The All-Thing

All stick and no carrot, since ought-three.


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Thu, 05 Feb 2004

Musicians and performers

Often when I go to the 'tab I am reminded, as I was this Tuesday, about the profound yet apparently oft-overlooked distinction between been a musician and being a performer.

Being a musician means understanding music, and being able to produce it. Being a performer means understanding your audience, and knowing how to please it. The two are orthogonal traits. Britney Spears is a great performer and a mediocre talent. What I saw at the Cantab, and what I often see there, is astounding musicianship and piss-poor performance. The folks on stage had more talent in their appendices than I have in my entire being, or ever will. And yet, no one was paying attention. They were bored. I was bored. Everyone was bored. It was boring.

Now I'm a terribly elementary musician. But even I know that being a performing musician means that you have to do stuff that you're probably sick of. How many times did Bill Monroe sing Blue Moon of Kentucky? How many times does the Peanut Man do the Peanut Song? But you can't just sit there and wank. You may be playing the most fantastically sophisticated musical ideas, bouncing seamlessly between quotes of past jazz masters and your own real-time re-interpretations, all interwoven into the fabric of the chord structure of Turkey in the Straw, but if the crowd doesn't get it, you might as well sit down and turn the jukebox on. Except for the two musicians in the crowd who understand what you're doing, the rest of them would rather hear that.

As a performing musician you are a slave to the crowd. You exist, on stage, to serve them. But this is also an opportunity to improve them musically. What they really want to hear is the same thing, over and over. They're happy to treat you as a walking talking CD player. But you can mix it up a little bit, surprise them, introduce them to something new, expand their boundaries a notch. The trick is to do this without losing them. It requires being both a musician and a performer. Otherwise, you're just a wanker, or a tool like Britney Spears.

Posted at 14:02 | /media/music | 1 comment | permalink

Fri, 23 Jan 2004

Tennessee Waltz

This is a great old country song. There was a state waltz craze for a while, but as far as I know, only Tennessee and Kentucky produced anything memorable. But the Tennessee Waltz is slightly cooler because it's self-referential:

I was dancin' with my darlin to the Tennessee Waltz
When an old friend I happened to see...

Way cool. Chords and lyrics here, though the versions I know don't use all those lyrics and don't do all the 2-5 stuff either... damn fancy pants.

Posted at 09:14 | /media/music | 1 comment | permalink

Sat, 17 Jan 2004

Cantab Round Two

Looks like we'll be back at the ol 'tab this Tuesday warming up the main band. Starting at 8:30 or 9 and going until they kick us off around 10. Come see us!

Posted at 15:08 | /media/music | (leave a comment) | permalink

Thu, 18 Dec 2003

Right on Scales Radio

This is what I've been listening to non-stop at work for the past month: Right on Scales Dub Radio

Some company called Right on Scales, which sells (as you might expect) scales puts this fantastic stream out. I don't know who's responsible for the music selection, but it matches my tastes 100%. It's fucking fantastic—I hear a lot of my own collection in there (mostly old 70's dub, and even ol' Alton Ellis and Eek-a-Mouse) plus a ton of fantastic new stuff I haven't heard before. All heavy, rootsy dub. It's great.

I don't know that I'll have a need for scales any time in the near future, but you can bet I'll be supporting these guys first if I do. Any company that does something like this gets my bidness, no doubt.

Posted at 15:51 | /media/music | (leave a comment) | permalink

Don Carlos & Gold

chant down babylon kingdom

Posted at 14:14 | /media/music/lyrics | (leave a comment) | permalink

Sun, 14 Dec 2003

You mean I can get paid for that?

Just got back from our first paying gig, at a bar on the Cape. Attendance was spotty but the owner subsidized our beer and food tab (free dinner!) and even paid us—not a lot, but the first money I've ever made from being a musician. Pretty sweet.

Plus, he liked us so much he invited us back to play New Year's. So perhaps this year I will take a break from my annual tradition of staying at home, drinking heavily, and going to bed early.

Posted at 03:06 | /media/music | (leave a comment) | permalink

Thu, 11 Dec 2003

One good thing about music

When it hits you feel no pain.

Posted at 19:22 | /media/music/lyrics | (leave a comment) | permalink

Fri, 05 Dec 2003

Bluegrass Octoberfest Recap

Was at a jam out by work yesterday evening and got to chatting with one of the guys there. Turns out he was somewhat incidentally involved in the Bluegrass Octoberfest thing and was actually MCing on stage for a little. Thought he looked familiar... (and he said that yes, the promoters did not do a terribly great job promoting, and that the organizers were not really familiar with the whole bluegrass thing to begin with). So that was neat.

I had a pretty good time, even if it did leave me with a pounding headache for all today. T'was almost the opposite of our local jams—all singing songs, very few instrumentals and only an infrequent standard. I.e. tons of stuff I didn't really know—though I liked most of it. It was good, though tiring, to be continually improvising over all these unfamiliar tunes. Made me realized how very few licks I actually have under my fingers for this type of thing. (And how unable I am, as of yet, to detect a 2m chord as anything other than what the hell is that?).

We did play a very cool flamenco tune which I think was called "Juarez"—does anyone know about this? I remember the chords (all Cm, G#, G, and F (v. weird, doesn't seem phrygian)) but I would like to get a recording to learn the head from. Google has failed me, or perhaps I misremember the title.

BUT now the weekend is starting, which is ruining my relatively good mood.

Posted at 17:11 | /media/music | (leave a comment) | permalink

Thu, 20 Nov 2003

Internet Radio

This is like five-year-old news, but internet radio just rox0rs. I now have, much like the Rastafarian spacemen in their orbital colonies in Neuromancer, a constant stream of dub pumping through the sound system of my spaceship/office twenty-four hours a day, mixing with the wreaths of ganja smoke/climate-controlled air as I hover/sit in front of the Founders of Zion/my computer.

Posted at 13:00 | /media/music | (leave a comment) | permalink

Wed, 19 Nov 2003

King Wilkie

Saw King Wilkie at the Cantab last night. I really like these guys. I know I've seen them a couple times before but for some reason they didn't really make an impression until tonight.

It was great. Very tight harmonies, great instrumental talent, and a strong sense of the traditional flow and feel of bluegrass. The genre as a whole has plenty of young blood, but mostly it's stuff I don't really appreciate—bands like Nickel Creek, who try to push the boundaries forward but give the distinct impression that forward means more like tasteless pop to them. The local scene has a lot of the hyper-talented young musicians who push the bluegrass grenzen forward by being very jazzy and very hip, which is cool and sophisticated, but I never end up actually enjoying listening to them. (Nor, I suspect, does anyone else.)

So I really appreciate the fact that King Wilkie stays, by and large, within the traditional context, keeping you interested and satisfied, while still managing to seem new and fresh. Being successful in a type of music which places as heavy a weight on the traditional sound as bluegrass, replete with apotheosized founder and all, does, involves a delicate balancing act between stagnating and losing touch with your audience. I feel like King Wilkie is right on that edge. It's musicianship that combines taste with talent.

Posted at 16:17 | /media/music | (leave a comment) | permalink

Wed, 29 Oct 2003

Welcome to Pittsburgh

Here's a story a friend of mine told me about his only visit to Pittsburgh:

Some friends and I drove down to Pittsburgh in the 90's for a Dylan concert. We got to the Civic Arena, took our seats, and the concert started. I was really getting into it and at around the fourth song of the first set I took out my pack of cigarettes and lit one.

All of a sudden someone taps me on the shoulder and it's the guy behind me, wearing a shirt that says Fire Marshal on it. He says, "Alright buddy, that's it. I told you once before. You're out of here!" and he grabs me by the shoulder and starts pulling me towards the exit.

I say, "Look, you've got the wrong guy. You didn't talk to me before. I'm not even really a smoker. I'll gladly give you this entire pack of cigarettes, just let me listen to the concert." And he says, "You're getting out of here now or I'm going to have you arrested." What could I do? I shut up. He took my ticket and dragged me out the door. I spent the rest of the concert in the parking lot.

In an era of hit-and-miss Dylan performances, that concert is apparently remembered as a particularly good one....

Posted at 11:17 | /media/music | 2 comments | permalink

Wed, 22 Oct 2003

Cantab results

Well, it went pretty good I think. We managed to make it through the entire setlist without getting confused and stopping in the middle of a tune, which was my greatest fear. Big turn out in terms of friends and foafs which was surprising but very cool. Nothing like a crowd pre-disposed to be friendly.

Having a steady, experienced bass player helped tremendously. It was like everyone in the band was suddenly blessed with the ability to keep time. Now if there was only a similar magic in-tune fairy who could wave her wand over us...

I think that personally I started out doing pretty well but totally overshot my inebriation sweet spot (i.e. drunk enough not to be nervous, not so drunk that I couldn't play well) at about the Wild Turkey 101 1.25 mark and subsequently fucked up a lot of things I really shouldn't have. Red Haired Boy is not so complicated of a tune, really it isn't. But overall I didn't make as big a fool of myself as I could have, and we weren't thrown off the stage, so I'll consider the event success of the semi-rousing nature.

Basically now I feel like a virgin who just went through a Debbie does Dallas-style gangbang. Playing at the Cantab was the sum of all fears I had as an amateur musician, and now that all the real musicians have had a chance to listened to me and shake their heads in derision, I've got nowhere to go but up.

Major XP gain and level up, if you ask me.

Posted at 11:00 | /media/music | (leave a comment) | permalink

Tue, 21 Oct 2003


Tonight we step on stage to warm up the main band at the Cantab. Extremely nervous.

Posted at 14:56 | /media/music | 1 comment | permalink

Sun, 12 Oct 2003

Bluegrass Octoberfest Review

Yesterday I went to Bluegrass Octoberfest. In total, and in various fine-grained different ways, it sucked.

Allow me to enumerate:

  1. There were only about 100 people in attendance. With big names like the Nashville Bluegrass Band and Jerry Douglas performing, they should have been able to draw more of a crowd. How did they fuck up so bad in promoting this?
  2. Of those 100 people, roughly 30 were cops or security personel. And did I mention the entire thing took place within a barb-wire-enclosed gulag? Seriously, were they expecting the Crips and the Bloods to show up? It's a bluegrass festival for chrissakes. It's all old fat white guys.
  3. Of the remaining 70 people, about 5 were parking-lot pickers. The highlight of the festival was escaping from the concentration camp out to the parking lot for an hour or so to jam.
  4. No alcohol allowed in the fairgrounds. No coolers. Containers searched by the police. Your only source of alcohol was a beer garden conveniently placed half a mile from the stage, where you could choose from a selection of a) Coors Regular, or b) Coors Lite. You could not leave the beer garden with your beer. You could, however, sit there and chug your swill while peering at the stage in the distance.

Now I don't know about you guys, but it's hard to sit through seven hours of bluegrass without being pretty drunk. I was buying cokes, bringing them into the porta-potties and adding Knob Creek from my flask, LIKE I WAS IN FUCKING HIGH SCHOOL. No alcohol at a bluegrass festival? What kind of crack-addled dogfucker came up with this policy?

So overall the entire event was devoid of—in spite of the great weather—any semblance of a fun, festival atmosphere. The only mitigating factors were a couple of excellent performances, notably by Southern Rail and the Nashville Bluegrass Band. (Jerry Douglas, as far as I'm concerned, is hour after hour of formless noodling and semi-musical wanking. I did not stay for more than ten minutes of his set.)

After the Nashville Bluegrass Band set, I had the following charming conversation with Stewart Duncan:

me: Hi, Mr. Duncan. I just wanted to say you sounded great.

SD: Thanks.

me: I really liked your second break on the last song, right after the bass solo.

SD: Uhhh... [looks confused, looks down at the table]. Thanks.

me: [trying to draw him out] Yeah, I've been listening to a couple Hot Club de Nashville recording. I really go for that swingy stuff. Segue into Grappelli? Wonder how he feels about him, vs., say, Snuff Smith?

SD: You shouldn't be.

me: Huh? Oh really? And why's that?

SD: [Rambling and ill-formed rant about internet music. I inferred that there were some shows that got out that he didn't want to. Unclear: whether they are still out there; whether any HCdN shows are public; etc.]

me: [Considering whether to explain to him the difference between Kazaa and ETree, that the Bluegrassbox folks try their best to adhere to artists' decisions, and he could contact them if he really feels they've made a mistake, etc... fuck it.] Ok. Well. You sounded very good.

SD: [looking down at the table] Thanks.

me: No no, thank YOU for being yet another friendly and approachable bluegrass musician.

And that was the festival.

P.S. Got a ridiculous speeding ticket on the way home right by the NH/Mass border, by a charming young officer more than happy to meet his quota and fill his department's coffers with out-of-stater's money at the same time, at the expense of only justice and the thruth.

Posted at 12:17 | /media/music | 1 comment | permalink

Thu, 09 Oct 2003


I swear to god I just heard a Grappelli sample in the middle of some random hiphop track.

Posted at 13:23 | /media/music | (leave a comment) | permalink


There's small choice in rotten apples. -- William Shakespeare, "The Taming of the Shrew"