

-A number will be drawn and the corresponding lottery ticket holder will become first in line

(Seriously!?  There’s no way the guy with the handlebar mustache and mesh tank top who just rolled up is going to get dibs before me)

-The line will form numerically thereafter.  Make sure you have your ticket in hand when reaching the window

(Who is in charge here!?  I DON’T HAVE A TICKET!!!!)

-Tickets go on sale at 10AM

(Ohhhh…Duh…I knew Mr. Lanky was full of it–heart rate returning to normal)

Okay, now we knew that the lottery theory applied only to people who got in line super early, which was NO ONE (hipsters aren’t THAT motivated).  It was now 10:10 AM, and while the box office was open, they were moving at a sloth’s pace.  The first guy to get a ticket walked back to chat with the fashionably disheveled guy directly behind me.

“Dude, did you get an actual ticket?!”  he asked.

“Um, well all of the tickets are will call, but yeah, of course I bought a ticket.  Isn’t that why you are here?” Mr. First-in-line replied.

“Yeh, but some jockstrap back there said something about a lottery, and we all just about lost it.  I am thinking about just buying them online.  I’m looking it up right now.  This line is moving too slow.  I seriously need to go back to bed ’til about 3:00,” he mumbled.

“Well, you should get to the front in about 15 minutes.  Is that worth $10 in extra processing fees?”

While the evil Ticketmaster processing fee debate transpired, a threesome in front of me caught my attention.  Two girls and a guy, all dressed up nicely for graduation day at VCU.  The girl in the blue sequins dress and thick rimmed spectacles beamed with excitement–not because she was about to celebrate the culmination of all of her hard work over the past 4 years, but because she was getting closer to solidifying her chance of seeing Jeff Mangum up close and personal.  Priorities people–get with it.

Her girl friend was obviously just there for moral support, although she did look the part with her layered lace dress, flats, and unkempt pulled-back hairdo.

“I don’t even like Neutral Milk Hotel,” she admitted louder than her friends would have liked.

“SHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! Don’t say that here!” they pleaded in unison, as they looked around to see if anyone heard her.

That was like the hipster kiss of death–well perhaps yelling “I hate Radiohead” in a Brooklyn dive bar is a greater offense, but that’s a whole different story.  Statements of that nature could seriously damage a hipster’s street cred.  I couldn’t help but laugh at the entire scene, and since I was dressed like a 34-year old Maxxinista, they knew I had no pull in the hipster community.  Their secret was safe with me–another catastrophe eschewed.

“Boom! I just got two tickets.  I’m outta here,” said Mr. Ineedanap behind me.  He must have had Verizon because I couldn’t get a flippin’ signal if I was covered head to toe in tin foil.  Damn you Sprint!  I, too, had contemplated just taking a hit on the processing fees, because–God forbid–I get to the window and they are sold out.  My husband would be crushed.

A few yards back came an outburst, “They just sold out online!”

And three…two…one…PANIC!  It was only 10:20 AM, we had moved maybe a foot and a half closer to the box office window and there was no telling how many tickets they had set aside for the locals.  This was becoming more stressful than an Avett Brothers’ presale.  I found myself completely relating to the hipster’s dilemma, and I was right there with them, speculating, postulating, and praying to the music gods that it would all work out.

The young man directly behind me, now that Mr. Ineedanap was gone, was also graduating that afternoon.  He was in a state of quiet panic, and hid it well as he buried his face in a paperback while he waited–apparently real books are cool to read again.  Thank you hipsters!  After getting bored with the book, he fumbled through his tattered canvas delivery bag, trying to bide some time as we inched closer and closer to the box office window.

“I have to get these tickets.  I mean, I’m graduating today.  I deserve it, right?!”  He was one of those hipsters you just want to fold up, put in your pocket, and take home with you–sweet and friendly, with the perfect amount of piercings and tattoos, who made an army green t-shirt and cut-offs look like they belong on the runway in Milan.

“Yes, of course you deserve tickets,” I assured him.  He was like a puppy who had lost his way–endearingly pathetic.  My mind raced and I thought, “What if I get to the window and I am the last person who can get tickets?!  Should I give them to this kid?  I mean, it is his graduation day. Ugh, damn you Haley Joel Osment and your whole pay it forward campaign!”

I was next in line.  Breathe. Speculate. Breathe. Speculate. The blue sequined dress girl chirped with joy as she was handed a receipt.  It was my turn, and by all accounts it appeared that there were still tickets left.  Phew.  However, I still could have been buying the last two.  So I did what I do best–got nosy.

“Soooo…did you guys like put aside a specific amount of tickets for locals?” I asked.

“Yes.  I’m hoping that we have enough to help everyone here today, but I am not totally sure,”  the girl behind the glass responded.

That was enough of a confirmation that my nervous neighbor in line would be getting his graduation present today, and I wouldn’t have to disappoint the husband with my “pay it forward to a hipster” story–yet another disaster avoided.

I received my receipt, congratulated the graduate, and went on my way, thankful that I had secured two tickets to see an amazing band that hasn’t toured together in 15 years.  It’s pretty interesting to think about the fact that 90% of the people in that line weren’t even born when Neutral Milk Hotel released their first EP.  It just goes to show you that great music is powerful enough to infiltrate one of the most discerning of communities out there–the mighty hipsters.

The show sold out quickly thereafter.  You better believe that I will be looking for my line mates come October 12th.  If by chance I see them, I will be sure to buy them each a tallboy PBR to celebrate our recent box office adventures.  That is…if tallboy PBRs are still hip in 5 months.

Author’s note:  I caught Jeff Mangum’s solo performance this year in Wilmington, and it blew my mind.  What I found extremely telling was that it was the hipsters who were polite and attentive in the audience, while the drunk 30-40 somethings needed to be told to pipe down or leave.  Perhaps this new generation can teach the older generations a thing or two about concert etiquette.  Tighten up Generation X!

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Spring Music Festival Spotlight – MerleFest 2013

Racn - 2002

MerleFest, April 25-28, 2013 @ Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro NC

MerleFest is a family friendly music festival that was founded in 1988 in memory of Eddy Merle Watson — son of American music legend Doc Watson.  For over 25 years, the festival has maintained its original purpose–to raise funds for Wilkes Community College while celebrating “traditional plus” music. Today, MerleFest is considered one of the top music festivals in the country, drawing more than 75,000 festival goers and some of the biggest names in traditional bluegrass, country, Americana, folk, rock and more.  This year’s festival will feature over 90 musicians on 14 stages over the course of four days, so festival goers are encouraged to download the MerleFest app before they arrive to ensure the ultimate festival experience!

In true MerleFest fashion, festival organizers have gone above and beyond to congregate the best of the best at WCC.  This year’s lineup features rising musicians like The Black Lillies, Pokey LaFarge, and Delta Rae alongside industry vets like Jim Lauderdale, Jerry Douglas, and headliners The Charlie Daniels Band, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and Warren Haynes & Gov’t Mule. Additionally, local favorites, The Avett Brothers, have signed-on to closeout the festival on Sunday afternoon, but not before their talented father, Jim Avett, takes the Creekside Stage to perform a special family gospel set.  In addition to this year’s stacked lineup, Sam Bush will host an all-star tribute jam on Saturday night to honor the life and music of the festival’s founding father Doc Watson, who sadly passed away last year.

While it is true that MerleFest mainly involves relaxing and enjoying the company of old and new friends while taking in amazing live performances, there are also several opportunities for fans to get involved and play some music themselves.  Musically inclined fans can join others to pick, sing, and learn at Jam Camp, Pickin’ Place, and The Songwriters’ Coffeehouse.  Young festival goers may enjoy spending some time in the Little Pickers Family Area, while fans of all ages can venture out into the WCC campus woods for a Nature Walk.  MerleFest also features a series of contests for musicians and songwriters, including The Merle Watson Bluegrass Banjo Championship, The Doc Watson Guitar Championship, and The Chris Austin Songwriting Contest.  The twelve finalists for the CASC will perform on the Austin Stage on Friday, April 26th at 2:00 PM, and will be judged by a panel of music industry professionals, including Jim Lauderdale.  The first place winner will receive a performance slot on the Cabin Stage that evening.  All proceeds from the CASC benefit the WCC Chris Austin Memorial Scholarship.  And, last but certainly not least is the Saturday night Midnight Jam — a fun and often rowdy festival tradition!

If you are looking for a music festival to kick off the spring season, MerleFest is for you!  Load up your car, head out to Wilkesboro, set up a tent at one of the many surrounding campsites, and be prepared to have your mind blown by some of the music industry’s best.  Multi- and single-day tickets are still available. For more information about MerleFest, musicians, and festival events, please visit  www.merlefest.org.

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