The legendary Caffe Lena, excerpts from the 2014 book
By Art Menius
On March 27, 2014, I resigned from the board of directors of Folk Alliance International, the organization I had helped found in 1989. The following is an edited and revised version of the formal letter of resignation that I sent to the board.
I considered seriously going quietly into pasture a second time, as I did in 1996. Speaking out on my own could sound like so much grousing from an old curmudgeon. If nothing else, however, to voice these views forces their discussion, places the ideas into the marketplace.
How does one say goodbye to twenty-five years of one’s life, to separate from an organization that once embodied my core mission? I came to this dire decision in November 2013 when I realized I had no desire whatsoever to go to the first Kansas City conference. One option was not on the table. Neither I, nor anyone of good conscience, can in good faith remain on any non-profit board of directors when one cannot support the direction toward which the majority wants to steer. That is the difference between government service and a non-profit board. The latter runs on consensus; it is wrong to hang on when running against the flow.
I come from a Folk Alliance where Marta Moreno Vega of the Network of Cultural Centers of Color is the speaker not Al Gore, making millions off a faux-progressive platform. No one who has ever supported censorship of song lyrics is a friend of folk music, no matter how well rooted his family traditions. You can, thus, hear Al Gore Sr. play “Soldiers Joy” at the 1938 National Folk Festival here: http://lcweb2.loc.gov/afc/afccc/soldiersjoy/gore.mp3
I had been attempting to write this letter for three months without progress until I read an editorial in the March 2 Chapel Hill News http://www.chapelhillnews.com/2014/02/28/3655641/linda-haac-tale-of-two-towns.html. The background is that I work and serve on town commissions in Carrboro, one of the most left leaning towns in the southeast. While Chapel Hill has fallen under the sway of developers and retirees desiring lower taxes, Carrboro sticks with small, locally owned, locally sourced, organic, walk-bike-free bus, no big box retailers, no structure more than five stories, & etc. Linda Haac wrote:
It’s true nothing stays the same, change is always in the air and “so-called progress” needs to be made, but there are ways of doing things and ways ending in generic, often unpleasant results. Carrboro appears to be honoring our past as it moves forward, keeping true to our identity and soul, while Chapel Hill appears on a different track.
This contrast between two adjoining towns similar in so, so many ways (even gay mayors) frames the issues I have with FAI to a large degree. Growth and change will happen, but do we stay true to our core values in the process or adapt to mainstream fashions. I believe Folk Alliance, like Chapel Hill, has chosen the latter course, conflating what is best for business with what is best for the larger community.
Folk music is a business, but it is not just any business. Whether klezmer, Cajun, or bluegrass, community comes first and communities are based in shared values.
In recent years, Folk Alliance International has built on an earned income chassis and operated with earned income assumptions, rather than thinking like a non-profit charity. FAI reduces itself to the transactional pay for membership and a conference, rather than raising donated funds to change the world for the better by educating the general public about folk music and its traditions. That changes our mission into making money to stay in or grow the business instead of making the world a better place. Organizations under section 501(c)3 exist to do what the marketplace cannot support.
That process further pushes the FAI membership into the meaningless and ephemeral world of entertainment. Rather than a community annealed by shared traditions, purpose, and, yes, values, our artist members just become entertainers trying to advance their careers to the next level, a level that makes Folk Alliance irrelevant to them.
Do values matter to the Folk Alliance International? I always held they were essential. I know firsthand that values led Clark and Elaine Weissman to call us together at Camp Hess Kramer in January 1989. As Bush replaced Reagan and the culture wars annealed our community in a way that may not have existed since the 1940s. Even the agents and commercial media reps who attended saw folk music as part of the larger non-profit arts world, not the commercial music industry. We wanted to live and work our whole lives in the folk music community, not use folk music as a means to somewhere else.
Under US IRS Tax Code, Folk Alliance was created as a 501(c)3 educational non-profit, not a 501(c)6 business league. Many in our community may feel the need for a 501(c)6 business league or trade association along the lines of IBMA, CMA, or AMA. I have no objection to that, but that has to be a new 501(c)6 and not a pre-existing 501(c)3 educational charity. We did not try take over CDSS (the Country Dance & Song Society which remains larger than FAI), but created a new organization focused on our needs and shaped by our values.
To paraphrase “House of Cards:” “The nature of non-profit missions is that they are immune to changing circumstances.” Our community needs an organization that is for, by, and about the folk music community in Canada and the USA, that unites and advocates for the non-profit folk arts presenting world, protects government funding for the folk arts at federal and provincial/state level, educates about and celebrates our traditions, connects us to the academic and public folklore sectors, and places folk arts within grassroots community arts.
That is why we formed this organization 25 years ago. That is why a couple of dozen of us invested vast amounts of time and money to make Folk Alliance a reality. These are tasks that neither a for-profit business nor a 501(c)6 trade association are not designed to do. Nor are they short term goals that can be changed over time to suit membership recruitment goals. In those configurations, where business and trade dominate, principles are devalued. Decisions that should be made in the best interests of the long term good of the folk community are made for what is good for the Folk Alliance as a business.
Aware in January 1989 both of the appropriateness of meeting at a Jewish summer camp and the irony of convening across the PCH from the fabled beaches of Malibu (while ignorant that The Band had rehearsed there), we discussed and reaffirmed our values. One hundred twenty of us made a group commitment to the folk music community in Canada and the USA.
Values do matter. Values are long term, like art. Our values shape our community. Values sustain organizations and given meaning to their work. Today is the time when our voices are needed more than ever within folk music and without. As one of the people that Elaine and Clark Weissman recruited to support this effort, as one of 120 at Malibu in 1989, as a member of the Steering Committee, as our first president and first employee of Folk Alliance, I believe these are our values:
- We are the music of both of authentic communities and cultures and of the left in North America.
- We stand on the shoulders of Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Hedy West, Jean Carignan, Big Bill Broonzy, and Sarah Ogun Gunning.
- We offer an alternative to mainstream, corporate culture
- We believe in non-profit organizations as the primary means to organize our community
- We are committed to building audiences through grassroots communities
- We believe in government and foundation funding for arts, arts education, and arts in education
- We believe in our folk traditions
- We believe in an equal Canadian-American partnership within Folk Alliance, acting as if population and membership numbers were equal.
- We appeal to the best collective notions – embodied by singing together – not base self-interest
- We need one strong voice to advocate for folk music and dance in Canada and the USA
- We understand that not all singer-songwriters nor all acoustic music is folk.
Folk Alliance International has morphed in recent years into the antithesis of much of we wanted to create back then. While still a fun gathering of the tribes, the conference no longer affirms the essential values of the folk music community in North America. Without values to guide us, we become just a trade association, not a 501(c)3 charity. When the voices expressing those values are marginalized and consigned to the dustbin of history rather than celebrated as the foundation of our community, FAI has gone astray.
Where have we strayed from the course?
- We are more about advancing individual careers than serving the folk music community.
- Trying to build the audience for FAI more than building the audience for folk music through strong grassroots communities, organizations, and businesses. This suggests conflating FAI with the folk music community.
- Yet I have become convinced that FAI uses a pay to play business model that exploits the hopes and dreams of musicians rather than advancing our field. It is true that every year, the Folk Alliance International conference jumpstarts the careers of any number of artists. On the other hand, far greater numbers invest their time and money chasing the dream in private showcase after private showcase. Are we any better footed morally than the showcase clubs in Nashville and LA? Some people call the conference a festival, and it does feel like one at night. We were created to serve the field of non-profit folk music presenters, neither to compete with our members as an event nor to use artists as an income stream.
- Turning to an outside search firm for the next ED tells me that we are adopting and modeling as “professionalism” the worst values of mainstream American corporate capitalism – not the traditional folk community values.
- The sheer hubris of talking about international expansion when so much work remains to be done in the USA and Canada
- Behaving as if we were a 501(c)6 trade association – depending on dues and conference revenue – rather than a 501(c)3 charity whose impact, growth, and effectiveness are funded through donations and grants. Increasing revenue for the organization thereby becomes more important than serving the greater folk music community or, for a trade association, business.
- Failing to serve effectively as one strong advocacy voice for the folk community with private and government funders and policy makers at all levels
Those are the key points. That which was created to serve community, now works for individual goals. Careerism has displaced values.
My commitment to the community is to restore The ArtsCenter (300-G East Main St; Carrboro, NC 27510) to a position of primacy among folk and roots presenters between Alexandria, VA and Decatur, GA. Although we present concerts in the 355 seat Earl & Rhoda Wynn Theater and 106 seat West End Theater mostly Thursday through Sunday evenings, we sometimes present on any night and host jam sessions and song circles on Monday evenings. We share the use of these facilities with ArtsCenter Stage, the ArtSchool, more than a dozen resident theatre, comedy, improv, film, and dance companies, ArtsCamp, Youth Arts Blocks, and rentals ranging from Cat’s Cradle concerts to community square dances to bat and bar mitzvahs. For that reason, The ArtsCenter presents an average of 60 concerts for adults per year. Visit our website to learn about shows and concerts for children and families.
I have three decades experience in folk and bluegrass music and the support of outstanding concerts at The ArtsCenter sponsors including Chapel Hill Restaurant Group, Giorgios Hospitality Group, Atma Hotel Group (including the new Hampton next door), Furniture Lab, Brooks Pierce, and the North Carolina Arts Council.
Most of all we need your support as a donor, business sponsor, or ArtsCenter Friend, and as a ticket buyer. All these can be accomplished by visiting artscenterlive.org or calling 919-929-2787.
The ArtsCenter currently has this remarkable lineup of concerts scheduled
|Monday, October 21, 2013||Ralph Stanley & The Clinch Mountain Boys|
|Wednesday, October 30, 2013||disappear fear (SONiA)|
|Saturday, November 09, 2013||Sam Bush|
|Friday, November 08, 2013||Quiet American with Adam Hurt & Beth Hartness|
|Friday, November 15, 2013||The Honeycutters|
|Sunday, November 17, 2013||Charlie King & Karen Brandow|
|Wednesday, November 20, 2013||Jake Shimabukuro|
|Thursday, November 21, 2013||Kirk Ridge, Lizzy Ross, Rebecca Newton, Jack Herrick, Joe Newberry, Nancy Middleton|
|Saturday, November 23, 2013||John Gorka|
|Friday, December 06, 2013||Dar Williams|
|Wednesday, December 18, 2013||FiddleX Holiday Concert|
|Friday, January 03, 2014||Robin & Linda Williams|
|Tuesday, January 07, 2014||Genticorum|
|Friday, January 10, 2014||Nu Blu|
|Saturday, January 11, 2014||Hot Club of Cowtown|
|Sunday, January 12, 2014||Dana & Susan Robinson|
|Thursday, January 16, 2014||Sparky & Rhonda Rucker|
|Friday, January 17, 2014||Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen|
|Saturday, January 18, 2014||GangstaGrass|
|Thursday, January 23, 2014||Cahallen Morrison & Eli West w/Bevel Summers|
|Saturday, February 01, 2014||Grace Pettis|
|Saturday, February 08, 2014||Joe Pug|
|Sunday, February 09, 2014||David Jacobs-Strain|
|Friday, February 21, 2014||Ennis|
|Saturday, February 22, 2014||Lucy Kaplansky|
|Tuesday, February 25, 2014||Clive Carroll|
|Sunday, March 09, 2014||Guy Davis|
|Wednesday, March 12, 2014||Rory Block|
|Thursday, March 13, 2014||Paul McKenna Band|
|Wednesday, March 19, 2014||Pete & Maura Kennedy|
|Friday, March 21, 2014||Missy Raines & the New Hip|
|Saturday, March 22, 2014||John McCutcheon|
|Thursday, March 27, 2014||Archie Fischer & Garnet Rogers|
|Friday, March 28, 2014||Scott Ainslie|
|Saturday, March 29, 2014||Foghorn String Band w/Piney Woods Boys|
|Friday, April 04, 2014||Sultans of String|
|Thursday, April 10, 2014||Drew Nelson|
|Friday, April 11, 2014||Seldom Scene|
|Sunday, April 13, 2014||Brother Sun|
|Wednesday, April 16, 2014||Paddy Kennan|
|Thursday, May 01, 2014||Cathie Ryan|
|Friday, May 02, 2014||April Verch|
|Friday, May 09, 2014||Rolling Roots Review|
|Sunday, May 11, 2014||Tret Fure|
|Sunday, June 08, 2014||Jeanette & Johnnie Williams with Louisa Branscomb|
|Saturday, June 28, 2014||Songs from the Circle 3|
|Thursday, July 31, 2014||Local songwriters featuring Katherine Whalen|
|Friday, September 05, 2014||Jonathan Edwards|
|Friday, September 12, 2014||Steve Forbert|
|Thursday, September 18, 2014||Sarah McQuaid|
|Saturday, November 15, 2014||Tom Paxton|
For the next three years, Raleigh will be home to the International Bluegrass Music Association annual World of Bluegrass convention. I am one of the speakers in the NC Museum of History programs to welcome IBMA:
Tuesday, September 24
1–3 p.m. North Carolina is the Banjo State, with Bob Carlin
5–7 p.m. Bluegrass in North Carolina, with Tommy Edwards
Wednesday, September 25
1–3 p.m. Bluegrass Music: How North Carolinians Have Contributed, with Art Menius
5–7 p.m. The Earl Scruggs Center: Music and Stories from the American South
Thursday, September 26
1–3 p.m. The Story of Bluegrass and Raleigh’s Contribution, with Ron Raxter
5–7 p.m. Bluegrass Jam, with Pinecone
Friday, September 27
1–3 p.m. [Topic TBD*], with Wayne Martin
5–7 p.m. Gibson, Scruggs, and the Three-Finger Style, with Jim Mills
When I was little, The NC Museum of History was in WPA institutional building that mostly housed the state department of Education – “EDVCATION” in the granite lettering outside. Opened in 1902, “The Hall of History” and little changed since moved there in 1939, snaked through the first floor with permanent displays focusing on transportation, weapons, and household furnishings of rich white people. The latter appeared to have been 90% of the state’s population before the War, after which it dropped to 80%. I learned a lot about how our heroes fought against cruel military occupation of NC by the United States. Generations of school bus drivers struggled to find the Hall of History since the maps they were sent had South at the top and north oriented to the bottom.
By the time I was a young public historian at NC Dept of Cultural Resources (a product of the standardization of federal and state cultural bureaucracies during the 1960s and 1970s), an equally static history museum telling a more modern story, albeit with many of the same artifacts, occupied the east wing of our 1968 Archives & History/State Library edifice between the 1964 Legislative Building, in which the General Assembly meets rather than the 19th Capitol building in the center of Raleigh, and the gingerbread Victorian Governor’s Mansion. I always imagined the Addams Family as our first family. In 2013 some would say…..
The current NC Museum of History opened in 1994 between the Legislative Building and the historic State Capitol (walk out of the Convention Center on the Fayetteville Street side and look left. Can’t miss it.) The new museum has a research library, a variety of classroom spaces, and a large and well-equipped, 315-seat auditorium. Large gallery spaces total 55,000 square feet, nearly four times the exhibit area available in the old building. Design shops, storage areas for over 250,000 items, and conservation labs are now all under one roof.
The NC Arts Council, whose staff is being slashed by the legislature, occupies the previous museum space. Five museums in 92 years doesn’t seem like the best long term planning for growth.
Folk Alliance 2012
By Art Menius for artmenius.com 2/28/2012
Last week brought another Folk Alliance International Conference, the last of a six year cycle in Memphis, Tennessee. Next year brings Toronto, then five years in Kansas City, Missouri starting in 2014. I started attending with the formation conference produced by Clark and Elaine Weissman in 1989. This year’s vintage proved one of the best of the 24 so far. See “History of Folk Alliance Conferences” at the end of this article.
I’ll feature the best new music I gleaned from FAI 2012 on “From the Roots” on WMMT-FM 88.7, Whitesburg, KY this Saturday from 11 AM until 2 PM Eastern. Streams live at wmmtfm.org and on various phone/tablet radio apps. My radio blog lives here.
Adventures in Obligations & Awards
I arrived Tuesday night for the start of many hours of FAI Board meetings that stretched through 4 PM PM on Thursday. Working together, we sorted through some serious matters involving this upcoming transition and the birth in 2014 of an exciting winter music camp. Board work continued on Friday with a celebratory meeting with the FAI Regional leaders marking the consummation of a long awaited formal relationship with the international organization. We enjoyed a delightful reception and conversation on Friday with some potential members of the soon to be formed Advisory Council of Folk Alliance. I was reelected to another year on Ex Comm as Secretary as were incumbents Renee Bodie, President, Michelle Conceison, Veep, and Donald Davidoff, Treas. Chris Frayer joined the Ex Comm team as at large. The board welcomed one new member, Joan Kornblith of Voice of America, and thanked Mike Gormley, Linda Fahey, and Ralph Sutton for their years of service.
Wednesday evening brought the Elaine Weissman Lifetime Achievement Awards. Scott Alarick again produced fantastic and informative videos for each recipient. As LAA chair, I had the honor of accepting for Harry Belafonte as Living Performer. Most of the LAA videos can be found on here. Pam Michael, current Executive Director, accepted for the Highlander Center. Robert Johnson’s grandsons were there to accept the Legacy LAA and rendered a spirited, electric performance of “Sweet Home Chicago.”
An entertaining interruption of board work, following the least controversial Annual General Membership meeting in history, was the key note interview of Bob Lefsetz by board member Wendy Waldman.
Who is Bob Lefsetz?
When one says and writes as much as Bob Lefsetz, especially statements outrageous enough to entertain, the quality remains variable. One can read this article about him from the current Wired Magazine. That said, Lefsetz connects with spot on accuracy some of the time, and always provides something to talk about. Highlights from his keynote Interview included:
“You have to be good enough that agents and labels come to you.”
“Mumford & son broke; the folk ghetto no longer exists.”
“I want to go to Youtube and see you play live.”
“Twitter is information, not self-promotion. Let your personality come out.”
“If you’re in this business for the money, quit.”
Lefsetz raved about Memphis and the Folk Alliance. You can start reading with this one.
Music, Lots of Music
And, of course, we had showcases upon showcases, a Coney Island stretching from the most traditional to the most self-involved singer-songwriter and pretty much everything in between. They ranged from bands together for months to one-time hit makers like Jonathan Edwards and Dale Watson. The big buzz acts included Elizabeth Laprelle, a young traditional ballad singer, the gospel Sojourners, the retro-hipster Milk Carton Boys, and the Dunwells, who are live from Leeds and bring to mind Mumford & Son. Lefsetz loved the Dunwells, read this.
Elizabeth Laprelle proved an astonishing southwest Virgina young traditional singer. At a tender age she has mastered the acclaimed Madison County, NC ballad style (think “Songcatcher” and the soundtrack for “Cold Mountain”) and become a commanding string band lead vocalist. She is the niece of veteran singer and fiddler Jon Newlin, the husband of the outstanding singer/banjo player Amy Davis and member of such groups as the Hushpuppies and the Maudlin Brothers. Jon now anchors Elizabeth’s band The Fruit Dodgers. LaPrelle is blessed with a timeless voice that projects authenticity. She possesses a magic gift that earned her this year’s Mike Seeger scholarship to Folk Alliance. Her latest album, Bird’s Advice, features Jon and Amy, Jim Lloyd, and her mom. Elizabeth Laprelle is real. ‘Nuff said.
Thursday night I saw the Ola Belle Reed of the 21st century. She is an 18 year old from Winnipeg named Kaia Kater (Hurst) who has been playing banjo for just 5 years and knows every inch of that long neck. Mitch Podolak was her first teacher. She sings the old songs and composes fascinating new tunes describing her sound as “alternative/crunk/folk.” Find her now, including a Phillip Glass cover, at http://www.myspace.com/kaiakaterhurst Banjo playing Canadian singer-songwriter Old Man Lubecke and Austin’s idiosyncratic rising star Matt the Electrician were also terrific on the same set.
From Laprelle’s Friday night showcase in one of the trad showcases run by Andy Cohen into the wee hours, meandering led me to a hot set by Brooklyn’s Dustbusters. They gave me an advance on their May CD with John Cohen from the New Lost City Ramblers on Smithsonian-Folkways. These three are clearly eaten up with hard core old-time scouring the old recordings for stuff to fit their high energy, pure trad string band on meth style. The Dustbusters performed at the Country Music Hall of Fame on the way home and opened for Steve Earle and Alison Moorer in early February.
Perhaps because of the compressed showcase timeframe, my favorite male singer-songwriter Malcomb Holcombe gave the most focused and effective performance I have ever seen by him in is official showcase on second floor Friday night. FAI president Renee Bodie said he was just as powerful in her room 90 minutes later. I met Malcomb at jam sessions in Asheville in the early 1980s when he was a wild young man with amazing songs. Now, he is a wild acting middle aged married songwriter of extraordinary depth and masterfully economical writing. Seeing Malcomb in these small spaces took me back three decades as did the way Holcombe retains the facial and body contortions that add another layer of expression to his poetry and guitar playing. The St. Louis Room was SRO. It’s reaffirming to see this artist finally getting his due since a glowing profile in the Wall Street Journal. I also enjoyed catching parts of excellent performances by a bunch of other old friends including Kickin’ Grass, Joel Rafael (who presented a big Woody Guthrie tribute show Thursday evening), and Scott Ainslie.
Wednesday night I ran into old-time and bluegrass veteran Paul Kovac, one of two people I know from Chardon, Ohio, which would be ripped into the headlines on Monday. Jim Blum from Folk Alley had just given him a CD of one of the two shows he played as one of Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys in 1981. Boy = Girl, Paul’s current effort, is a fun duo with upright bassist Jen Maurer, who also plays in the zydeco-jam band fusion group Mo’ Mojo. They sing romantic duets resembling country and pop styles of a half-century ago, accompanying themselves on banjo and bass. Somehow it ends up sounding more contemporary than atavistic, perhaps because the songs are original.
Austin’s Atomic Duo somehow noticed that the 1930s were the highwater marks for both brother duet music and socialism in the USA. So they put the two together. I discovered later than they face paced and hilarious showcase was webcast. “Another Key in the Key Chain” is a brilliant example of masking contemporary commentary with the trappings of the past. Who said we learned nothing from watching “M.A.S.H?” The Atomic Duo offers a compelling reinvention of American folk song.
From the same town, musical time period, and appearing next in the same room were three women who call themselves The Carper Family. Anyone who likes Hot Club of Cowtown will immediately engage with the small ensemble western swing and cowboy sound of the Carper Family. Bass player Melissa Carper has a penned a collection of strong original songs that work perfectly in their take on the retro-hip wave, including “Who R U Texting 2Nite?,” which appears on their Back When CD that features Cindy Cashdollar.
On a sunny Saturday afternoon, Andy Cohen led a bunch of volunteer musicians two blocks down Main Street to give a public concert in solidarity with Occupy Memphis. The Memphis Mayor’s office helped make it happen.
Workshops and Panels
Board service means that our directors miss all too much of the workshop and panel sessions.
The session on Hazel Dickens seemed all too short. John Lilly had prepared a nice powerpoint of photos and an informative brochure. Mix of singing and stories from John Lilly, Tracy Schwarz, Ginny Hawker, Bill & Louise Kirchen, and Ken Irwin. The stories covered various aspects of her personality, songwriting, music, wisdom, and the ways she touched our lives. A completed but unreleased album should appear in a few months. Ken has not yet begun going through her many cassettes for what might be hidden there. Bill Kirchen said he regretted that they did not record the honky-tonk album they had discussed. Bill and Louise took Hazel to a John Lilly concerts just days before she passed. They sang all the way back to her apartment. One tale reminded me of how Hazel would always inspect my wife Becky Johnson before the IBMA Awards shows. You can watch the 2002 LAA video for Hazel Dickens here. My obit for the FAI newsletter lives here.
Saturday morning also offered an exemplary conversation about festivals that benefited from the diversity Louis Meyers structured into the panelists. The previous day I made my debut as a Maryland resident in attending the NERFA session rather than my previous home in SERFA.
We had a wonderful conversation that could have gone on forever in the session Pam McMichael and I hosted about the Highlander Center. Wanda Fisher from WAMC radio offered a first person account of frequenting there as a UT student to the consternation of her dorm mother, while Dave Marsh of SiriusXM and Bau Graves from the Old-Town School of Folk Music offered challenging perspectives.
The 2012 FAI Conference provided a blissful last time around in Memphis, arguably the best of our six efforts on the bluffs above the Mississippi. Well see you in Toronto next year and hence in Kansas City.
History of Folk Alliance Conferences
7 Produced by Louis Jay Meyers, so far
2007 – 2012 – Memphis, TN
2006 – Austin, TX
9 Produced by Phyllis Barney
2005 – Montreal, PQ
2004 – San Diego, CA
2003 – Nashville, TN
2002 – Jacksonville, FL
2001 – Vancouver, BC
2000 – Cleveland, OH
1999 – Albuquerque, NM
1998 – Memphis, TN
1997 – Toronto, ON
6 Produced by Art Menius & local committees
1996 – Washington, DC
1995 – Portland, OR
1994 – Boston, MA
1993 – Tucson, AZ
1992 – Calgary, AB
1991 – Chicago, IL
Produced by Philadelphia Folk Song Society & FA Steering Committee
1990 – Philadelphia, PA
Produced by Clark & Elaine Weissman
1989 – Malibu, CA
By Art Menius, February 19, 2012
Looks like the Warren Hellman Fest has reached its end – Emmy Lou Harris, Kevin Welch and Keiran Kane, Buddy Miller, John Doe, Gillian Welch & David Rawlings, Robert Earl Keen, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, and Old Crow Medicine Show and stage for the finale. Earlier Steve Earle, John Doe, Boz Scaggs, and Dry Branch Fire Squad performed.
From the free webcast of the free outdoor festival, I have no way of estimating the size of the audience. People went back as far as he camera could capture. Two stages kept the show moving swiftly to its conclusion with the Go to Hell Man Clan singing “I’ll Fly Away” and “Big Rock Candy Mountain.” The weather broke sunny, fortunately, for the event at the beach, rather than the rechristened Hellman Hollow where Hardly Strictly will continue each October.
By Art Menius, January 21, 2012
Original publication on http://artmenius.com
Update 1/23: Read the thoughts of FAI Executive Director Louis Meyers here.
Update 2/12/12: And as it turns out veteran among veterans Levon Helm wins.
The Grammy controversy about Linda Chorney brings up a number of fascinating topics of which Ms. Chorney herself is the least interesting. Suffice to say for me, the nomination doesn’t bother me much, but a win would.
In case you are not obsessed with who wins the Grammy for Best Americana Recording, in which she is nominated, or any of the folk/roots categories that remain after the recent contraction, let me briefly explain with links to more.
The journeyman Ms. Chorney, 51, has managed a living as a singer-songwriter for 25 years, self-releasing five previous CDs before the Grammy nominated Emotional Jukebox. None have sold out their initial 1000 copy pressing. The cover for Me So Chorney, features her dressed like an Asian teen prostitute. I get that it is a joke, but still…. At the time Emotional Jukebox moved into the third and final round of the Grammy balloting against the latest projects by granola legends Lucinda Williams, Emmylou Harris, Levon Helm (winner of the first Americana Grammy in 2010), and Ry Cooder, the CD had sold not one copy recorded in Nielsen SoundScan system. By her own cheerful admission, the nomination resulted from aggressive social networking Grammy 365, a site set up exactly for this purpose.
For more on how she did this, read the Billboard article here.
The music industry reaction is described in this AP story.
A “fair and balanced” defense of her right to be a nominee by Kim Ruehl appears on the No Depression website.
The many more interesting matters brought up by the Chorney affair include, to me:
1) We are in a period when people with social networking skill and chutzpah can make things happen. Social networking remains a new technology, and that is when unusual things can happen. Ms. Chorney reminds me of Julia Allison, the Twitter queen of 2008. If you’ve forgotten, you can read the Wired article here. Ms. Allison became famous for having lots of Twitter followers because of her facility for self-promotion on Twitter. She made it on to the cover of Wired and into real world friendships with traditionally famous people simply for her ability to tweet herself and use that as a tool for social advancement. Her blog peaked at 10,000 daily readers of reports on stuff she did that day.
It is not like this began with the Internet. Was ole Thomas Paine any different, finding in the American Revolution a vehicle for self-advancement. Much more recently, witness Chloë Sevigny, who would become the middle wife on HBO’s “Big Love.” Five years before “Boys Don’t Cry” made her an art house film star, Ms. Sevigny was already legendary in Manhattan for…. Well, the best anyone could come up with was “her fashion sense” and that she was always at the right place at the right time. Fame ain’t fair.
I said all that to say this, social network promotion is an essential element these days. It is more than fair to criticize Ms. Chorney for releasing far less than the best Americana recording of 2011. Her website provides more than reasonable evidence of a certain self-absorption (even she notes it), so she can take that rap, too. It is patently unfair, however, to attack Ms. Chorney pedal to the metal networking efforts to get in on the ballot. It is hardly her fault that she could achieve the final ballot. Which leads us to….
2) The Grammy Process. This assumes, for purpose of discussion, that Grammys still matter in an era when Pitchfork (also see this 2012 piece) is far and away the most powerful review medium for recordings. Her success should not be too surprising, especially in the second round. A Grammy win for Emotional Jukebox would show that folks are either asleep at the wheel or voting in categories for which they are not qualified in the voter-for-one, winner-takes-all final round.
The second round of Grammy voting is more like the primary. More aberrations occur when one can vote for five, similar to independents voting in partisan primaries. Often in a category one knows something about, a voter will see 2 or 3 titles she or he actually heard and liked. Then, after marking those two or three recordings, the voter looks around and sees not another CD that fills both criteria, heard and liked. Sometimes, people vote for a record they heard and didn’t particularly like. More often, people fill in those last couple of votes based totally on name recognition.
And that is what I believe happened here, same as it always has, except that her networking campaign created the name recognition that caused her to move to the final ballot. “Oh, yeah, I’ve heard of Linda Chorney.”
That will exist as long as folks self-police in which nine categories they vote. She just worked the system that was there.
If those two matters were all there were to this (and they are for the mainstream music industry), I would not have bothered to write. I am riffing on Linda Chorney because the reaction to her nomination reveals the less appealing side of the folk-roots-Americana world. This is the community where I live. It concerns me because our community carries the historical burden of being better than that. Ours is the music of the labor movement, of coal miners facing Pinkerton agents. Our community brought “We Shall Overcome” to the Civil Rights movement and provided the soundtrack for it and the first half of the anti-Vietnam War campaign.
3) The Americana community is clubish and inward looking, especially in Nashville. This is my home and my friends. I know whereof I speak. So was the Greenwich Village folk scene fifty years ago. It is a pretty natural development among emerging communities. The controversy and our reactions to it – including mine – treat Ms. Chorney as an outcaste, as not part of our club, as the other, not the we. If one of our friends had done this, we would have thought it was cool, that he or she was fighting the power and beating the man at his own game. An editorial in Cohesion Arts explores this aspect in depth.
Instead, a stranger from the northeast made the final ballot. An actual complete unknown who has survived for close to three decades taking the gigs, such as cruise ships and resorts, that many think below us or what initiates do.
Other than Kim Ruehl, we have reacted not by asking what we can learn from this but by trashing Ms. Chorney’s efforts and spreading pretty bizarre rumours about her on the Internet. We have not shown ourselves to be open and welcoming.
4) Even more disturbing, the reaction to the nomination has brought up divergent perceptions of class strata within the folk and roots community. Within our ideal, classless group, we have as many differing perceptions of haves and have nots as we have people in our community. For millions of people, any one of us is a have because we manage to scratch out a lower middle class living in this field. For others the haves are those who have any kind of management and an agent, maybe a publicist and a recording label. I have been around a long time and think of the haves are those on labels with national distribution, and big name management, booking, and media representation.
It is as shifting as it is pernicious. The one thing, I submit, that we cannot do in this community is permit the perception of “The Other,” for us to think our differences are greater than that which we have in common. We can not vote for Ms. Chorney without putting her down. We can praise her opponents instead of tearing her down as if we were a bunch of Republican presidential candidates. We can explore how we can use tools like Grammy365.com on behalf of ourselves and our friends.
We are in this together from all aspects of the performing folk arts. The enemy ain’t each other. Nor is it a minor singer-songwriter who manages to get on the ballot.
The enemy is human nature, our propensity for imputing bad motives in those we do not consider friends. Our tendency to divide rather than unite, to see allies and enemies. Our foolish concern with who gets to wear the biggest headdress.
As the folk community, annealed in our desire to use the performing folk arts to build a better, more justice, equitable, and diverse society, we have a responsibility to humanity to model better ways of thinking about the world, to frame issues for the “both and” not “either or.”
We have the capacity as a community to change the world not just through our art but with how we look at the world.
Update from the National Arts Marketing Project 1/20/2012 – click here for another vital audience development resource A free e-book download. Plenty of other material here. Sign up for their enewsletter.
Link and Thoughts posted by Art Menius 1/19/2012
The Wallace Foundation has made available four free downloads of case studies in audience development. You can get them here as PDFs:
The Wallace Foundation has been investing heavily in the theory and practice of audience development in the arts. The roots, folk, and bluegrass presenting community has made far too little effort to learn from arts, rather than commercial, audience development methods. Commercial methods, in my opinion, focus too much on marketing individual performances or events. Arts presenters provide stronger, more durable methods for building audiences for your presenting programs. Is not the Holy Grail for audiences to trust the producer’s choices rather than attending only shows by names they recognize?
Wallace commissioned these studies in response to public participation in the arts dropping to their lowest levels since the first such survey 30 years ago. Wallace believes that we are undergoing a generational transition in arts consumption. These free downloads address how to reach younger audiences during this fundamental shift.
The 4 organizations in these studies (the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Steppenwolf Theatre Company, the San Francisco Girls Chorus, and Boston Lyric Opera.) deal with audiences and art forms quite divergent from bluegrass or folk.
Nonetheless, these ideas are inspirational and can get roots presenters thinking in new ways. The study of the San Francisco Girls Chorus, for example, directly addresses drawing new audiences for music about which the general public has a stereotype. Sound familiar?
Beyond that, Wallace researchers have identified five overarching principles common to all four successful programs:
1. Market research can sharpen engagement-strategy development
2. Audiences are open to engaging the arts in new and different
ways. We have to provide and promote new entry ways to events rather than waiting for new audiences to find bluegrass, folk, blues, and old-time.
3. Participation-building is ongoing, not a one-time initiative. This is particularly true for the roots music fields. We are far too prone to rest rather than pushing 24/7 to build larger audiences.
4. Audience-building efforts should be fully integrated into every
element of an organization, not a separate initiative or program.
5. Mission is critical.
These four downloads prove just the latest of many free publications about audience development Wallace Foundation offers. The primary gateway to this wealth of information than bluegrass, folk, and traditional presenters can use is here.
Many more resources about audience development, from the arts world largely, can be found on the Internet.
The League of American Orchestras provides information here.
Audience development consultants ADS blog here.
From Scotland, a broad overview slideshow on cultural audience development, especially cultural tourism.
That is just a start. Much information about audience development exists that we can use far better to build our audiences going forward.
I haven’t made the pilgrimage to Nazareth in many years, but have had the pleasure of tours led by Chris Martin IV and the wonderful Mike Longworth. Of course, in Nazarethh, Martin’s Dick Boak established the Church of Art.