Category Archives: Live Shows

MerleFest Spotlight – Todd Albright

Todd Albright is bringing his blues to MerleFest again this year, with three separate performances across three stages.  A gifted musician and historian, Albright meshes his pre-war blues with vivid storytelling–a talent that keeps fans engaged and excited between songs.

Be sure to catch Albright over the weekend at any or all of these performances:

Friday, April 26, 2019 @ 11:35 AM – 12:00 PM @ Cabin Stage
Saturday, April 27, 2019 @ 3:25 PM – 3:55 PM @ Austin Stage
Sunday, April 28, 2019 @ 11:00 AM – 12:00 PM @ Americana Stage

If you can’t make it to MerleFest this year, check out Albright’s sound on this 2017 Live on KEXP session!

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Festivals, Live Shows, Music

Interview – Lindsay Craven, Merlefest’s New Artist Relations Manager

Image-1

Festival season is upon us…

For many festivarians, each year is greeted not only with new wishes for success, health and prosperity, but also with a child-like giddiness as they await the first signs of music festival lineup teasers and announcements.

Whether longing for the lush, legendary landscape of Mountain Jam, the boho-chic vibe of Coachella, the gritty soul of New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival or the harbor breeze of Newport Folk Festival–there is certainly a festival out there for any and all musical tastes.  While the overall feel, location and extra perks may entice festival goers to consider buying that multi-day festival ticket package, it really is the lineup that seals the deal.

So, what exactly goes in to putting together a stellar festival lineup?  It certainly doesn’t just appear out of thin air.  On the contrary, planning and confirming a multi-day, multi-stage music festival lineup often involves a dedicated and innovative team of people who start reaching out and booking artists over a year in advance.

A lineup for everyone…

To learn a bit more about the process, EOAF caught up with Lindsay Craven, the newest Artist Relations Manager for MerleFest–North Carolina’s premiere music festival.   Now in its 32nd year, MerleFest continues to stay true to its “traditional plus” and family friendly roots.   Craven credits the late, legendary musician and festival founder, Doc Watson, for laying the groundwork and creating a culture that celebrates all types of music, not just that of the western NC region.

“We’re very thankful to Doc, for developing that phrase [traditional plus].  And, it’s very much what Doc did.  Doc’s music wasn’t restricted to bluegrass or blues, and he loved everything.  He wanted us to share all kinds of music with people,” Craven said.

After over three decades, “traditional plus” remains the driving force for anyone in charge of booking artists and filling out the four-day festival schedule across 13 stages.  By bringing in the industry’s best in traditional Appalachian and Bluegrass music, in addition to Americana, Folk, Rock, Blues, and Gospel, MerleFest appeals to a wide, diverse audience that travels to the great Tar Heel state in late April every year.  The diversity of genre and dedication to keeping the festival family friendly really set MerleFest apart from other big festivals.

“With audiences that aren’t familiar with the festival, I think a lot of people just say we’re just a Bluegrass festival, or that we’re just old-timey country music and it’s just not the case at all. We have those things, but we have lots of others. The traditional plus motto is far from one musical genre. You’d be hard pressed to be any kind of music fan and come to MerleFest and not find something you like,” Craven said.

Though she’s worked part-time for MerleFest in some capacity for over a decade, Craven was hired into this full-time position in July 2018, and has been non-stop ever since.  Craven worked directly under previous Artist Relations Manager–Steve Johnson–learning first hand the enormous amount of work that goes into setting a lineup.

“Steve knew during last year’s festival that he was going to be moving out.  So, he did a lot of work ahead of time to help us stay on track and not start from way behind…we’re really appreciative to him for everything he did to make sure it was kind of a seamless transition, as much as it could be,” Craven said.

While Johnson did a great deal of work leading up to his departure, the business of booking artists and setting a lineup can often feel like watching the shifting sands of The Outerbanks.  The landscape can change daily, and early plans do not always stay in place.

“A lot of our headliners changed from the original plan just because of scheduling conflicts, money not working out, and things like that,” Craven said.

Though green in this particular position, Craven had to solve some significant problems in her first few months.  By all accounts, it looks as if she took the proverbial bull by the horns and accepted the challenge, because this year’s headliners are superb–The Avett Brothers, Brandi Carlile, Amos Lee, Wynonna and The Big Noise–along with heavy-hitters like Keb’Mo’, The Milk Carton Kids, and Tyler Childers.   Let us not forget the MerleFest alumni, who fans return for year after year–Sam Bush, Peter Rowan, Kruger Brothers, Scythian and more.

“[The most challenging part of booking] is competing with the amazing number of music events and venues in North Carolina now. Just trying not to overlap artists that the same audience can see in five different places within a year. It’s fantastic that there are so many music venues and there are so many music festivals. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. It’s just a huge thing to compete with when planning said festival,” Craven said.

Let the fans be heard…

Artist Relations Managers, also often called Talent Buyers, rely not only on their team to help build out a lineup, but also on the festival fan base.  Social media platforms have changed the way fans and artists can communicate directly with festival organizers.

“I pay attention to [the artists’] social media pages to see what kind of following they have. We listen to their music.  We pay attention to our own social media, too, to see what people are asking for,” Craven said.

Festival organizers often post teasers or clues leading up to the initial lineup announcements, to get the fan base excited.  At least for MerleFest, the responses that come out of those teasers become important in terms of current or future lineups.

“Since this is my first year in this particular job, I’ve really been paying attention with each announcement–what people were guessing right before we made the announcement, and then what they hope to see on the next announcement.  If we don’t have [the artists] on the docket already, I make sure I make a list of those people and consider those for going forward,” Craven said.

Painting the canvas…

Outside of fan feedback, Craven and her team search for talent through different music association awards and conferences–namely the Americana Music Awards (AMA’s) and International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) annual conference, respectively.  Additionally, there is a longtime running “wish list” that has trickled down from each former artist relations manager that now sits in Craven’s hands.

“In the beginning, it’s just kind of an open canvas.  We are just looking at our wish list and looking at the chatter from other events, saying ‘what seems to be doing well?’ and seeing if would fit for us and fit our budget,” Craven said.

As that canvas fills up, other elements–like spreading genres across multiple stages–begin to factor in to the planning equation.

“As we get closer to festival time, it gets a little more scientific in trying to see, well, [this artist] has to go on this stage so we kind of want more of this flavor of music,” Craven said.

According to Craven, MerleFest artists fall into one of three main categories, “the ones that are here every year, the headliners, and the people we have fresh and new every year.”

Communication with artists can take many forms, and this typically depends on the level of artist/band success and/or the longstanding relationship with the festival.

“We have some artists that are here year in and year out, and most of those artist we communicate directly with.  The bigger artists–The Avetts, Brandi, Amos–we talk with their agents initially, and then the tour manager for sure.  We rarely talk to them directly,” Craven said.

Much of Craven’s work involves reaching out to the agencies that have worked with MerleFest in the past to learn about up and coming artists.  They discuss budget and schedules and try to see if it will work for all parties involved.  The final MerleFest lineup boasts over 100 artists, not including those who have been invited to compete in the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest.

“It’s a big job,” Craven said.

And a big job requires a big budget in order to pull in the best artists and to ensure smooth operations from start to finish. The MerleFest budget is determined year to year by past and projected attendance. Interestingly, MerleFest is a fundraiser for Wilkes Community College, further strengthening the symbiotic relationship between the festival and college.

Though Craven’s main responsibility is to direct the booking process, the work doesn’t stop once the contracts are signed on the dotted line.   With the lineup set and about a month to go, Craven is currently busy with the artist relations portion of her job–hotel reservations, merchandise, direct communication with artists, and coordinating schedules.

A path to MerleFest…

So, how did Craven get to sit in her current position–perhaps a little luck, certainly a lot of working up through the ranks, and an immeasurable amount of drive and good old-fashioned love for the work.  A journalism major and graduate of Appalachian State University (App State), Craven always had a spark for the entertainment industry.

“I always thought I was going to be an entertainment writer.  That was my initial goal.  The funny thing is, I guess it was in middle school, I think we were doing some school project where we had to decide what we want to be and [we had to look] through these books that had all kinds of different job descriptions and what you needed to do to go to school to become that.  There wasn’t an artist relations, it was artist representative, or something along those lines, and that was what I did my school project on,” Craven said.

So, when she decided to apply to App State’s artist management program, it seemed like a good fit, until she learned she had to be a music major.

“It wasn’t an option to pursue that particular degree.  But, I kind of fell into anyway,” Craven said.

Falling into this role, sounds a bit passive, when actually her path to MerleFest has been more than just being in the right place at the right time.  During her undergrad years, Craven was proactive in getting involved in local opportunities that aligned with her interests and skills.  A simple perusal of the internship listings on App State’s website seems to have been the catalyst to pave the way.

“I started with [MerleFest] as an intern in 2007, and then came back again as an intern in 2008.  And then after I graduated, I filled in throughout the year whenever they needed extra help.  In and around credential time, or around some announcements and things like that, they need an extra body in an office to get some information from artists.  And every year I’m here for the festival working in the artist relations trailer,” Craven said.

Her MerleFest experience over the next several years, led her to the Yadkin Arts Council, where she worked as their Executive Director.

“I did all of the booking for our theater there, for the last five or six years. It’s a very, very small staff. So, due to all of the experience I gained from basically wearing all of the hats at that theater, that’s what got me to the point where I was qualified enough between what I’d learned working [at MerleFest] and what I learned working there, that they felt that I would work in this role,” Craven said.

From MerleFest to Yadkin Arts Council and back to MerleFest, Craven positioned herself to be both primed by those who came before her and primed by her own career ventures to succeed in her new role.

A bit of advice…

Somewhere, there is an eager, starry-eyed middle schooler writing a paper about the glamorous life of an Artist Relations Manager. Craven, having put in over a decade of hard work–both paid and unpaid–can offer some sage advice to those who may wish to follow in her footsteps.

“Work for any and every opportunity. This all came about just because I was looking at internship listings on the App State website. Look local. It doesn’t always have to be the biggest thing. You don’t have to be working stage-coach for Bonnaroo. You can start small and there are so many small festivals out there right now,” Craven said.

Opportunities are not always paid, and those are often the ones that get a foot in the door.

“[Festivals] are looking for young talent with energy to volunteer and help. And that is important. You have to be willing to volunteer. You’re not going to get paid right away or probably for a very long time. But, if you stick with it, you’re going to make connections. If you are hard-working and dependable, people are going to see that and when something comes available, they’re going to be looking to somebody that they can trust and count on,” Craven said.

Having a genuine love for and understanding of music and the festival scene and showing up year after year are important elements that have translated into a successful career trajectory for Craven.

“You don’t have to listen to every single artists on the docket, but you should at least have a desire to know and appreciate the music you’re presenting,” Craven said.

Making her mark…

Aside from booking talent, Craven has also been very focused on observing the vast number of traditions that take place each year at MerleFest. While she is excited to make her mark on the 2020 lineup, her experience with MerleFest has taught her the importance of maintaining the festival’s rich and cherished traditions. From coordinating the Veteran’s Jam and Mando-mania to planning outreach performances at 17 Wilkes county schools, Craven’s job goes beyond what the main lineup schedule indicates.

“There are lots of individual things that go into the festival that aren’t just what you’re seeing on the stages. I’ve got to learn what things happen year in and year out, so I make sure I build those in and don’t mess with any of our traditions,” Craven said.

With tradition comes a level of expectation, in particular from those artists who have made MerleFest an annual event over several years.

“We don’t want to offend any of the artists that have been with us a long time. We value them. We want to honor what they do and continue to bring new and interesting things for people to see. I am just trying to make sure I learned lessons before I get super deep into putting a schedule together. Right now, I am getting through the first festival and making sure I know as much as I can before I dive head first into throwing a ton of offers out,” Craven said.

MerleFest 2020 will be Craven’s first full run in this position, and she already planning out how her workspace will function best to match her visual mind–giant empty versions of the stage schedules plastered across her walls with an endless supply of dry erase markers and sticky notes.

“I have to see it all out in front of me. It’s easier to look at one big wall of things as opposed to 20 pages over four days,” Craven said.

One can imagine the thrill Craven will feel as she begins to fill the empty time slots for MerleFest 2020. Orchestrating such a beast of a production with so many moving parts is not for a disorganized mind. It takes creativity, imagination, and the ability to envision how the whole experience will translate into something greater than the sum of its many parts. With that creative freedom comes a heavy responsibility to also maintain the elements that make MerleFest such an amazing festival.

“I really don’t think that there’s anything more that I would add to the festival. I really feel like our goal is to not work on getting bigger, but keeping our event the best quality that it can be. If at some point an opportunity presents itself, that we could expand something or create something new, we’re never opposed to those kinds of opportunities. But, it’s not something I’m actively looking to do right now. We’re more focused on just making sure we keep it top-quality and keep all the things that people expect from it,” Craven said.

Once the dust settles from MerleFest 2019, Craven will be right back at it, standing wide-eyed in front of her blank canvas with that same child-like giddiness music fans experience when a lineup unfolds before them. It is evident that Craven’s unique journey through the MerleFest ranks has prepared her to excel in this position for years to come, and it will be exciting to watch lineups evolve across her tenure.

For more information about lineup and tickets, please visit Merlefest.org.

Are you headed to MerleFest this year?  If so, download your MerleFest ’19 app for Apple or Android to make your experience even better!

Leave a comment

Filed under Festivals, Interview, Live Shows

2019 MerleFest Lineup

Racn - 2002

Now in its 32nd year, MerleFest is well-known as a family-friendly, 4-day music festival tucked into the rolling hills of western NC.  Boasting 13 stages, this tight-knit, yet “busking at the seams” festival  books the industry’s best from bluegrass, folk, Americana, country, rock, gospel and more.  Year after year, festival organizers leave little in terms of wants from their loyal fan base.  Whether it is the supersized lineup, intimate songwriter workshops, late night test revivals, kid’s activities, unique local vendors, or square dancing lessons, there is something for absolutely everyone.

Take a look at this year’s lineup and it is easy to see that the loyal Merelfest fan base is about to explode.  Stacked with both beloved alumni and a new class of fresh faces, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better music festival at a better price.  This year’s headliners include, The Avett Brothers, Brandie Carlile (coming off a heart-wrenching Grammy performance and huge win), Amos Lee, and Wynonna and the Big Noise, along with heavy-hitters Keb’ Mo’, The Milk Carton Kids, and Tyler Childers.  Festival traditionalists will find comfort in the return of Jerry Douglas, Sam Bush Band, Peter Rowan, Jim Lauderdale, The Del McCoury Band, Scythian, and The Kruger Brothers to name a few.   And don’t forget to stick around for some good ol’ fashioned storytelling, singing, and salvation at Jim Avett’s Gospel Hour on Sunday morning.

EOAF’s 2019 Fresh Face to watch is Molly Tuttle–the magic she creates when her fingers meet the strings will leave your mouth agape and your heart pounding.  Check her out yourself:

Muilti-day tickets packages and single-day tickets are now on sale for the April 25-28, 2019 festival.  Kids 12 and under are free (what a deal!).  The festival takes place on the beautiful, lush campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, NC.    For more information visit merlefest.org.

Leave a comment

Filed under Festivals, Live Shows, Music, Uncategorized

Tank and the Bangas @ Haw River Ballroom 5/12/18

I went in blind.  Meaning, the only exposure I had to the New Orleans-based band, Tank and the Bangas, prior to their SOLD OUT show at Haw River Ballroom in Saxapahaw, NC, was a 20-minute snapshot through the lens of NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert Series.  I was the fish, and I was hooked.

When I found out that a few days after this discovery, Tarriona “Tank” Ball and her Bangas would descend on that utopia along the banks of the Haw River, I made the conscious decision to stay above ground, avoiding the YouTube rabbit holes.  I wanted my virgin live experience to be pure.  I wanted every moment to feel new, which is in itself a lofty desire, but one I was willing to put out into the universe. I was not disappointed.

Tank – They must call her Tank because of the presence she brings when she enters the room–formidable and strong on the outside with intricate, delicate machinery on the inside.  A mix of fury and finesse, Tank shared her tornado of expressions without pause.  Within seconds on stage, the joy in her face and the swing in her hips told the crowd that it was time to have fun, and that while the carnival of emotions might take us from elation to exhaustion, all of it should be embraced. 

 

With close to three decades of life experience under her belt, Tank has stories to tell.  That night, below the glow of the word THRILLS, Tank seamlessly wove these stories together, calling upon childhood fearlessness to emerge again despite the confines of adult responsibilities.  Her authenticity and old-soul wisdom empowered and energized the crowd effortlessly.

The juxtaposition of her strength and fragility was simultaneously conflicting and comforting.  This push-pull generational struggle was embodied by the multiple personalities tucked in the pockets of her limitless vocal range.  From her wide-eyed, bright-pitched, girlish pops and squeals to her salt-of-the-earth, gritty, seasoned tones, Tank covered the spectrum of emotions easily in the first five minutes she was on stage. 

In life, people like to categorize things–place them in tidy, little boxes.  We are all guilty to some degree of this practice.  As I watched and listened, it became harder and harder to put Tank in a box.  She exudes originality, so much so that making direct comparisons to other female artists is futile.  Capturing her style in one or two words is like playing an endless game of whack-a-mole.  Just when you think you can nail her down, she’s gone.

The Bangas – Tank was joined on stage by Anjelika “Jelly” Joseph (background vocals), Norman Spence (keys), Joshua Johnson (drums), Albert Allenback (flute, alto saxophone), Merell Burkett (keys), Danny Abel (guitar) and Jonathan Johnson (bass).  Collectively known as The Bangas, this crew of artists lifted Tank to another level.  The standout element of improvisation across all instruments (voices included) made the whole show feel less like a cookie-cutter production and much more like a jam-band, gospel, funkdified tent revival–paddle fans, praising hands, crowd participation and all!

Worth noting is Ms. Joseph’s contribution to the whole live experience.  While Jelly is labeled a background singer, and has been called Tank’s “fly girl,” my impression after seeing her live is that those labels don’t quite hit the mark.  Sure, she helps keep the crowd hype, but she also shines in her own light–out from Tank’s shadow.  The tightness of her vocals with Tank’s felt genetic, like sisters who spent their lives singing together.  The love and respect between these two was palpable.  To be obvious, she’s the jelly to Tank’s peanut butter–you don’t have one without the other.

The Show – While I expected similar feelings to those I felt watching that Tiny Desk Concert, what I could have never predicted was the myriad of places the band would take me throughout the set.  As a kid growing up with the rise of hip-hop in the 80s and 90s, I was transported back to my days of parachute pants and one-strap overalls.  It felt as if I was witnessing a modern-day resurrection of Native Tongues, but with a new twist–spoken word and smooth, soulful jazz peppered with hip-hop, rock, punk, and Broadway theatrics.  Welcome to Bangaville.

Spoken word erupted in the 1950s in the US, and has evolved over decades of war, oppression and  social injustice, as a means to bring words to life—give them depth and dimension that is often denied in printed poetry.  This art, achieved through an intense and syncopated delivery that demands attention, is the centerpiece of Tank’s brilliance.  And while she certainly can and has commanded a crowd as a solo artist, the richness offered by The Bangas, expands the ripple effect far beyond the confines of a one-woman show.

At one point in the show, Tank asked, “Did you think I went through all that I went through to stay the same?”  Profound statements like this were sprinkled throughout the set, making it almost impossible not to stop and reflect.  In between the fun, silly moments, a message of hope and the importance of self-acceptance embraced the audience without warning or apology.

The set itself was solid, including fan-favorites Walmart, Boxes and Squares, Oh Heart, and their newest hit Smoke Netflix Chill.  The band took us all back in time with a rambunctious cover of Nirvana’s 1991 hit Smells Like Teen Spirit and a slowed-down soulful rendition of Outkast’s 2003 jam Roses

Following the set, and a brief moment off-stage, Tank and the Bangas reemerged to encore with Rollercoaster–a perfect way to end what was in itself an evening of ups, downs, twists, turns, and as my three-year old son would describe it, “tummy tickles.”  As the house lights came up, I looked back on the sold out crowd– a sea of faces lit up like the 4th of July, ready to get back in line and take another ride.

 

To learn more about Tank and the Bangas visit: http://www.tankandthebangas.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Fans, Live Shows, Review

Evolution of a Song – “Rejects in the Attic” – Part 1

It has been almost four years since Seth and Scott Avett debuted Rejects in the Attic at an intimate Merlefest songwriter’s workshop.  That morning, fans nestled into the 200-seat auditorium with grand hopes that they would witness something truly special.  I doubt that any of us were prepared for this song and the palpable heartache that echoed through Seth’s microphone.   Once an orphaned sheet of scribbled lyrics buried in a disheveled pile, Seth dusted off Rejects, dismantled it and pieced it back together, replacing Scott’s pain and vulnerability with his own.

As fans, we speculate on what may drive the emotion behind such a heavy song–despair, regret, shame, hopelessness.  Though we will never fully understand the twisted path a song takes from start to finish–even when written by two brothers, years apart–it was clear that on that day, as Seth sat with his journal and heart left open for the world to see, the pain behind those lyrics being uttered in public for the first time was fresh and present and very personal.

Seth’s face told a story of sleepless nights and mental anguish. With eyes shut, the weighty lyrics left his lips to find sympathetic ears and sturdy shoulders.  Suddenly, we realized that we were there to share the burden.  We held our breath and took it in, collectively acknowledging the therapeutic exchange that was unfolding before us.  We were not just a passive sounding board that day, but rather a living, breathing levee taking on a flood of emotion.  And just when we thought the chairs may buckle beneath us, Seth opened his eyes, looked to the sky and asked us for more.   We obliged, hopeful that whatever role we played that day for him allowed those holes of pain to be filled in with new found joy.

As Seth closed the song, an almost embarrassed smile spread across his face like that of a grade school kid who just finished reading aloud his first poem in English class.  That bashful authenticity reminded us all that even though we often find ourselves separated from them by a steel barrier or tour bus window, we are all just a bunch of rejects riding through this crazy, beautiful, painful experience together.

1 Comment

Filed under Fans, Live Shows, Music

Interview – Paleface

Photo by Sooz White

Photo by Sooz White

In a world where musical authenticity is constantly being called to question, anti-folk icon, Paleface, is as real as they get. After nearly three decades of writing and performing music, Paleface remains true to his craft and continues to create art that is raw, fresh, and inspired.

Paleface’s music career is much like a collection of short stories, woven together with unpredictable highs and lows—each chapter marked with different shades of joy, sorrow, chaos and control. Throughout it all Paleface has managed to come out on the other side with tales to tell.

Paleface got his start playing music at NYC clubs in the late 80s, rubbing shoulders with creative minds like Daniel Johnston and Beck. While being managed by the legendary Danny Fields, Paleface signed a major-label record deal, began putting out albums, and touring with bands like Crash Test Dummies and The Breeders. Everything appeared to be falling into place, but by the late 90s Paleface’s partying lifestyle caught up with him, nearly taking his life and forcing him to reevaluate his direction.

By 2000, a sober Paleface found himself among a new crop of imaginative musicians in NYC, many calling themselves “anti-folk.” Artists like Kimya Dawson, Regina Spektor, and Langhorne Slim shared the stage with Paleface, and he soon became an integral part of the anti-folk scene.

“Anti-folk didn’t stand for anything,” Paleface said. “It was whatever you can do to make art you should share it, get on stage, do it. If people like it, great, if they don’t, that’s OK, too. Nobody was gonna crucify you ‘cause you were bad or not what they wanted. In that anti-folk scene nobody would care ‘cause anything goes.”

It was during this period in his career when Paleface struck up a friendship with Scott and Seth Avett (The Avett Brothers). This instant artistic connection ultimately drew him, and girlfriend/drummer Monica “Mo” Samalot, away from New York in 2008 to start a new life in Concord.

After moving to North Carolina, Paleface and Samalot hit the road, touring as a high-energy folk-rock duo throughout the United States and Europe. Paleface continued to record and release albums like the self-released “A Different Story” as well as “The Show Is On The Road” and “One Big Party” on Ramseur Records. Studio and on-stage collaborations with The Avett Brothers exposed a whole new audience to Paleface’s music and it appeared that his momentum had shifted up again.

However, a health scare and setback in Europe while promoting “One Big Party” forced the pair to take time off to regroup, yet again. Unable to tour, Paleface spent time focusing on getting healthy and painting — a talent he had discovered while living in NYC.

“Painting is very meditative and relaxing in a way that music is not,” Paleface said. “It’s like a puzzle that you figure out as you go which at any moment can change or be wrecked by your next move. Music, if you change something you can immediately go back to how you had it if you don’t like the change.”

Paleface creates bright, bold, music-inspired folk-art. His canvas and drum head paintings often carry uplifting themes, much like his music, and he sells them as special one-of-a-kind merchandise at shows.

“I think of my paintings as rock-n-roll folk art, and my music, too,” Paleface said. “I like the fact that people can get this special thing that’s much better than a CD or T-shirt or even a print … 250 sold paintings later I’m still making them and getting more and more interested in it all the time.”

In reality the paintings help to supplement the often stretched-thin income of a touring independent artist. Life on the road is difficult, but Paleface has managed to stay positive after all of these years.

“[Touring] is harder work than people know,” Paleface said. “It sounds romantic and I wouldn’t trade it, but you can get tired with the miles. Great shows can always help build you up and bad shows remind you nothing is certain, but I love seeing all the friends we’ve made out there on the road and checking on the progress they’ve made in their own lives.”

Paleface has been touring through Greenville for several years, a stop that he may have missed had it not been for his connection with the Avetts.

“The first time we ever came was back in the day playing with the band Oh What a Nightmare, which at the time was The Avett Brothers’ other project, kind of a hard rock trio with Seth on drums and Scott on electric,” Paleface said. “I like Greenville a lot. The Spazzatorium was a great scene and Jeff [Blinder] who used to book there had really good taste so it was always fun to go there and play. After it closed we just kept coming back because we liked playing here.”

While the Avetts may have brought Paleface to Greenville, Samalot keeps the duo coming back. She is the driving force when it comes to the business side of things — mapping out tour routes, booking venues, handling all social media—in addition to rocking the drums and singing harmonies. Paleface and Samalot are partners in every sense of the word. On and off stage their mutual respect and love is unmistakable and they are constantly pushing each other to improve.

“(Samalot) really loves harmony so we’ve been doing a bit of that of late,” Paleface said. “She also remembers songs that I forget and if she likes it enough pushes me to bring it back and make it something. I must confess that I’ve only recorded a fraction of the songs I’ve written so it is good to have someone who remembers them.”

When it comes to songwriting, Paleface’s talent is off the charts. He is a true storyteller, creating a unique auditory experience that reaches all ages. Paleface’s ability to write songs with traditional acoustic instrumentation that ends up feeling charged and electric is unmatched and magical.

“[It’s an] obsession,” Paleface said. “I don’t need to bottle it. It just is an inextinguishable flame that burns inside.”

As he begins another new chapter in his career, Paleface is approaching his newest material from a more informed and introspective place. Though it has been challenging, he is confident that his approach will yield some of his best music to date.

“For a while, because I’ve had a rough time in the music (business), I just wanted to stand on stage and sing happy songs and I didn’t really care if it was cool or not,” Paleface said. “Lately I’ve felt a little restless with that. I’m taking my time with it so I don’t know when it will be finished, hopefully soon.”

Until then, fans can catch Paleface touring across the country. This month, Paleface will once again make a stop in Greenville to close out Spazz Fest VI at Christy’s Europub on March 22 from 7-11 p.m. Fans can expect Paleface to deliver another fun and lively performance, full of some of his best old tunes, a few new ones and plenty of audience interaction.

“I want [the audience] to feel the energy and give it back so we can both bug out to the sound vibrations,” Paleface said.

This piece originally ran in Mixer Magazine.

Leave a comment

Filed under Interview, Live Shows, Music

Technology’s Impact on the Music Industry

cellphones

In the 80s, video killed the radio star and music lovers became glued to MTV around the clock. Cable TV and the music video revolutionized how music reached people. Music fans were excited and satisfied, completely naïve to the impact that technology would have on the creation, delivery and live experience of music in the future.

More than three decades later, technology has exploded and changed the face of the music industry on all fronts. Musicians no longer need big record labels to reach the masses — they have social media and YouTube for that. Getting “discovered” can literally happen overnight with viral videos that spread like wildfire across the globe. As Dylan sang, “the times, they are a-changing’.”

Today, fans are bombarded by musical options — band status updates, tweets, live-streaming concerts, crowdfunding campaigns, Instagram concert photos, digital downloads, satellite radio, music apps, wireless headphones and more. The opportunities to connect to music seem endless and ever expanding, which allows fans to pick their poison, but also leaves plenty of room for overload and pitfalls.

The ability to record and mix an album no longer sits in the hands of big name studios as it once did. Home recording studios have popped up across the states as artists gain access to affordable digital audio workstation programs like Avid Pro Tools and Apple GarageBand or Logic Pro X. While engineering an album still requires a trained ear, these tools have opened doors to musicians who may have never dreamed of the chance to lay down tracks.

Ask independent touring musicians about income and they will likely tell you they are broke — this is no lie. After gas, hotels, meals, and bills, there is little left for recording costs. Without backing from a label, recording an album in today’s climate often requires the support of fans. This is where crowdfunding comes in handy. Online platforms like Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and PledgeMusic have changed the way musicians raise money to support their craft. Successful campaigns from artists like Langhorne Slim, Joe Fletcher and Holy Ghost Tent Revival have turned out solid albums that may have otherwise never been created. This virtual tip jar allows fans to be a part of the process, and in return receive “prizes” that are often handmade by the artists themselves.

For some, smartphone technology has ruined the live music experience. Watching an entire concert through the bright screen of someone’s iPhone or tablet is certainly not ideal and can create frustration among concert-goers. This frustration can also be felt by the musician, who can look out into a sea of phones, rather than faces, often creating a disconnect.

On the flip side, jam band Umphrey’s McGee has chosen a different approach to use technology to increase engagement and unity among its fans. At selective shows, including the band’s annual UMBowl, fans are asked to live tweet song requests and improv ideas to the band or vote for specific songs to guide the set list.

“It’s really fun and the fans just went nuts for it,” band member Joel Cummins said. “It’s a really great experience to be creative with the fan base and come up with new things … it turns improv on its head and treats it like composition. Over the course of three years, we’ve come up with nine to 10 new songs from it.”

Surprisingly, Cummins and the band have found that the live tweeting and voting have not distracted from the show itself.

“I don’t see (overuse of phones) as much of a problem at our shows,” Cummins said. “We aren’t big stars. (The fans) are there in the moment, for the music. People aren’t into us as people. They are more into us as a group, so if they want to take a picture that is fine with me. You really have to pay attention (at our shows). It’s not going to be the same thing every night.”

Umphrey’s McGee also offers a selective number of wireless headphone packs at most shows, allowing fans to experience the concert through the soundboard, just as the band does through ear monitors. Currently they have 40-50 packs that fans can rent for $40, which also includes a digital download of the evening’s performance. What started as an idea to bring fans a unique listening experience, has grown into more than the band could have ever expected — spawning new friendships and headphone sharing.

“Our biggest fear was that it would create a strange social stigma at shows, but the opposite has happened,” Cummins said. “It brings out people’s curiosity and most of our fans are nice, intelligent people. They want to accommodate and spread the word about the goodness of this. We’ve had about five to 10 negative comments and 500 positive comments — that it is a game changer.”

Social media has done wonders for the independent musician, not only through spreading information and new music, but also through networking and tour planning. Many smaller music venues now handle booking through Facebook, and keep patrons informed by creating event pages. Websites like Bandsintown and Artistdata can be linked to Facebook and Twitter by musicians, keeping fans informed of nearby shows.

However, the amount of accessible music may be nearing a threshold. Wood Robinson, bassist for the Chapel Hill-based group Mipso, has observed a shift in music accessibility on the internet and thinks that musicians need to use these resources wisely in order to be successful.

“The webs are all but saturated with music of all kinds and of all aesthetics and all abilities,” Robinson said. “It gives a little more of an even platform for everyone, but it also means that the listener has to plow through a lot to find that yet-to-be-discovered group that they’re going to fall in love with. It’s like taking all the fruit trees in the world and putting them in one grove. All those fruits are a lot more reachable, but so are the fruits that you don’t want to eat.

“I think that the biggest thing for artists is to figure out how to use that accessibility to their advantage. The constant connectivity is great but not if used poorly. Reverbnation has a lot of great tools for unsigned artists, but a ‘like’ doesn’t necessarily translate to a butt in a seat at a concert. It can be a good proxy for estimating growth, but it isn’t the end-all-be-all for measuring success.”

Music delivery through websites like Pandora and Spotify has also drastically increased mobile accessibility to music, while also somewhat stealing from the mouths of artists. This conundrum equates to the proverbial double-edged sword. While fans can listen to any type of music they want for free or a small monthly fee and it gives the artist exposure, in the end most artists literally earn pennies for the web-play their songs receive.

This drastic decrease in pay-out is also evident when fans choose to purchase a digital download over a physical copy of an album. Local musician Rebekah Todd has concerns about the impact technology has on not only the livelihood of the artist, but also how people are connecting to music today.

“Things have changed dramatically with the digital age and the introduction of things like Rhapsody, Spotify, iTunes, Amazon and so many more,” Todd said. “The act of obtaining music has been cheapened. Thirty years ago, you had to walk into a record store and thumb through physical copies of albums. You picked the album up and you examined its artwork. You might have even read about who played on the album and where it was recorded. Today, we don’t have to have any physical contact to have a song delivered to us immediately.

“Not only have digital sites stolen the personal act of buying music from us, it has stolen a large portion of how musicians make their living. What people don’t realize is that musicians make a fraction of a penny for every time that their song is listened to, digitally, as opposed to the days when people had to spend at least an entire dollar on a song that a musician poured their soul into for months on end.

“I believe that music is not something you hear. It is something that you feel. If you aren’t feeling music, you might as well stop listening. To fully experience music, you have to stand in a room with someone who has written a song about the highest and lowest points of their life and you have to meet that person in their song — in their experience. That is where the connection is made. It isn’t made on an iPod. It isn’t made on XM radio. It is made at the live performance. I fear that a large percentage of the kids being raised today have never even been to a live show. They have never felt the bass pumping so loudly that they can feel it in their chest. They’ve never seen someone pour out all of their emotion with every bead of sweat that lands on the stage.”

Over the past decade, vinyl has made a significant comeback, giving listeners a higher quality recording when compared to a digital MP3 file. According to Pitchfork, 2013 vinyl sales topped out at 6.1 million units in the US alone. While this still only accounts for two percent of all album sales, it represents a 33% increase in vinyl sales from 2012.

To stay up with the times, most newly-pressed vinyl comes with a digital download code for those who want the experience of spinning a record, while also being able to take the music on the go. For audiophiles this is the best of both worlds.

Independent record stores, like Greenville’s East Coast Music and Video, have had to adapt to the digital world in order to survive. Store owner, Jon Hughes’ has gladly embraced the new demand for vinyl by stocking his store with new and used records, in addition to CDs, offering music lovers a wide array of options while trying to stay current.

“I think the resurgence in vinyl interest is awesome,” Hughes said. “The fact that vinyl sales are up throughout the world’s retail markets is evidence that people are starting to come full circle when it comes to listening and buying music. A lot of people have become slaves to their gadgets over the years and they have lost touch with the pure enjoyment of owning and collecting physical pieces of music. Many folks in the younger generations do not know what it’s like to really want their favorite band’s new album and having to wait for it to come out. They’ve never experienced the genuine excitement of going to their local record store and finally getting their hands on it for the first time.

“Opening up the record, admiring the artwork and photographs, reading the liner notes and song lyrics while listening to a beautiful piece of vinyl can be a surreal experience on many levels. A band’s music should be more than just background noise to fill the room while you’re scanning the internet. Let’s face it, music is art and it should be enjoyed that way. MP3s are flat pieces of digital noise but, vinyl records have warmth, depth, texture and soul. Nothing sounds better than analog and I believe more people are reconnecting with that fact.”

The increase in demand for current bands to release vinyl versions of albums comes with a disclaimer — fans must be patient. Currently, there are only about a dozen pressing plants in the US, which means turnaround time has gone from about four weeks to three months. Perhaps vinyl’s comeback will offset the need for instant gratification that comes with immediate downloads or streaming, and bring music lovers back to a time when great music was worth the wait.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Live Shows, Music