I am attending a Bruce Springsteen/REM/John Fogerty/Bright Eyes concert this weekend at Gund Arena in Cleveland. It is one of two Vote for Change concerts happening in my hometown Saturday night; James Taylor and the Dixie Chicks are also in town. The concert I'm attending is obviously not a folk show, and I don't mention it here to advance any political agenda, including that of the MoveOnPac, who are presenting the shows.
But it raises the already hotly debated question: What is appropriate in the arena of artist activism? From the early days of folk music, the music has been linked to social causes, politics, and activism. The work of artists such as Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger is inextricably linked to their efforts in these areas. But these current concerts - scheduled for swing states such as Ohio, Florida and Michigan - have ignited this debate. Audiences seem to be comfortable with artists working on behalf of causes, but advocating specific candidates is another matter. Springsteen's fans, in particular, seem to be deeply divided on this issue. The Dixie Chicks' comments about President Bush and the ensuing controversy showed how explosive this can be.
What do you feel is appropriate? Do we need to be "comfortable" with artist's choices? Do you stop listening or supporting an artist who espouses a cause or a candidate you don't agree with?
(After writing this post, I went to lunch and picked up a copy of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, which has an excellent piece on this issue by music writer John Soeder. It is online at Cleveland.com here.)
Last week, Yusuf Islam (the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens) was on a plane bound for Washington, DC when it set down in Bangor, ME. The plane was boarded by FBI agents who removed Islam before sending him back to London. So far, U.S. officials have been very sketchy on there reasons for deporting Islam, but the composer of Peace Train has been marked as a potential threat to national security. Islam converted to Islam in 1977, leaving his music career behind (he has recently returned to recording and performing). After Salman Rushdie's book The Satanic Verses was published, Islam reportedly supported an Iranian fatwa against the author, although he now claims that he was misquoted and he has recently been campaigning for peace. Would seeing Cat Stevens sitting next to you on a plane make you nervous?
Loretta Lynn was the big winner at the 3rd Annual Americana Honors & Awards last night for her album Van Lear Rose, produced by Jack White of the White Stripes. Lynn's awards for Album of the Year and Artist of the Year were presented during the 5th annual Americana Music Association conference in Nashville, TN. The honky-tonk inspired Van Lear Rose has stayed on the Americana AirPlay chart since its release in April (with many weeks at number 1, it's now at number 30) and has registered over 12,000 radio station "spins." Other Americana Awards went to Rodney Crowell for Song of the Year, Mindy Smith for Emerging Artist of the Year, Chris Hillman for Lifetime Achievement Award-Performer, President's Award to the Carter Family, and Spirit of Americana Free Speech Award to Steve Earle.
Photo by Charles Peterson courtesy of Don Peterson
SHINE A LIGHT ON ME: THE LIFE AND MUSIC OF LEAD BELLY The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and Case Western Reserve University will celebrate the legacy of Lead Belly in the Ninth Annual American Music Masters Series this November. Lead Belly, one of the most influential musicians of the twentieth century was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988. An emblem of authentic American Folk music, Lead Belly had an inestimable impact on folk, blues and rock and roll musicians alike. Artists as diverse as Muddy Waters, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Kurt Cobain, Neil Young, Keb' Mo, George Harrison, Frank Sinatra, Ernest Tubb, Johnny Cash and countless others have noted the influence that he had on their own music. Lead Belly will be honored with a weeklong series of events beginning Nov. 1 and culminating with a tribute concert on Nov. 7.
Lead Belly lived a life that included poverty and long stretches in prison to become an emblem of authentic American music. He is renowned for his songs - the best known of which include Rock Island Line, Goodnight, Irene, The Midnight Special and Cotton Fields - as well as his prowess on the 12-string guitar. In his sixty-plus years, he essentially lived two distinctly different lives: first, as a field worker, blues singer, rambling man and prisoner in the rural South; second, as a city-dwelling folksinger, performer and recording artist in the urban North.
In the last years of his life, Lead Belly's music became increasingly crucial to a new generation of folk artists. As politics and music became evermore intertwined, Lead Belly provided a model of involvement. Like Guthrie, he played at political rallies and union meetings, continuing until his death in 1949 of Lou Gehrig's disease.
The highlight of the series is the tribute concert at Cleveland's Severance Hall on Sunday, Nov. 7. Performers include Robert Plant, Alison Krauss, Los Lobos, Odetta, Dave Alvin, Robert Lockwood, Jr. and others.
The week-long series of events includes the opening of a new Lead Belly exhibit at the rock hall, an interdisciplinary conference sponsored by CWRU, movie screenings, and concerts by Oscar Brand, Josh White Jr. and Dan Zanes. For a complete schedule, click here.
Donna, Folk Alley's enthusiastic Customer Service manager, sends out a lot of T-shirts to folk fans all over the world. Today, she was excited to discover that the tables had turned. She received her own package of goodies (a reciprocal gift) from Yvonne Guerin at the Peterborough Folk Festival in Peterborough, Ontario. We are happy to send postcards and stickers to anyone who wants to distribute them to other folk music lovers. And, we love presents! See how happy Donna and I look in the picture (Donna's the one in the Peterborough Folk Fest T-shirt).
Folk Alley has been recognized with an Award of Achievement from Northern Ohio Live Magazine. We were one of three nominees in the Popular Music category. The Awards of Achievement are presented annual and honor outstanding contributions to Northeast Ohio. On Monday evening Al, Jim, Bob, Chuck and I attended a black-tie dinner (paid for by the magazine) where FolkAlley.com claimed the prize. Al accepted the award with a nice succinct speech. I know awards aren't everything, but it's sure nice to win one. Yay Folk Alley!
For a while now, I've been mulling the question, "Why do we associate the term singer/songwriter with folk music?" Technically, doesn't any artist that sings what he or she writes fall into that category? Not just lone acoustic guitar players. So, can Elvis Costello's new album, The Delivery Man, which was created around a narrative theme and involves social issues and struggles with morality, be considered a folk record even though it's all pumped up with electric guitars and drums? Emmylou's on it, so's Lucinda Williams. What about somebody like Marc Cohn who writes deep, soulful songs that are a perfect fit for the folk repertoire, until they get all hopped up in the hopes of selling them to a general public too antsy for acoustic? Where is the line drawn? Straight down the middle of artists like Richard Shindell and Bob Dylan who go both ways when it comes to electrifying their guitars? The jury is still out.
Singer/Songwriter Kasey Chambers has been added to the list of artists performing for the 2004 ARIA Awards ceremony on Oct. 17 in the Sydney Superdome. Chambers is nominated for Album of the Year (for Wayward Angel), Best Country Album and Best Female Artist. Other multiple category nominees include Pete Murray, Missy Higgins, Lisa Miller, and jam band up-and-comers the John Butler Trio.
Today is the second in a three-day Sotheby's auction of personal artifacts from the late Johnny and June Carter Cash. The first day took in over $1.2 million. The auction estimate was only $1.5 mil., so it's anyone's guess what the end total will be. If you have a high-speed connection and some time, check out the mini-site for the auction, which features background on the couple and photos of select lots. Items sold yesterday include a 1956 Sun single of I Walk the Line presented to Johnny (est. at $800-1,200, sold for $18,000) and a Maybelle Carter/June Carter Cash double neck guitar (est. at $1,000-1,500, sold for $10,200).
Thank you!!! Thank you!! Thank You!!
A few weeks ago the future of Folk Alley was challenged by the loss of a major operating grant we had been counting on. It was unclear at that time how we would begin our second year of streaming. Now we know. Folk Alley has a future thanks to the 474 listeners who responded to the challenge.
Thanks especially to Bob Zucker of AMAZ records for having faith in the Folk Alley listener to take up his specific challenge. Thanks Bob, for your generous gift. Our fiscal year ends in the black at the end of this month thanks to everyone who donated, and we now have the momentum and the inspiration to charge into next year. Folk Alley will continue to grow and spread the message of acoustic music to more hungry ears around the world. You make it possible. Once again, thanks.
Thank you for the generous support you've shown so far in helping to meet the challenge of paying for the current streaming costs of Folk Alley. Close to 400 folk fans have stepped forward over the past couple weeks taking us almost all the way to the goal of $27,000 in listener support by the end of the month.
But, I'd like to see the strings bust off that old banjo-thermometer sitting over there on the left long before September 30th. As soon as we meet the goal, we can cease fundraising in the stream and get down to the business of spending Bob Zucker's money. Bob Zucker of AMAZ Records presented a challenge to you to meet that goal and I certainly don't want to have to call him to say we "almost" made it. The reason Bob presented his $10,000 gift as a challenge is that he knows that maximum participation by listeners is the key to the future success of this service. We don't want to rely on one or two big donors for our survival - it's up to all Folk Alley listeners to pitch-in as they are able. Every little bit helps. Please do your part. If you've contributed already, thank you!
Today is our 1st birthday and we're having cake! One year ago on Sept. 8, 2003 Folk Alley went live to the world, spreading the love of folk music through computers around the globe. It's been an amazing journey so far and we're only beginning.
Celebrate with us by posting through the link below to our cyber birthday card. Click on a picture to view our gallery.
Donna and I asked anyone out there who has a Folk Alley t-shirt to take pictures of themselves and send them to us.
Here is a great shot of LuAnna from Wichita with (most of) The Waybacks and Philip Gard and his dad at the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games (we especially enjoyed the kilt).
Read LuAnna's story in September's issue of the Folk Alley Chat. Click on the thumbnail pictures at the left for a larger view.
Bob Zucker, founder of AMAZ Records and Acoustic Music Arizona, loves folk music. He understands and appreciates the wonders of good acoustic and traditional music. And Bob Zucker is a big fan of the work we are doing here at Folk Alley. How big? He has pledged to donate an additional $10,000 when Folk Alley listeners reach our $27,000 before the end of Sept. Learn more on the Bob Zucker Challenge page. Check out the banjo "thermometer" to the left to see how we are doing and add your name to the growing list of Folk Alley financial supporters by clicking here. Cheers!